United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON
THOMAS ANDERSON, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant SAI Irondale Imports, LLC's Motion
for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 34) filed on April 8,
2019. Defendant seeks judgment as a matter of law on the
Tennessee products liability claims against it pursuant to
Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Local
Rule 12.1 gives a non-moving party 28 days in which to
respond to a motion made under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b) or 12(c). Based on the 28-day deadline set by
the Local Rules, Plaintiff Brenda Woods had until May 6,
2019, in which to respond to Defendant's Motion.
Plaintiff failed to respond by that deadline and has not
responded to date. For the reasons set forth below, the
Motion is GRANTED.
filed suit on June 26, 2018, alleging products liability
claims against Defendants Tom Williams BMW f/k/a Tom Williams
BMW Porsche Audi, Inc.; SAI Irondale Imports, LLC; and BMW of
North America, LLC. According to her Complaint, Plaintiff
purchased a 2010 BMW 528i sedan from Tom Williams BMW and SAI
Irondale Imports, LLC on August 5, 2015. Compl. ¶ 4.
Plaintiff alleges that her vehicle was subject to a recall at
the time of her purchase to remedy a defect in the
vehicle's alternator and alternator system, though
Defendants sold her the car without making the necessary
repairs. (Id. ¶ 6.) On June 26, 2017, while
Plaintiff was driving her vehicle in Hardeman County,
Tennessee, the vehicle suddenly and without warning burst
into flames. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges that
the fire was caused by the defective alternator in her car.
(Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff seeks $200, 000.00 in
damages for her physical injuries and the damage to her
automobile, all caused by the defective alternator.
(Id. ¶ 15.)
served Defendant SAI Irondale Imports, LLC (“SAI
Irondale”) on October 10, 2018, and Defendant filed its
Answer (ECF No. 18) denying the allegations of the Complaint
on November 20, 2018. The Court entered a complex track
scheduling order (ECF No. 22) on December 6, 2018, and set
this matter for trial to commence August 24, 2020. In the
Motion before the Court, SAI Irondale seeks judgment on the
pleadings, arguing that as a mere seller of the allegedly
defective product, Plaintiff cannot hold it liable for her
injuries under Tennessee law. SAI Irondale relies for support
on Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-106, which precludes any
liability against the seller of a product unless certain
exceptions apply. SAI Irondale contends that in the absence
of any allegation that it was the manufacturer of the
allegedly defective vehicle or its alternator, Plaintiff
cannot hold it liable under the Tennessee Products Liability
Act. Moreover, without some allegation to establish one of
the exceptions found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28- 106,
Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the
allegations in the Complaint.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) states, “After the
pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a
party may move for judgment on the pleadings.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Motions for judgment on the pleadings may
be granted where the moving party “is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Cincinnati Ins. Co.
v. Beazer Homes Invs., LLC, 594 F.3d 441, 444 (6th Cir.
2010). Just as with Rule 12(b)(6) motions, the Court must
consider a Rule 12(c) motion by “constru[ing] the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and
accept[ing] all allegations as true.” Jackson v.
City of Cleveland, 920 F.3d 340, 352 (6th Cir. 2019). A
pleading's factual allegations must be sufficient to give
notice to the defendant as to what claims are alleged, and
the plaintiff must plead “sufficient factual
matter” to render the legal claim plausible, i.e., more
than merely possible. Fritz v. Charter Tp. of
Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).
However, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation” need not be accepted as true on a Rule
12(c) motion, nor are recitations of the elements of a cause
of action sufficient. Marais v. Chase Home Finance
LLC, 736 F.3d 711, 713 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
Although the factual allegations in a pleading need not be
detailed, they “must do more than create speculation or
suspicion of a legally cognizable cause of action; they must
show entitlement to relief.” League of United Latin
Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir.
2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “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.” Bullington v. Bedford Cnty., Tenn.,
905 F.3d 467, 469 (6th Cir. 2018) (quoting Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 678)).
the allegations of the pleadings in a light most favorable to
Plaintiff, the Court holds that Plaintiff has failed to plead
enough facts to show that SAI Irondale is liable for any
alleged defect in her automobile. As a threshold matter, the
Court must determine which state's substantive law should
apply to Plaintiff's claims against SAI Irondale. The
Court has jurisdiction in this case under 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a) based on the parties' diversity of citizenship
and the amount in controversy. In a diversity case, the Court
applies the procedural law of the forum state, including its
choice-of-law rules, to determine the governing substantive
law. See e.g., Erie Ry. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S.
64, 78 (1938); Westfield Ins. Co. v. Tech Dry, Inc.,
336 F.3d 503, 506 (6th Cir. 2003); AutoZone, Inc. v.
Glidden Co., 737 F.Supp.2d 936, 941 (W.D. Tenn. 2010).
“Tennessee follows the ‘most significant
relationship' approach of the Restatement (Second) of
Conflict of Laws to choice-of-law questions.”
Montgomery v. Wyeth, 580 F.3d 455, 459 (6th Cir.
2009) (citing Hataway v. McKinley, 830 S.W.2d 53, 59
(Tenn. 1992)). In tort actions, Tennessee courts apply the
“law of the state where the injury occurred . . .
unless, with respect to the particular issue, some other
state has a more significant relationship . . . to the
occurrence and the parties.” Hataway, 830
S.W.2d at 59 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Conflict of
Laws §§ 146 & 175 (1971)).
purposes of SAI Irondale's Rule 12(c) Motion, the Court
will apply Tennessee substantive law. The Complaint alleges
that Plaintiff's injury occurred in Hardeman County,
Tennessee. Under Tennessee choice-of-law rules, Tennessee
substantive law should apply unless another state has a more
significant relationship to the case. It is true that the
Complaint alleges that Plaintiff purchased her vehicle from
Defendants Tom Williams BMW and SAI Irondale in Birmingham,
Alabama, and that both Defendants are Alabama business
organizations. Nevertheless, SAI Irondale has briefed
Tennessee substantive law and has not otherwise argued that
Alabama has a more significant relationship to this dispute.
Under the circumstances, the Court will assume without
deciding that Tennessee law, specifically the Tennessee
Products Liability Act (“TPLA”), applies.
TPLA governs “products liability actions” in
Tennessee, Strayhorn v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals,
Inc., 737 F.3d 378, 392 (6th Cir. 2013), and defines
such actions to include “all actions brought for or on
account of personal injury, death or property damage caused
by or resulting from the manufacture, construction, design,
formula, preparation, assembly, testing, service, warning,
instruction, marketing, packaging or labeling of any
product.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-102(6). The TPLA
also defines “product liability actions” to
include, without limitation, actions premised on any of the
following theories of relief: “strict liability in
tort; negligence; breach of warranty, express or implied;
breach of or failure to discharge a duty to warn or instruct,
whether negligent or innocent; misrepresentation,
concealment, or nondisclosure, whether negligent or innocent;
or under any other substantive legal theory in tort or
contract whatsoever.” Id.
Plaintiff's claims against SAI Irondale undoubtedly fall
within the broad ambit of the TPLA. Count One of the
Complaint alleges that SAI Irondale is liable under a
products liability theory for placing a defective auto
“into the stream of commerce.” Compl. ¶ 18.
Count Two of the Complaint seeks to hold SAI Irondale liable
under a theory of common law negligence for its failure
“to make necessary repairs” to the BMW before
selling the car to Plaintff. Id. ¶ 31. Each
cause of action meets the TPLA's sweeping definition of a
“products liability action.”
next question presented then is whether the TPLA imposes
liability on SAI Irondale for Plaintiffs' injuries. The
TPLA distinguishes between the “manufacturer” of
a product and the “seller” of a product. A
“manufacturer” is “the designer,
fabricator, producer, compounder, processor or
assembler” of the product or any of its
“component parts.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-
28-102(4). A “seller” is “a retailer,
wholesaler, or distributor, and means any individual or
entity engaged in the business of selling a product, whether
such sale is for resale, or for use or consumption . . .
.” § 29-28-102(7). The Court construes the
Complaint to allege that SAI Irondale was a seller of the
defective BMW, not the manufacturer. The Complaint clearly
alleges that SAI Irondale is an “auto dealership”
and that Plaintiff purchased her BMW from SAI Irondale.
Compl. ¶¶ 3, 4. The Complaint also alleges that SAI
Irondale “placed the defective products into the stream
of commerce by selling [the BMW with the faulty
alternator] to the Plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 18
(emphasis added). Perhaps more important, the Complaint
alleges that BMW North America, LLC was the manufacturer of
Plaintiff's car. See Compl. ¶ 5 (“The
2010 BMW 528i Sedan purchased by the Plaintiff on August 5,
2015 was manufactured and placed into the stream of commerce
by Defendant BMW of North America, LLC.”); ¶ 17
(“That at the time that Defendant BMW of North America,
LLC manufactured and placed the 2010 BMW 528i Sedan which the
Plaintiff purchased [sic] this motor vehicle was defective .
. . .”).
these allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiff,
the Complaint alleges that SAI Irondale was a
“seller” for purposes of the TPLA. SAI
Irondale's status as a seller means Plaintiff cannot hold
this Defendant liable in her products liability action. The
TPLA strictly limits the liability of a “seller”
of a defective product. Under Tenn. Code Ann. §
29-28-106, “No product liability action, as defined in
§ 29-28-102, shall be commenced or maintained against
any seller, other than the manufacturer . . . .” Tenn.
Code Ann. § 29-28-106. Plaintiff cannot hold SAI
Irondale liable under Tennessee law, either for an alleged
defect in the product or for its negligence in failing to
repair or cure the defect, if SAI Irondale was only a
“seller” of the BMW. As a result, SAI ...