United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
KATHERINE GUINNANE, individually, and as Personal Representative for the Estate of EDWIN GUINNANE, and GUINNANE RANCH, LLC, Plaintiffs,
NANCY DOBBINS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of ROBERT DOBBINS; EAN HOLDINGS, LLC; ENTERPRISE RAC COMPANY OF MONTANA/ WYOMING, LLC, d/b/a Enterprise Rent-A-Car; and JOHN DOES 1-5, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
W. Molloy, District Judge United States District Court
is an action for wrongful death and personal injury arising
out of an automobile crash on Highway 41 in Jefferson County,
Montana." (Amend. Compl., Doc. 16 at ¶ 1.) On July
13, 2015, a Dodge truck pulling a horse trailer owned by
Guinnane Ranch, LLC and driven by Edwin and Katherine
Guinnane was struck head-on by a Dodge Journey driven by
Robert and Nancy Dobbins. (Id. at ¶¶ 11
-15.) The Journey was leased from Enterprise RAC of Montana
and Wyoming and owned by EAN Holdings (collectively
"Enterprise"). (Id. At ¶¶
16-18.) Edwin was killed, and Katherine suffered serious
injuries. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.)
Katherine, on behalf of herself and her late husband's
estate, in conjunction with Guinnane Ranch, LLC (collectively
"Plaintiffs") seek to hold the estate of Robert
Dobbins liable for negligence (Count 1) and negligence per se
(Count 2) and to hold Enterprise liable for negligent
maintenance (Count 3) and punitive damages (Count 4).
(Id. at ¶¶ 26-46.) Enterprise seeks to
dismiss Counts 3 and 4 for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 19.)
misses the mark under the Rules of Civil Procedure by a long
shot. Rather, a long shot is exactly what the motion
evidences, both in the argument and analysis put forth in the
briefs. As a starting point, Rule 1 of the Federal Rules
obligates not only the lawyers, but also the
parties, when it declares that the rules "should be
construed, administered, and employed by the court and
the parties to secure the just, speedy, and
inexpensive determination of every action and
proceeding." Fed.R.Civ.P. 1 (emphasis added). Rule 8
then provides the context for applying Rule 1 's
principles to a motion to dismiss, requiring only that the
plaintiff notify the defendants of his or her claim by filing
"a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). "A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). But the plausibility standard
outlined in Iqbal is not an invitation to ignore
Rule 1, nor is it a requirement that common sense and modest
legal analysis be set aside in deciding whether to move to
dismiss claims such as those set forth in Counts 3 and 4 of
Plaintiff s Amended Complaint in this case.
while review under Rule 12(b)(6) is limited to the factual
allegations in the operative complaint, Lee v. City of
Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001), those
allegations are accepted as true and viewed in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, L.A. Lakers, Inc. v. Fed Ins.
Co., 869 F.3d 795, 800 (9th Cir. 2017). Contrary to the
position taken by Enterprise, Plaintiffs are not required to
outline a single, detailed narrative of the alleged tortious
reasons set forth below, taking into account the obligations
of Rules 1 and 8, Enterprise's motion to dismiss is
first argues that dismissal is appropriate because the
conclusory allegation that it caused the accident is
inconsistent with the specific, factual allegation that
Robert Dobbins caused by the accident "by driving
distracted and carelessly causing his vehicle to drift into
oncoming traffic." (Doc. 16 at ¶ 28.) Enterprise
further argues that any argument that the condition of the
vehicle's tires "could" cause the accident or
was a "substantial factor" in bringing it about is
speculative and lacks factual support. These arguments lack
Enterprise's first point, a plaintiff can plead in the
alternative regardless of whether he or she can ultimately
recover on more than one theory. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d); see
Molsbergen v. United States, 757 F.2d 1016, 1018-19 (9th
Cir. 1985); Folsom v. Mont. Pub. Emps. 'Ass'n,
Inc., 400 P.3d 706, 715 (Mont. 2017). Moreover,
"courts have been reluctant to permit one pleading to be
read as a judicial or evidentiary admission against an
alternative or inconsistent pleading."
Molsbergen, 757 F.2d at 1019. Thus, to the extent
Robbins's liability is inconsistent with Enterprise's
liability-which may not even be the case, see Oberson v.
U.S. Dep't of Agr., 514 F.3d 989, 1000 (9th Cir.
2008) (outlining the "substantial factor"
test)-Plaintiffs may pursue both claims.
second point, Enterprise attempts to litigate the merits of
the negligent maintenance claim by disputing the role the
mismatched tires "could" have played in the
accident. (Doc. 20 at 6 (citing Doc. 16 at ¶ 23).)
Plaintiffs have alleged that Enterprise's decision to
lease the Journey in an unsafe condition was a substantial
factor in causing the fatal accident. (Doc. 16 at
¶¶ 37-43.) This allegation is supported by
allegations related to the condition of the tires,
(id. at ¶ 19), the warnings provided in the
Journey's manual, (id. at ¶¶ 20, 21),
and Enterprise's interest in the vehicle, (id.
at ¶¶ 17, 18, 38-40). Enterprise's attempt to
introduce contradictory inferences-i.e., that the vehicle was
driven all the way from Missoula without incident, (Doc. 20
at 9; Doc. 23 at 4)-does not diminish the sufficiency of
Plaintiffs' allegations. See Lee, 250 F.3d at
688 ("[F]actual challenges to the plaintiffs complaint
have no bearing on the legal sufficiency of the allegations
under Rule 12(b)(6).").
as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiffs, LA. Lakers, Inc., 869 F.3d at 800,
Plaintiffs state a claim for negligent maintenance against
Enterprise that is plausible on its face, Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678.
Guinnane Ranch's Claims
further argues that Guinnane Ranch "has failed to
adequately allege any element of the claims." (Doc. 20
at 10.) The Amended Complaint provides that Edwin and
Katherine Guinnane were in a truck and towing a trailer owned
by Guinnane Ranch,  (Doc. 16 at ¶ 11), and that Guinnane
Ranch "incurred property damage" as a result of the
accident, (id at ¶ 25(d)). That is sufficient
to put Enterprise on notice of the Ranch's allegations.
See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S.
506, 513 (2002) (pleadings need only "give the defendant
fair notice of what the plaintiffs claim is and the grounds
upon which it rests").
argues that even if Plaintiffs' negligence claim
survives, they have failed to allege facts to support a
finding of actual malice. Punitive damages are authorized
only "when the defendant has been found guilty of actual
fraud or actual malice," Mont. Code Ann. §
27-1-221, and cannot be predicated on "mere