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Roberts v. Tractor Supply Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

April 23, 2015

DANIEL J. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
TRACTOR SUPPLY COMPANY and NEW BUFFALO CORPORATION, Defendants.

ORDER

RICHARD W. STORY, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court on Defendant New Buffalo Corporation's Motion to Dismiss [9]. After reviewing the record, the Court enters the following Order.

Background

On November 3, 2013, Plaintiff Daniel Roberts' friend Lee Summey ("Summey") purchased a hunter's tree stand (the "tree stand") from Defendant Tractor Supply Company ("TSC"). (Compl., Dkt. [1] ¶ 8.) The tree stand was manufactured by Defendant New Buffalo Corporation ("Buffalo"). (Id. ¶ 9.) At the time, TSC had no remaining boxed units of the particular tree stand model in stock, but offered to sell Summey the floor model which was on display at the store. (Id. ¶ 10.) When Summey made the purchase, TSC did not provide him with a box; a manual; or any instructions, warnings, or safety procedures on how to properly assemble the tree stand. (Id. ¶ 11.) Rather, TSC sold the tree stand as it was assembled on display, and delivered it to Summey with a bag containing parts that the sales associate brought from the stock room. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that this bag did not contain the necessary straps required to safely construct the tree stand. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 28.)

Later that day, Summey met Plaintiff in the woods with the tree stand. (Id. ¶ 13.) The two men then attempted to erect the tree stand and attach it to a tree according to Summey's recollection of how the tree stand looked while displayed in-store. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Nothing on the tree stand itself provided any instructions or warnings. Plaintiff then attempted to ascend the tree stand, which buckled and began to fall. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff jumped off the falling tree stand, shattering his right leg below the knee when he hit the ground. (Id. ¶ 16.)

As a result, Plaintiff brings the following claims: negligence against TSC (Count I); product liability sounding in negligence against Buffalo (Count II); strict product liability for defective design against Buffalo (Count III); and strict product liability for a warning defect against Buffalo (Count IV). (Id. ¶¶ 17-47.) Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages and attorney's fees against both TSC and Buffalo. (Id. ¶¶ 48-55.) Buffalo now moves to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims against it (Counts II, III, and IV) for failure to state a claim.

Discussion

I. Motion to Dismiss Legal Standard

When considering a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a federal court is to accept as true "all facts set forth in the plaintiff's complaint." Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A. , 225 F.3d 1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). Further, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc. , 187 F.3d 1271, 1273 n.1 (11th Cir. 1999); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007) (internal citations omitted). However, "[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Id.

Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper when "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Twombly , 550 U.S. at 561 (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). A plaintiff must assert a plausible claim, which requires factual allegations that "raise the right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 556. This standard "does not[, however, ] impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence [supporting the claim]." Id.

II. Buffalo's Motion to Dismiss [9]

Plaintiff brings three product liability claims against Buffalo under two theories of liability: negligence (Count II) and strict liability (Counts III and IV). Buffalo moves to dismiss all claims on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to adequately allege (1) that the product was defective, and (2) that the defect proximately caused Plaintiff's injury.

The elements of defect and proximate cause are essential to product liability claims both under strict liability and under negligence. A claim for strict product liability requires a plaintiff to allege that the product was defective at the time of sale, and that its condition proximately caused the plaintiff's injury. Chicago Hardware & Fixture Co. v. Letterman , 510 S.E.2d 875, 877-78 (Ga.Ct.App. 1999) (requiring a plaintiff to prove "that the property when sold by the manufacturer was not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended (i.e., defective), and that its condition when sold was the proximate cause of the injury sustained."). And in Georgia, it is well established that the requirements of a product claim sounding in negligence are virtually the same as the requirements for strict product liability. See Jones v. Amazing Products, Inc. , 231 F.Supp.2d 1228, 1238 (N.D.Ga. 2002); see also Steinberg v. SICA S.P.A., 2006 WL 618593, at *4 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 10, 2006) ("Under Georgia product liability law, a cause of action under a negligence theory and a cause of action under a strict liability theory requires essentially the same evidentiary showing."). In addition, each of Plaintiff's product claims against Buffalo, whether under negligence or strict liability, arise under the same alleged product defects.

Thus, for the limited purpose of determining the adequacy of Plaintiff's Complaint, the Court will not distinguish between Plaintiff's negligence claim and strict liability claims. Rather, the Court will address whether Plaintiff's Complaint adequately alleges (1) a product defect and (2) ...


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