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Sparks v. Kroger Limited Partnership I

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

July 26, 2018

EVELYN SUE SPARKS Plaintiff,
v.
KROGER LIMITED PARTNERSHIP I, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff
v.
VILLAGE SQUARE SHOPPING CENTER, LLLP Defendant/Third-Party Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Evelyn Sue Sparks brought an action against Kroger Limited Partnership I seeking to recover for injuries sustained in an accident that occurred in the parking of the Kroger shopping center in Middlesboro, Kentucky. The action was subsequently removed to the Eastern District of Kentucky. Sparks later amended her complaint to include as a defendant the owner of the property, Village Square Shopping Center, LLLP. Village Square now moves to dismiss Sparks's Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, Village Square's Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED.

         I

         Evelyn Sue Sparks was at Kroger's retail store in Middlesboro, Kentucky, on January 31, 2016, when she sustained injuries after tripping and falling in the parking lot due to a break in the pavement. [R. 36 at 3.] Sparks filed an action against Kroger in Bell Circuit Court on January 27, 2017, alleging Kroger negligently failed to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises in a reasonably safe condition and negligently failed to warn Sparks, an invitee, of a latent danger that posed an unreasonable risk of foreseeable injury. [R. 1-1.] Kroger removed the case to this Court on June 5, 2017, on the grounds of diversity of citizenship. [See R. 1.]

         On June 14, 2017, Kroger filed a Motion for Leave to File a Third-Party Complaint against Village Square, the owner of the property on which Sparks's injury occurred. [R. 7.] In its motion, Kroger stated, "pursuant to the terms of the Lease Agreement, Landlord has a duty to repair and maintain the common area and to indemnify and hold harmless the Tenant from losses, damages, claims and expense . . . relating to the 'common area.'" [R. 7-1 at 2.] The Court granted Kroger's Motion for Leave to File a Third-Party Complaint on July 6, 2017. [R. 11.] On July 31, 2017, Kroger served Village Square with a copy of the Third Party Complaint. [SeeR. 18.]

         On January 11, 2018, Sparks moved to amend her complaint for the purpose of adding Village Square as a defendant. [R. 33.] In her Amended Complaint, Sparks contends Village Square, as owner of the property, negligently failed to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition and negligently failed to warn invitees of dangers that posed an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of injury. [R. 36 at 2-3.] Sparks's Motion was granted without objection, and the Amended Complaint was filed on January 31, 2018. [R. 35; R. 36.] On February 8, 2018, Village Square filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint on the basis that the one-year statute of limitations had expired before she filed her Amended Complaint and, therefore, Sparks failed to state a claim against Village Square upon which relief may be granted. [R. 40 at 3.] The Motion to Dismiss has been fully briefed and is now ripe for review.

         II

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a defendant to seek dismissal of a complaint which fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In making such a motion, "[t]he defendant has the burden of showing that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief." DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Carver v. Bunch, 946 F.2d 451, 454-55 (6th Cir. 1991)). Rule 8 requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint "must contain either direct or inferential allegations" establishing each material element required for recovery under some actionable legal theory. Bishop v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 520 F.3d 516, 519 (6th Cir. 2008) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

         When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court "construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept[s] its allegations as true, and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." DirecTV, Inc., 487 F.3d at 476 (citation omitted). The Court, however, "need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences." Id. (citation omitted). Moreover, as is now well known, "a complaint must contain 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) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In other words, the facts that are pled must rise to the level of plausibility, not just possibility - "facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability . . . stop[ ] short of the line between possibility and plausibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). According to the Sixth Circuit, "[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." DirecTV, Inc., 487 F.3d at 476 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Thus, the plaintiff must at least "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, [which] requires more than labels and conclusions. . . ." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district court generally may not consider matters presented outside the pleadings unless it converts the motion into one for summary judgment under Rule 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Heinrich v. Waiting Angels Adoption Servs., Inc., 668 F.3d 393, 405 (6th Cir. 2012). The district court, however, also has the discretion to ignore such evidence and resolve the motion solely on the basis of the pleadings. Heinrich, 668 F.3d at 405; Max Arnold & Sons, LLC v. W.L. Hailey & Co., Inc., 452 F.3d 494, 502-03 (6th Cir. 2006) (collecting cases). Certain matters beyond the allegations in the complaint such as "matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the complaint, also may be taken into account." Amini v. Oberlin College, 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         While Rule 14 governs third-party practice and allows a plaintiff to assert certain claims against a third-party defendant, Rule 15 governs the relation back of amendments to pleadings. Rule 15(c)(1) provides that an amendment will relate back to the date of the original pleading in three circumstances:

(A) the law providing the applicable statute of limitations explicitly allows relation back;
(B) the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out-or attempted to be set out-in the original pleading; or (C) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted, if Rule 15(c)(1)(B) is satisfied and if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment:
(i) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending ...

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