United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
WENDELL D. HAMPTON, Plaintiff,
BOB EVANS TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, LLC, et al., Defendants.
C, Reeves United States District Judge.
matter is pending for consideration of the defendants'
partial motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). [Record No. 5] The motion will be
granted, in part, and denied, in part, for the reasons that
case arises out of an automobile accident on Russell Dyche
Memorial Highway in Laurel County, Kentucky. [Record No. 1-1,
¶ 7] The plaintiff alleges that the accident occurred
when a Bob Evans Transportation Company, LLC (“Bob
Evans”) semi-trailer truck being driven by Joe F.
Morrison, in the course and scope of his employment,
“pulled out in front of the [p]laintiff hitting his
vehicle and causing it to go under the rear of the trailer
and to be dragged to the shoulder of [the] . . .
Highway.” [Id.] The plaintiff asserts that, at
the time of the collision, Morrison failed to keep an
appropriate lookout ahead, failed to yield the right of way,
and crossed over the median and the east bound lanes of the
highway, leading to the collision. [Id. ¶ 9]
Complaint asserts a negligence claim against Morrison, and
seeks punitive damages for his allegedly grossly negligent
conduct. [Id. ¶¶ 8-11] Additionally, the
Complaint seeks to hold Bob Evans vicariously liable, and
asserts a claim for negligent hiring, training, or
supervision against Bob Evans. [Id. ¶¶
9-11, 13-15] The defendants have moved to dismiss the
plaintiff's claim for punitive damages, and his negligent
hiring, training, or supervision claim against Bob Evans.
[Record No. 5] They do not challenge the plaintiff's
negligence and vicarious liability claims.
12(b)(6) motion requires the Court to determine whether the
Complaint alleges “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 plausibility standard is met
“when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although the
Complaint need not contain “detailed factual
allegations” to survive a motion to dismiss, the
“plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of
his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted);
see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“[T]he tenet
that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal
diversity action such as this one, the Court applies
“the substantive law of the forum state and federal
procedural law.” Hoven v. Walgreen Co., 751
F.3d 778, 783 (6th Cir. 2014).
the defendants' motion will be evaluated under Kentucky
substantive law and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
damages existed at common law, and have been part of the
fabric of Anglo-American and Kentucky jurisprudence for
centuries.” MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier, 433
S.W.3d 324, 337 (Ky. 2014). The Supreme Court of Kentucky has
held that punitive damages may be awarded upon a showing of
gross negligence. Williams v. Wilson, 972 S.W.2d
260, 262-65 (Ky. 1998). “[T]he prevailing understanding
defines gross negligence as a wanton or reckless disregard
for the safety of other persons.” Kinney v.
Butcher, 131 S.W.3d 357, 359 (Ky. App. 2004) (quotation
marks and citations omitted). Consequently, “to justify
punitive damages there must be first a finding of failure to
exercise reasonable care, and then an additional finding that
this negligence was accompanied by wanton or reckless
disregard for the lives, safety, or property of
others.” Allegier, 443 S.W.3d at 338.
not necessary to state an express claim for punitive damages
in a Complaint. See Louisville & N.R. Co. v.
Taylor, 237 S.W.2d 842, 843 (Ky. 1951). And even when a
claim for punitive damages claim is dismissed, the plaintiff
“may still recover punitive damages should the evidence
support such a finding. To do so, [the] [p]laintiff must put
forth sufficient allegations supported by evidence at the
summary-judgment stage or proved at trial that would warrant
a punitive-damages instruction.” Archey v. AT&T
Mobility, LLC, 17-cv-91, 2017 WL 6614106, at *4 (E.D.
Ky. Dec. 26, 2017).
the plaintiff alleges that Morrison's actions of crossing
over the median and east bound lanes of the highway, without
yielding the right of way or keeping a proper lookout ahead,
were “negligent, grossly negligent, reckless and
wanton.” [Record No. 1-1, ¶¶ 7-8, 10(g)] The
plaintiff does not assert punitive damages as a separate
cause of action. [See id.; Record No. 9, p. 2.]
Instead, the plaintiff seeks punitive damages as a remedy for
the defendants' alleged gross negligence. See
Baumgardner v. Bimbo Food Bakeries Dist., Inc., 697
F.Supp.2d 801, 807 n.13 (N.D. Ohio 2010) (construing a
Complaint as “as seeking punitive damages as an
available remedy attached to a substantive cause of action,
in light of Rule 8's dictate that ‘no technical
form of pleading is required' and ‘pleadings must
be construed so as to do justice'”) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1) and (e) (alterations adopted)). This is
sufficient to preserve the plaintiff's ability to seek a
punitive damages instruction at trial. Such an instruction
will only be given if there is evidence that the defendants
were not just ordinarily negligent, but displayed a
“wanton or reckless disregard for the ...