Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Granted, but Plaintiffs Allowed to Amend Complaint U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, January 3, 2017
The plaintiffs initially filed a “short form asbestos complaint” in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, that included general counts for negligence, strict liability, loss of consortium, conspiracy, and fraud. The plaintiffs also realleged and incorporated counts for wrongful death from the master complaint. The case was removed to federal court and the defendants filed the motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), among other arguments, with the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is assessed under the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Here, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. [Citation Omitted].
In reviewing the motion papers, the court noted that in the short form complaint, the operative pleading in this action, the plaintiffs assert only one wrongful death count but base it upon both negligence and strict liability. Further, it was not clear from the short form complaint’s incorporation of the master complaint, including conspiracy and fraud, whether the court was expected to regard those theories as being included in the single, wrongful death count.
The court further emphasized that, as to each defendant, the plaintiffs must allege sufficient factual content to permit a reasonable inference that such defendant engaged in actionable misconduct. But in this case, the plaintiffs had, instead, relied upon broad conclusions and a formulaic recitation of the elements of negligence and strict liability. They lumped all the defendants together generally, made no effort to allege facts particular to any defendant, and failed to narrow the relevant time period as to each defendant. Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged no facts to satisfy the “frequency, regularity, proximity” test required under Maryland law to establish causation in asbestos claims. Finally, if the plaintiffs were to advance causes of action based upon conspiracy and fraud, then their complaint also fails to state claims for relief under those theories. As to fraud, the plaintiffs were required to plead this cause of action with particularity, which they failed to do.
Due to the general nature of the plaintiff’s allegations and insufficiency of their claims, the defendants’ motion was granted. However, it is important to note that the plaintiffs were permitted the opportunity to file an amended complaint correcting the deficiencies noted in the court’s decision.