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Moutal v. Exel Inc

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 2, 2018

ERIC MOUTAL and ANDREA NEWMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
EXEL, INC., a foreign corporation, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          STACIE F. BECKERMAN United States Magistrate Judge.

         Eric Moutal (“Moutal”) and Andrea Newman (“Newman”) filed a Complaint against Exel, Inc. (“Exel”) alleging a state law negligence claim arising from an incident in which a truck driven by an Exel employee struck and injured bicyclists Moutal and Newman. (ECF No. 1.) In addition to other monetary relief, Moutal and Newman seek punitive damages. (Compl. ¶ 17.)

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Exel moves to dismiss Moutal and Newman's punitive damages claim. (ECF No. 7.) For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that the district judge deny Exel's Motion to Dismiss.[1]

         BACKGROUND[2]

         Moutal and Newman allege that on August 3, 2016, they were riding in a bicycle lane on Interstate 84 approximately eight miles outside of Cascade Locks in Hood River County, Oregon. (Compl. ¶ 5.) According to Moutal and Newman, the bicycle lane “doubles as the north shoulder of Interstate 84 (westbound) along this stretch of highway.” (Id.) In addition, there is a highway sign cautioning “drivers that bicyclists are sharing this stretch of road.” (Id.)

         Moutal and Newman allege that at approximately 6:32 p.m., a truck owned by Exel and operated by an Exel employee, acting in the course and scope of his employment, “drifted across the right-hand fog line into the bicycle lane” and struck them while they were bicycling. (Compl. ¶ 6.) Moutal sustained serious injuries, including “displaced comminuted fractures of the left tibia and fibula, a left side rib fracture, multiple displaced fractures of his left foot, laceration of his nose, abrasion to his lip, and acute post-hemorrhagic anemia.” (Compl. ¶ 7.) Newman suffered a “laceration of her right knee and abrasions to her left knee and both shoulders.” (Compl. ¶ 9.) In addition to economic losses, Moutal and Newman allege that they incurred significant and permanent psychological injuries as a result of the accident. (Compl. ¶¶ 8, 10.)

         Moutal and Newman allege that Exel, acting through its employee driver, “exhibited a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm, ” by hitting Moutal and Newman and “by attempting to interfere with the police investigation and witnesses' statements after the crash . . . .” (Compl. ¶ 17.) For this alleged conduct, Moutal and Newman seek punitive damages. (Id.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A well-pleaded complaint requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A federal claimant is not required to detail all factual allegations; however, the complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Id. While the court must assume all facts alleged in a complaint are true and view them in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, it need not accept as true any legal conclusion set forth in the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In addition, a plaintiff must set forth a plausible claim for relief, a possible claim for relief will not do. Id. (“Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” (quotations and citation omitted)). “In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory ‘factual content, ' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief.” Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         DISCUSSION

         Exel moves to dismiss Moutal and Newman's claim for punitive damages for failure to state a claim. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 4-5.) Alternatively, Exel argues that punitive damages are unconstitutional under Oregon law. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 8.) Below, the Court considers each of Exel's arguments for dismissal of Moutal and Newman's punitive damages claim.

         I. DEFENDANT'S PLEADING CHALLENGES

         Exel argues that the allegations in support of Moutal and Newman's claim for punitive damages are simply legal conclusions and as such do not satisfy the Twombly and Iqbal pleading standard. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss. 4; Def.'s Reply 1-2 (arguing that the Complaint alleges “the usual particulars for an auto case: speed, lookout, and control”).) Moutal and Newman argue that, when read as a whole, the Complaint includes sufficient allegations to state a claim for punitive damages. (Pls.' Resp. 2 (citing Compl. ¶ 12 (alleging that the driver failed to maintain his lane of traffic, failed to maintain adequate lookout, and excessive speed).)

         In Oregon, punitive damages may be awarded as “a penalty for conduct that is culpable by reason of motive, intent, or extraordinary disregard of or indifference to known or highly probable risks to others.”[3]Andor by Affatigato v. United Air Lines, Inc.,303 Or. 505, 517 (1987). However, to be entitled to a punitive damages award, a plaintiff must show that the defendant's “degree of culpability” is “greater than inattention or simple negligence.” Badger v. Paulson Inv. Co., Inc.,311 Or. 14, 28 (1991); see also Or. Rev. Stat. § 31.730(1) (providing that punitive damages “are not recoverable in a civil action unless it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the party against whom punitive damages are sought has acted with malice or has shown a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and has acted with a conscious indifference to the health, safety and ...


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