United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
BARBARA F. SANGRET, Plaintiff,
GREYHOUND LINES, INC., JEFFERSON PARTNERS LIMITED PARTNERSHIP & DOES 1-10, Defendants.
L. Christensen, United States District Court Chief Judge
the Court is the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 5) filed by
Defendant Greyhound Lines, Inc. ("Greyhound").
Greyhound seeks to dismiss Plaintiff Barbara F. Sangret's
("Sangret") claims against Greyhound pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Id. at
1.) Greyhound indicates that Defendant Jefferson Partners
Limited Partnership ("Jefferson") was contacted and
does not oppose this Motion. (Id.) For the following
reasons, Greyhound's Motion will be denied.
12(b)(6) motions test the legal sufficiency of a pleading.
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading
must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."
Generally, courts may only consider the allegations in the
complaint when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Branch v.
Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 453 (9th Cir. 1994) overruled
on other grounds by Galbraith v. Cnty. of Santa Clara,
307 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2002). "All allegations of
material fact are taken as true and construed in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff." SmileCare Dental
Group v. Delta Dental Plan of California, Inc., 88 F.3d
780, 782-83 (9th Cir. 1996). Nonetheless, a court may dismiss
a complaint if it lacks a cognizable legal theory.
Id. at 783. Thus, in order to survive a motion to
dismiss, the "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) (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). A claim has facial plausibility when a court can
draw a "reasonable inference" from the facts
alleged that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
to the Complaint, on December 30, 2017, Sangret was traveling
from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Great Falls, Montana, on a
bus operated by Greyhound. En route, the bus stopped at a
terminal owned by Jefferson in Butte, Montana. During this
layover in Butte, Sangret stepped outside the terminal,
slipped, and fell on ice and snow that had not yet been
cleared or addressed. Sangret alleges that both Jefferson and
Greyhound, as common carriers, owed Sangret, as a passenger,
the highest duty of care. Sangret alleges that both breached
that duty by negligently failing to maintain safe premises
and, due to this failure, Sangret fell and was injured. (Doc.
4 at 1-2.)
this action was removed to federal district court under
diversity jurisdiction, (Doc. 1 at 2-3), we apply the
substantive law of Montana, the forum state. Med. Lab.
Mgmt. Consultants v. American Broadcasting Companies,
Inc., 306 F.3d 806, 812 (9th Cir. 2002). Under Montana
law, the plaintiff in a negligence action "must present
facts which, if true, would show: (1) the existence of a
legal duty from defendant to plaintiff; (2) a breach of that
duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages to the plaintiff."
Willden v. Neumann, 189 P.3d 610, 613 (Mont. 2008).
"Actionable negligence arises only from a breach of a
legal duty or obligation." Zimmer v. California
Co., 174 F.Supp. 757, 763 (D. Mont. 1959). "The
question of whether a legal duty is owed by one person to
another, as well as the scope of any such duty, are questions
of law." Webb v. T.D., 951 P.2d 1008, 1011
(Mont. 1997). Unlike questions of fact, questions of law are
reserved for the court. Willden, 189 P.3d at 613
(citing Webb, 951 P.2d at 1011).
Greyhound argues that its duty as a common carrier does not
extend beyond carriage to include the safety of its
passengers on premises outside its possession or control.
(Doc. 10 at 2.) In her Complaint, Sangret alleges that
Jefferson, not Greyhound, operated the terminal in Butte,
Montana. (Doc. 4 at 2.) Accordingly, Greyhound argues, it
"had no duty to maintain the terminal in question, nor
any duty to clear or otherwise address snow and ice
conditions near the door of the terminal." (Doc. 6 at
5.) And "without any allegation that Greyhound was in
possession and control of the premises at issue, Plaintiff
has failed to establish the breach of a legal duty."
(Id. at 4.)
responds that pursuant to Montana Code Annotated §
69-11-107, Greyhound's status as a common carrier
"creates a heightened duty of utmost care" to its
passengers. (Doc. 9 at 2-3.) Sangret asserts that
Greyhound's "duty extends outside ...
conveyance" to ensuring the safety of its passengers
"from the start of the journey to the end." (Doc. 9
at 3.) Because Sangret was "still on her journey"
during the layover in Butte, she argues that Greyhound owed
her this duty. (Id.)
resolution of this Motion depends upon the question of
whether or not a common carrier owes a duty to its passengers
that extends beyond carriage to ensuring terminals are free
from hazard. Montana Code Annotated § 69-11-107 provides
that: "A carrier of persons for reward shall use the
utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, shall
provide everything necessary for that purpose, and shall
exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill."
Although the Court recognizes that this duty does not make
the carrier "an insurer of the passenger's
safety," Wilson v. Northland Greyhound Lines,
Inc., 166 F.Supp. 667, 669 (D. Mont. 1958), the Court is
satisfied that the Montana Supreme Court's 1944 decision
in Ahlquist v. Mulvaney Realty Co., 152 P.2d 137
(Mont. 1944), although dated, establishes that a common
carrier owes its passengers a duty to ensure that station
premises are free of hazards.
Ahlquist, the plaintiff, Isabelle Ahlquist, traveled
to a bus depot owned by Mulvaney Realty Company and leased to
several common carriers, including Northland Greyhound Lines
and Burlington Trailways System, for the purpose of
purchasing a ticket for transportation to Worland, Wyoming.
While there, Ahlquist fell in the bathroom of the depot and
sustained injuries. Ahlquist sought to recover damages for
those injuries from Mulvaney Realty Company and Northland
Greyhound Lines for their alleged negligence in keeping the
bathroom in a safe condition. The Montana Supreme Court was
tasked with determining what legal duty Northland Greyhound
Lines and Mulvaney Realty Company owed to Ahlquist. As to the
owner of the bus depot, Mulvaney Realty Company, the Court
ultimately found that it owed Ahlquist "the legal duty
to exercise reasonable care for her safety" because
Mulvaney had agreed to maintain the facilities in a safe
condition in its lease agreement with the common carriers.
Id. at 148. With regard to Northland Greyhound
Lines, the analysis was not so straightforward.
Montana Supreme Court began its analysis with the following:
A common carrier of passengers is under a duty to provide
adequate station accommodations and proper safeguards at
those places where it takes on and puts off passengers, and
to keep its stations in a safe condition; its failure to
perform its duty in this respect will render it liable to
those who enter upon the premises, in response to an implied
invitation, and suffer injury as a result of such neglect.
The degree of care required of a common carrier in reference
to the safe condition of its depot and station facilities, is
... only reasonable or ordinary care. Its duty to keep the
premises safe extends only to those parts thereof to which
the public and passengers naturally resort or have been
invited, and to which they necessarily or ordinarily go in
boarding or leaving trains, and not to places to which they
have no occasion to go, or beyond the station grounds. It has
been said that the carrier's liability to passengers,
with respect to the condition of its premises, is the same as
that of any owner or occupant of premises to persons who by
invitation or inducement come there to transact business.
Id. at 145 (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). Because the imposition of the duty depended upon
the status of the plaintiff as either a passenger or invitee,
the Court then turned to whether or not Ahlquist was an
invitee of Northland Greyhound Lines. Id.
Ultimately, the Montana Supreme Court found that Ahlquist was
not an invitee of Northland Greyhound Lines because Ahlquist
had proceeded to the bus depot to purchase a ticket to
Worland, Wyoming-a destination that was not serviced by
Northland Greyhound Lines but by Burlington Trailways
Service. Id. at 145-47. Consequently, Ahlquist was
an "intended passenger" of Burlington Trailways
Service, not Northland Greyhound Lines. Id. at 147.
And because Northland Greyhound Lines did not own the
building, did not hold the position of lessor to the other
common carriers, and did not have an agreement with
Burlington Trailways Service creating some semblance of
agency, "privity of interest, right or relationship as
between [them] ... either in the establishment or the
operation of the station and depot facilities,"
Northland Greyhound Lines did not owe any duty to Ahlquist.
Id. "Simply stated, ... the plaintiff sued the
wrong person when she sued the Northland Greyhound Lines....
[S]he should have sued the Burlington." Id. at
147-48 (internal quotation marks omitted).
case, the Court is not convinced that Sangret has sued the
wrong carrier. Unlike Ahlquist, Sangret was a current
passenger of Greyhound at the time of the incident. Again
unlike Ahlquist, Sangret has named both her contracted common
carrier and the owner of the bus depot. While the Montana
Legislature has since removed the significance of an injured
party's status on the property, there has been no express
abrogation of the Montana Supreme Court's annunciation of
a common carrier's duty in Ahlquist. And, under
any analysis, Sangret was at the bus depot in Butte, Montana,
solely because Greyhound made that location a stage of her
journey to Great Falls, Montana. Indeed, as pointed out by
Greyhound, the Montana statute imposing the burden of utmost
care and diligence upon commons carriers in relation to their
passengers is '"but declaratory of the common
law.'" (Doc. 6 at 3 (quoting Wilson, 166
F.Supp. at 669).) As found by the Montana Supreme Court, this
duty includes "provid[ing] adequate station
accommodations and proper safeguards at those places where it
takes on and puts off passengers, and to keep[ing] its
stations in a safe condition." Ahlquist, 152
P.2d at 145 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
As found by this Court, the layover location in Butte,
Montana, is a location where Greyhound "takes on and
puts off passengers." Therefore, the Court is convinced
that Greyhound owed Sangret a duty to ensure its station was
in a safe condition.
Court's finding on this point is buttressed by the
following. First, the plain language of § 69-11-107
provides that the carrier "shall provide everything
necessary for [the] purpose" of safe carriage. It should
go without saying that Greyhound's business of ferrying
people across this vast nation necessitates that it have
stations at which buses or drivers will change so as to avoid
driver fatigue and allow Greyhound to acquire new customers
for transport. Safe bus stations, therefore, appear to this
Court to fall ...