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Poynter v. General Motors Corp.

February 21, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas A. Varlan United States District Judge



This civil action is before the Court on defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company's ("State Farm") Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 9]. Plaintiffs have responded in opposition to defendant's motion [Doc. 14] and defendant State Farm has filed a reply [Doc. 17]. Thus, the motion is now ripe for determination.

The Court has carefully reviewed the pending motion and responsive pleadings in light of the applicable law. For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Relevant Facts

As the Court is required to do on a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court will construe the complaint [Doc. 1, Ex. A] in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, and determine whether plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claims that would entitle them to relief. Trzebuckowski v. City of Cleveland, 319 F.3d 853, 855 (6th Cir. 2003).

On September 6, 2002, the cabin of the 1994 Oldsmobile 88 Royale LS owned by plaintiffs Ronald and Linda Poynter burst into flames while Mr. Poynter was sitting in the car, resulting in injury to Mr. Poynter, total loss of the car, and damage to plaintiffs' home, outside of which the car was parked when the fire occurred. [Doc. 1, Ex. A at ¶ 6.] At the time of the accident, plaintiffs had homeowners and auto insurance with defendant State Farm. [Id. at ¶ 12.] Accordingly, representatives of State Farm went to plaintiffs' home shortly after the fire to investigate the incident. While there, the investigators took parts of the burned car with them, specifically the instrument cluster and shorted wiring from the dashboard of the car. [Id. at ¶ 13.] Plaintiffs allege that the investigators told plaintiffs they would "preserve this evidence for the benefit of [plaintiffs'] claim against GM," the manufacturer of the car against whom they anticipated filing a products liability lawsuit. [Id.] However, in June or July of 2003, plaintiffs were notified that the investigators had been ordered by State Farm to dispose of the components. [Id. at ¶ 14.] Plaintiffs state this was done without their knowledge or consent. [Id.]

Plaintiffs filed suit in the Circuit Court for Knox County, Tennessee in May 2006, against General Motors Corporation ("GM") and State Farm. Plaintiffs argue that GM should be held strictly liable for the personal injuries and property damage resulting from the fire because the fire in the 1994 Oldsmobile was caused by a defective or unreasonably dangerous condition of the car present when the car left GM's control. [Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.] Plaintiffs further argue that such acts on the part of GM constitute negligence and breach of the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness. [Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.] As to State Farm, plaintiffs allege that its disposal of the components of plaintiffs' car constitutes spoliation of evidence and negligence and that State Farm should be held liable for "the amount by which their chose [sic] in action against the defendant GM has been reduced in value as a result of State Farm's negligence." [Id. at ¶ 15.] Plaintiffs also seek damages for State Farm's breach of the alleged agreement it made to safeguard the car components and for conversion. [Id. at ¶¶ 17-18.] Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.

Defendant State Farm removed the lawsuit to this Court on June 16, 2006 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

State Farm has moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) should not be granted "unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). All well-pleaded allegations must be taken as true and be construed most favorably toward the non-movant. Trzebuckowski v. City of Cleveland, 319 F.3d 853, 855 (6th Cir. 2003). While a court may not grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion based on disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations, Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196, 1199 (6th Cir. 1990), the court "need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences." Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987). The Sixth Circuit has made it clear that despite the liberal system of notice pleading, "the essential elements of a plaintiff's claim must be alleged in more than vague and conclusory terms" if such a claim is to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. NicSand, Inc. v. 3M Co., 457 F.3d 534, 541 (6th Cir. 2006) (internal citations removed). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support his or her claim. Chapman v. City of Detroit, 80 F.2d 459, 465 (6th Cir. 1986). Consequently, a complaint will not be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) unless there is no law to support the claims made, the facts alleged are insufficient to state a claim, or there is an insurmountable bar on the face of the complaint.

B. Spoliation of Evidence

State Farm argues that plaintiffs' claims against it should be dismissed because each of the claims relate to the spoliation of evidence, and Tennessee does not recognize a cause of action based upon spoliation. [Doc. 10 at 2.] Plaintiffs respond by pointing out that there are in fact two causes of action within the broader category of spoliation of evidence: first party spoliation of evidence and third party spoliation of evidence. Plaintiffs admits that Tennessee does not recognize the tort of first party spoliation of evidence, but does recognize the tort of third party spoliation of evidence and ...

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