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Gomez v. Scepter Holdings, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens Division

September 29, 2017

ROBERT V. GOMEZ, II, KAITLYN ANN WILLE, and JENNIFER PRICE, Plaintiffs,
v.
SCEPTER HOLDINGS, INC., SCEPTER CANADA, INC., SCEPTER MANUFACTURING, LLC, and THE MOORE COMPANY, Defendants.

          ORDER

          CLAY D. LAND CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Robert V. Gomez, II, Kaitlyn Ann Wille, and Jennifer Price allege that they were injured when Gomez poured gasoline from a Blitz portable gasoline container onto a mostly extinguished fire and the container exploded. Plaintiffs contend that the gas container was defective because it did not have a flame arrestor. The gas container was manufactured by Blitz U.S.A., which declared bankruptcy in 2011. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Scepter Holdings, Inc., Scepter Canada, Inc., Scepter Manufacturing, LLC, and The Moore Company distributed the gas container to Harbor Freight, where Gomez's mother bought it. Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants failed to provide an adequate warning even though they knew the gas container was dangerous when they distributed it to Harbor Freight. Defendants contend that Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim.[1] As discussed below, the Court grants Defendants' motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 22 & 23) Counts Two and Four of the Amended Complaint but denies the motions as to Counts One and Three.

         MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

         “To survive a motion to dismiss” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The complaint must include sufficient factual allegations “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In other words, the factual allegations must “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of” the plaintiff's claims. Id. at 556. “Rule 12(b)(6) does not permit dismissal of a well-pleaded complaint simply because ‘it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable.'” Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiffs allege the following facts in support of their claims. Despite Defendants' protestations to the contrary, the Court must accept these factual allegations as true for purposes of the pending motion.

         Blitz U.S.A. manufactured the gas container at issue in this action. Am. Compl. ¶ 20, ECF No. 17. Blitz U.S.A. filed for bankruptcy protection after it was sued by multiple individuals for injuries caused by its allegedly defective gas containers. Id. ¶ 28. Defendant Scepter Holdings, Inc. acquired the assets of Blitz U.S.A. in 2012. Id. ¶¶ 4, 43-46. There was an asset purchase agreement between Blitz U.S.A. and Scepter Holdings. It provided, in relevant part, that when Scepter Holdings purchased certain assets from Blitz U.S.A., Scepter Holdings did not assume any “Liabilities arising out of or related to” certain “Retained Assets” that Blitz U.S.A. did not sell to Scepter Holdings. Scepter Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 1, Asset Purchase Agreement ¶ 2.4(a), ECF No. 23-2. Those Retained Assets included “all inventory (raw materials, work-in-progress, finished goods, or otherwise) used or initially held for use in connection with” Blitz U.S.A.'s business. Id. ¶ 2.2(f).

         According to Plaintiffs, Scepter Holdings, Scepter Canada, Inc., and Scepter Manufacturing, LLC (collectively, “Scepter”) nonetheless took possession of “old Blitz product, including the subject 5-gallon gas can” when Scepter took possession of Blitz U.S.A.'s facilities. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 35-36. Scepter decided to distribute “the leftover Blitz product, including the subject gas can.” Id. ¶ 37. Scepter maintained a marketing relationship with The Moore Company, doing business as Moeller Marine Products, Inc. (“Moeller”), and Moeller sold Scepter's products through various channels. Id. ¶¶ 14, 30. Moeller's representatives met with representatives of the retail chain Harbor Freight to discuss the distribution and sale of Scepter products, including the leftover Blitz product inventory. Id. ¶¶ 32-33, 41. And, after the asset purchase between Scepter Holdings and Blitz U.S.A. was finalized, Scepter and Moeller distributed the gas container at issue in this case to Harbor Freight, where Gomez's mother purchased it in September 2012. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24, 46-49. At the time, both Scepter and Moeller knew that the Blitz gas containers were defective but decided to sell them anyway. Id. ¶¶ 22-26, 50-59.

         Plaintiffs brought claims against Scepter and Moeller for negligence in selling the gas container and for failure to provide an adequate warning, including failure to provide an adequate post-sale warning. Plaintiffs also brought a claim for breach of warranty, but they withdrew that claim. Defendants' motions to dismiss Count Two of the Amended Complaint are therefore granted.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants seek to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) as implausible. Defendants do not argue that Plaintiffs cannot win under the applicable law if they prove all the facts they allege. Rather, Defendants are incredulous that anyone could possibly believe Plaintiffs' allegations. Defendants' argument suffers from what the Court has previously labeled the “Twombly/Iqbal compulsion”:

Since Twombly was decided, many lawyers have felt compelled to file a motion to dismiss in nearly every case, hoping to convince the Court that it now has the authority to divine what the plaintiff may plausibly be able to prove rather than accepting at the motion to dismiss stage that the plaintiff will be able to prove his allegations. These motions, which bear a close resemblance to summary judgment motions, view every factual allegation as a mere legal conclusion and disparagingly label all attempts to set out the elements of a cause of action as “bare recitals.” They almost always, either expressly or, more often, implicitly, attempt to burden the plaintiff with establishing a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits under the guise of the “plausibly stating a claim” requirement. While these cautious lawyers, who have been encouraged by Twombly and Iqbal, have parsed the Twombly decision to extract every helpful syllable, they often ignore a less well known (or at least less frequently cited) admonition from Twombly: “[O]f course, a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 . . . . Finding the Twombly/Iqbal urge irresistible, many lawyers fail to appreciate the distinction between determining whether a claim for relief is “plausibly stated, ” the inquiry required by Twombly/Iqbal, and divining whether actual proof of that claim is “improbable, ” a feat impossible for a mere mortal, even a federal judge.

Barker ex rel. U.S. v. Columbus Reg'l Healthcare Sys., Inc., 977 F.Supp.2d 1341, 1346 (M.D. Ga. 2013).

         As the Court has observed, Twombly and Iqbal did not rewrite Rule 12(b)(6) or abandon notice pleading. Again, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; accord Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Here, Defendants' chief argument is that no one could possibly believe that discovery will reveal evidence of Plaintiffs' claims. Once more, it is not the Court's job at this stage in the litigation to divine whether actual proof of Plaintiffs' claims is unlikely; “12(b)(6) does not permit dismissal of a well-pleaded ...


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