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Hacala v. Amazon.Com, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

October 11, 2019

STEPHEN P. HACALA, Individually and as Administrator of the ESTATE OF STEPHEN PATRICK HACALA, JR., deceased PLAINTIFF
v.
AMAZON.COM, INC., et al DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          P.K. HOLMES, III U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendant Sincerely Nuts, Inc.'s (“Sincerely Nuts”) motion to dismiss (Doc. 30) and brief in support (Doc. 31) and Defendant Amazon.Com, Inc.'s (“Amazon”) motion to dismiss (Doc. 32) and a brief in support (Doc. 33). Plaintiff Stephen P. Hacala, (“Plaintiff”) filed a response (Doc. 36) to Sincerely Nuts's motion, to which Sincerely Nuts filed a reply (Doc. 42). Plaintiff also filed a response to Amazon's motion (Doc. 35) and Amazon filed a reply (Doc. 45). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Sincerely Nuts and Amazon seek dismissal of Plaintiff's entire second amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the following reasons, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of the death of Stephen Patrick Hacala, Jr. (“Hacala”). Hacala was found dead in his apartment on April 3, 2016. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was “accidental morphine intoxication.” (Doc. 26, p. 5). Although no morphine was found at Hacala's apartment, a 5-pound bag of unwashed poppy seeds and a 33-fluid ounce bottle containing rinsed poppy seeds were found.

         The poppy seeds found at Hacala's apartment were allegedly sold and supplied by Sincerely Nuts and Amazon. Sincerely Nuts is an “importer, manufacturer, assembler, seller, and distributor of nuts and seeds.” (Doc. 26, p. 2). Sincerely Nuts sells the poppy seeds through Amazon, a “worldwide seller and distributor of products.” (Doc. 26, p. 3). Hacala allegedly ordered a 5-pound bag of Sincerely Nuts's poppy seeds from Amazon on or about March 18, 2016. The poppy seeds were shipped to Hacala on March 20, 2016.

         Plaintiff alleges Hacala made and consumed poppy seed tea with the unwashed poppy seeds purchased from Sincerely Nuts and Amazon on April 2, 2016 or April 3, 2016. Plaintiff further alleges Hacala consumed poppy seed tea as a sleep aid because of a history of insomnia. Dr. Erickson, the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, found the source of morphine that killed Hacala was “very likely commercially available poppy seeds.” (Doc. 26, p. 5).

         One of the uses of unwashed poppy seeds is to make poppy seed tea. Poppy seed tea is made by pouring liquids over unwashed poppy seeds to create a rinse, which is then ingested. Amazon's website displays customer reviews and a question and answer (“Q&A”) section for the poppy seeds. The reviews and Q&A section discuss using the Sincerely Nuts poppy seeds to make poppy seed tea. The reviews state the poppy seeds are “very potent” and “wonderful seeds for a good poppy rinse tea.” (Doc. 26, pp. 4-5). The reviews also explain that poppy seed tea provides a relaxing and calming effect for consumers.

         Plaintiff alleges there is opium latex contained on the seed coats, which results in the tea containing morphine and codeine. A study of unwashed poppy seeds has shown it is “possible to obtain lethal doses of morphine from poppy seed tea if moderate volumes of tea are consumed.” (Doc. 26, pp. 5-6). In the study, Sincerely Nuts's poppy seeds were found to contain the highest concentration of morphine.

         Plaintiff alleges Sincerely Nuts and Amazon knew or should have known of the dangers of poppy seed tea because numerous deaths related to poppy seed tea have occurred and were widely reported in the news. According to Plaintiff, several reported deaths occurred prior to Hacala's and many countries have even banned the sale of poppy seeds because of their morphine content. Plaintiff alleges that despite the knowledge of poppy seed related deaths, Sincerely Nuts and Amazon continue to market and sell unwashed poppy seeds without warnings.

         Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint bringing causes of action against Sincerely Nuts and Amazon for strict products liability, negligence, and violations of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“ADTPA”), Ark. Code Ann. § 4-88-101, et seq. Plaintiff also claims Sincerely Nuts's failure to label seeds with instructions and warnings breached implied warranties.

         II. Legal Standard

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must “accept as true all facts pleaded by the non-moving party and grant all reasonable inferences from the pleadings in favor of the non-moving party.” Gallagher v. City of Clayton, 699 F.3d 1013, 1016 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Any & All Radio Station Transmission Equip., 207 F.3d 458, 462 (8th Cir. 2000)). “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). Pleadings that contain mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of the cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2009).

         “Twombly and Iqbal did not abrogate the notice pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2). Rather, those decisions confirmed that Rule 8(a)(2) is satisfied ‘when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for a misconduct alleged.'” Hamilton v. Palm, 621 F.3d 816, 817 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Where the facts alleged, taken as true, “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” in support of a plaintiff's claim, the Court should deny a motion to dismiss. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         III. ...


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