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Warndorf v. Otis Elevator Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

January 8, 2019





         On October 21, 2016, Diane Warndorf, an employee of the United States Postal Service, was delivering packages in the John Weld Peck Federal Building in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Doc. # 25 at 3). Warndorf alleges that an elevator in the building-Elevator No. 12-failed while she was riding it. Id. Specifically, she claims that the elevator “malfunctioned and suddenly dropped two floors.” Id. Warndorf alleges that the sudden movement of the elevator caused her to be “thrown to the floor of the elevator.” Id. She suffered ongoing injuries as a result of the incident including neck and back injuries as well as spinal concussion and headaches. Id.

         On September 13, 2017, Warndorf brought suit against Otis Elevator Company (“Otis”) and unknown defendants who performed work at the John Weld Peck Federal Building claiming that the “elevator had malfunctioned just a week [before the injury occurred] and Defendant knew or should have known of the hazardous/dangerous condition.” (Doc. # 1 at 1-3). With permission of the Court, Warndorf amended her Complaint on January 23, 2018. (Docs. # 24 and 25). The Amended Complaint named KONE, Inc. (“KONE”), another elevator company, as an additional defendant. (Doc. # 25). Warndorf alleges seven claims-(1) a negligence claim under the theory of res ipsa loquitur against all defendants, (2) a breach of express and implied warranties claim, (3) a negligence claim against Otis, (4) a negligence claim against KONE, (5) a claim against Otis and KONE under a theory of respondeat superior, (6) a gross-negligence claim for punitive damages against Otis, and (7) a gross-negligence claim for punitive damages against KONE. (Doc # 25 at 4-8). Otis answered on February 6, 2018 (Doc. # 28), and KONE answered on April 20, 2018. (Doc. # 36). On July 30, 2018, KONE filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings asking the Court to dismiss the counts against it (counts one, two, four, five, and seven). (Doc. # 41). Plaintiff Warndorf and Defendant Otis both filed responses in opposition-Warndorf on August 16, 2018 and Otis on August 17, 2018. (Docs. # 42 and 43). KONE filed its reply on August 30, 2018. (Doc. # 44). The Motion is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         The standard of review for a 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is the same as a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12; Roth v. Guzman, 650 F.3d 603, 605 (6th Cir. 2011). To survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded material allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true, and the motion may be granted only if the moving party is nevertheless clearly entitled to judgment.” Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place, 539 F.3d 545, 549 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir. 2007)).

         B. Choice of Law

         A federal court sitting in diversity must apply the substantive law of the state in which it is sitting. See Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 465-66 (1965) (explaining Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)). This includes applying the choice-of-law rules of the state in which the court sits. Phelps v. McClellan, 30 F.3d 658, 661 (6th Cir. 1994). Thus, in this case, the Court must apply Kentucky's choice-of-law rules.

         Under Kentucky choice-of-law rules “there is a strong preference . . . for applying Kentucky law.” Wells Fargo Fin. Leasing, Inc. v. Griffin, 970 F.Supp.2d 700, 707 (W.D. Ky. Sept. 6, 2013) (collecting cases). “[T]he law of the forum . . . should not be displaced without valid reasons.” Foster v. Leggett, 484 S.W.2d 827, 829 (Ky. 1972). In other words, Kentucky is “very egocentric or protective concerning choice of law questions.” Paine v. La Quinta Motor Inns, Inc., 736 S.W.2d 355, 357 (Ky. Ct. App. 1987), overruled on other grounds by Oliver v. Schultz, 885 S.W.2d 699 (Ky. 1994). In general, “a court must apply Kentucky's law when there are not overwhelming interests to the contrary.” Asher v. Unarco Material Handling, Inc., 737 F.Supp.2d 662, 666 (E.D. Ky. 2010). In Kentucky, separate choice-of-law analyses exist for claims arising under tort and contract. Wells Fargo Fin. Leasing, Inc., 970 F.Supp.2d at 707 (citing Saleba v. Schrand, 300 S.W.3d 177, 181 (Ky. 2009)).

         In tort cases brought in Kentucky, Kentucky law is applied if a court finds there are any significant contacts with Kentucky. Brewster v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 279 S.W.3d 142, 145 n.8 (Ky. 2009); Saleba, 300 S.W.3d at 181; Foster, 484 S.W.2d at 829 (finding that “if there are significant contacts-not necessarily the most significant contacts-with Kentucky, the Kentucky law should be applied”).[1] A court should not determine applicable law “on the basis of weighing of interests, but simply on the basis of whether Kentucky has enough contacts to justify applying Kentucky law.” Arnett v. Thompson, 433 S.W.2d 109, 113 (Ky. Ct. App. 1968). Underlying this choice-of-law approach for torts is the fact “that ‘Kentucky's tort and products liability laws are intended to protect Kentucky residents and provide compensation when they are the injured party.”' Hoagland v. Ford Motor Co., No. Civ.A. 06-615-C, 2007 WL 2789768, at *4 (W.D. Ky. Sept. 21, 2007) (quoting Custom Prods., Inc. v. Fluor Daniel Can., Inc., 262 F.Supp.2d 767, 773. (W.D. Ky. 2003)).

         “The tort claims alleged here were committed against [a] Kentucky resident[], which gives the claims ‘significant contacts' with Kentucky.” Aces High Coal Sales, Inc. v. Cmty. Tr. & Bank of W. Ga., No. 15-161-DLB-HAI, 2017 WL 3122661, at *12 (E.D. Ky. July 21, 2017). This rule is supported by the principle that tort law was developed to protect Kentucky residents like Warndorf. Hoagland, 2007 WL 2789768, at *4. Thus, as Warndorf is a resident of Kentucky, Kentucky law governs the case before the Court.[2]

         C. Breach of Warranty

         A successful breach-of-warranty claim in Kentucky requires privity of contract between the parties to the litigation. Compex Int'l Co., Ltd. v. Taylor, 209 S.W.3d 462, 464 (Ky. 2006); see also Tate v. Linvatec Corp., 2:06-cv-69-DLB, 2009 WL 10676045, at *1-2 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 5, 2009) (collecting cases). “Privity of contract . . . is the relationship which subsists between two contracting parties.” Barry v. Am. Cyanamid Co., 314 F.2d 14, 17 (6th Cir. 1965). In other words, generally there must be a contractual relationship ...

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