United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville
OPINION & ORDER
E. Wier, United States District Judge
October 11, 2018, the Court dismissed all of Plaintiff Jeff
Huang's claims against the Presbyterian Church. DE 28
(Opinion & Order). The Court also dismissed eleven of
Huang's thirteen claims against his former school, the
University of Pikeville, and various past and present
University personnel. Id. Only Plaintiff's
breach of contract (Count XI) and punitive damages claims
persist (Count XII). Defendants answered, DE 31, and now seek
partial judgment on the pleadings. See DE 55 (Rule
12(c) Motion). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for
review. See DE 56 (Response); DE 57 (Reply).
Individual Defendants seek dispositive relief on Huang's
breach of contract claims. All Defendants seek judgment as
a matter of law on Plaintiff's punitive damages count.
“The manner of review under [Fed. R. Civ. P.] 12(c) is
the same as a review under Rule 12(b)(6)[.]”
Jelovsek v. Bredesen, 545 F.3d 431, 434 (6th Cir.
2008). Accordingly, to survive a Rule 12(c) motion, Huang
needed to allege “sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to ‘state a claim [for] relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Garcia v. Fed. Nat.
Mortgage Ass'n, 782 F.3d 736, 739 (6th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct.
1955, 1974 (2007)). The Court, noting the identical Rule 12(c)
standard with regard to assessment of Plaintiffs factual
allegations and seeing no material impact from
Defendants' responsive pleading, incorporates the
recitation of case facts from the Rule 12(b)(6) decision, by
reference, in full. See DE 28 at 2-5. For the
following reasons, and under the applicable standards, the
Court finds that the pleadings, as to the challenged aspects,
fail to frame plausible claims for relief and grants
Defendants' motion. Breach of Contract - Count
XI Movants contend that Huang pleaded a contract only between
himself and the University. DE 55 at 2. Accordingly, the
Individual Defendants claim they are entitled to Rule 12(c)
relief on Huang's breach of contract claims. The Court
alleges no contract between himself and any Individual
Defendant. See DE 6 (Amended Complaint) at
¶¶ 23 (“contract between the institution and
the student”), 26 (“contract between the
Plaintiff and the Defendant University”), 90 (same).
Huang's response does not really dispute this point.
See generally DE 56. Instead, Plaintiff alleges that
the Individual Defendants could be held liable for tortious
conduct. See Id. at 8-10.
the Court has already dismissed all of Plaintiff's tort
claims. See DE 28; DE 59 (Op. & Order - denying
motion to alter or amend). Plaintiff identifies no allegedly
breached provision of any contract between himself and any of
the Individual Defendants. Thus, the Court sees no viable
contract claim (at least against the moving Defendants).
Accordingly, the Court will dismiss the Count XI claims
against all Defendants other than the University.
Damages - Count XIII
all Defendants pursue judgment as a matter of law on
Plaintiff's punitive damages claim. As grounds, the
defense contends that state law forbids punitive damage
recoveries on Huang's sole remaining substantive claim:
contract breach. See DE 55 at 4- 5 (“In no
case shall punitive damages be awarded for breach of
contract.” (quoting KRS 411.184(4)). The Court, again,
agrees. Plaintiff's citation to authority allowing
recovery of punitive damages for tortious conduct
accompanying a contract breach are, in current case context,
irrelevant. See DE 56 at 5-8. To reiterate, Huang
stated no plausible tort theory and, thus, has no live tort
Plaintiff's own citation, “instructions on punitive
damages in breach of contract cases must include language to
the effect that in order to make such an award the jury must
find as a matter of fact that the conduct involved was
tortious as adequately defined by the terms traditionally
associated with outrage.” See DE 56 at 8
(quoting Audiovox Corp. v. Moody, 737 S.W.2d 468,
471 (Ky. Ct. App. 1987)); see also Mo-Jack Distrib., LLC
v. Tamarak Snacks, LLC, 476 S.W.3d 900, 911 (Ky. Ct.
App. 2015) (“Punitive damages are reserved for only the
most egregious acts and recoverable only if it is proven by
clear and convincing evidence that an opposing party acted
with oppression, fraud, or malice.”). Plaintiff's
sole (deficiently) pleaded outrage theory, relied “on
Defendant Dunatov's alleged release of Plaintiff's
academic information to a third-party student in September
2011.” DE 28 at 17. Thus, Plaintiff's argument
would, at best, allow pursuit of punitive recovery only
against a single Defendant. However, the Court has dismissed
Huang's IIED claim and, thus, he has no viable outrage
(or any other tort) theory to present in support of a
punitive damages award, against any Defendant.
simply, “the statute (KRS 411.184(4)) and the case law
are clear that punitive damages are not recoverable for mere
breach of contract, see Federal Kemper Ins. Co. v.
Hornback, Ky., 711 S.W.2d 844 (1986), overruled in
part by Curry v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co., Ky., 784
S.W.2d 176 (1989)[.]” Faulkner Drilling Co. v.
Gross, 943 S.W.2d 634, 638-39 (Ky. Ct. App. 1997). A
simple breach of contract claim (against a single Defendant)
is all Huang has viably pleaded. Thus, the theoretical
availability of punitive damages “if the breach
included separately tortious conduct”
does not, here, aid Plaintiff's efforts to fend off
Defendants' motion. Again, the Court has already determined
that Plaintiff alleges no actionable tortious conduct.
Accordingly, Defendants are entitled to judgment on the
pleadings for Count XIII.
Huang's amendment request, the Court, in granting
Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion and addressing a like
request, previously explained:
Plaintiff, in his Response, requests leave to file an amended
complaint if the Court grants Defendants' motions. The
Court, for now, rejects the request. Because no motion pends,
Defendants have not had a formal opportunity to respond to
the request. Further, Plaintiff does not identify the nature
of any proposed amendments. Thus, the Court is unable to
analyze the motion under the applicable standards. See,
e.g., Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2) (providing that a party
may amend its pleadings with the court's leave, which
“[t]he court should freely give . . . when justice so
requires.”); Foman v. Davis, 83 S.Ct. 227, 230
(1962) (Courts may deny amendment for a variety of
reasons-“such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory
motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure
deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue
prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the
amendment, futility of amendment, etc.”). The record,
at this point, does not allow the Court to reach a reasoned
decision on Plaintiff's nonspecific amendment request-
which is not, in its current form, a motion properly before
the Court. The Court notes, however, the Sixth Circuit's
instruction that a timely request to amend, in response to
potential dismissal, is a factor relevant to denying or
freely granting amendment. See Tucker v.
Middleburg-Legacy Place, 539 F.3d 545, 551-52 (6th Cir.
2008). Further, Plaintiff already amended once. Thus,
although the Court denies the request for now, Plaintiff has
leave to file a properly supported amendment motion,
compliant with any scheduling order.
DE 28 at 27-28. Despite such leave, Plaintiff never formally
pursued amendment and his current request features the same
deficiencies (enhanced by the initial warning) that led to
the Court's prior denial. Further, the DE 56 amendment
request came after the applicable March 1, 2019, deadline.
See DE 34 (Scheduling Order) at ¶ 5. Plaintiff
makes no attempt to show good cause for his failure to timely
these reasons, and under the applicable standards, the Court
GRANTS DE 55. Only Plaintiffs contract ...