Court Partially Denies Talc Manufacturer’s Motion to Dismiss as to Plausible Gross Negligence and Punitive Damages Claims, but Grants Motion as to Speculative Conspiracy Claim U.S. District Court North Carolina, M.D., October 18, 2018
NORTH CAROLINA – The plaintiffs Everett VanHoy and Lucille VanHoy (plaintiffs) filed this personal-injury action against multiple defendants, including American International Industries (AII), alleging the plaintiff Everett VanHoy’s (Mr. VanHoy) mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to a variety of asbestos-containing products throughout his life. AII moved to dismiss, under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiffs’ complaint on the following bases: (i) failure to state a gross-negligence claim; (ii) the plaintiffs’ inability to recover punitive damages resulting from a failure prove AII acted with “fraud, malice, or with willful and wanton conduct”; and (iii) the plaintiffs’ failure to sufficiently assert a claim for civil conspiracy. The Middle District of North Carolina granted in part and dismissed in part AII’s motion.
First, the court concluded that the gross-negligence claim was “plausible,” the characterization of which is the relevant inquiry upon a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim, reasoning that the complaint contained enough factual information regarding “when, where, and how Mr. VanHoy was exposed to asbestos,” and a list of the products at issue, all of which would enable AII to prepare a response. Next, the court found the plaintiffs’ list of specific acts and omissions by AII’s management supported the conclusion that the complaint plausibly alleged that “AII’s management engaged in willful or wanton conduct sufficient to state a claim for punitive damages.”
The court, however, found that the plaintiffs failed to establish a conspiracy claim beyond suspicion or mere conjecture. Since the plaintiffs failed to provide details as to what “aid” was given by the defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to AII or how Defendants “collaborated” to understate the dangers of asbestos exposure, the Middle District concluded that the plaintiffs alleged no facts from which it could be reasonably inferred that there was an agreement between AII and the defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company amounting to civil conspiracy.
Accordingly, the court denied AII’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion with respect to the plaintiffs’ gross-negligence claim, and granted AII’s Rule (12)(b)(6) motion with respect to the plaintiffs’ civil-conspiracy claim.