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Jefferies v. BCI Burke Co. LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 24, 2018

BCI BURKE COMPANY, LLC et al, Defendant.


          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         This case arises out of injuries incurred by the plaintiff while using playground equipment provided and installed by the defendants. The plaintiff, Syr'eye Jefferies-by next friend Melissa Santos-Jefferies, his mother-, brings claims of product liability under Conn. Gen. Statute § 52-572m, et seq. against the defendants, BCI Burke Company, LLC (“BCI”), and Design Built, LLC (“Design”). Design moves to dismiss the count against it. (See ECF No. 28). For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is hereby DENIED.

         I. Factual Allegations

         The plaintiff makes the following allegations, which I assume to be true.

         Defendant Design “is in the business of planning, designing, constructing and maintaining playgrounds for schools, daycare, childcare and parks and recreation.” (ECF No. 26 at ¶ 7). It is also “in the business of distributing, installing, maintaining and selling commercial outdoor playground equipment for the playgrounds it plans, designs and/or maintains.” (Id. at ¶ 8). At all times relevant to this case, Design was a “product seller” as that term is defined under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572, et seq. (Id. at ¶ 10). At some point in 2010, “the Town of Hamden, Connecticut, began the process of planning, designing and building a playground . . . called Josh's Jungle.” (Id. at ¶ 11). One of the products planned for the playground included “the Cruiser, ” a playground installation marketed by Defendant BCI Burke. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 13). “On or about February 25, 2013, Town of Hamden hired [Design] to plan, design and construct Josh's Jungle. . . .” (Id. at ¶ 12). Design constructed the playground thereafter-including installation of “the Cruiser”-, and Josh's Jungle opened to the public sometime around July 22, 2013. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14).

         In April of 2013, “while the minor Plaintiff was playing on the Cruiser at Josh's Jungle in Hamden, he was injured as a result of a defect in the Cruiser that exposed the mechanism upon which it moves or rocks thereby creating a high risk of pinch or crush type injuries.” (Id. at ¶ 15). As a result of these injuries, the plaintiff sustained: “(a) a close displaced comminuted fracture of the left femur requiring surgery; (b) a risk of problematic growth arrest; (c) need for additional surgery(ies); (d) mental anguish; and (e) anxiety and apprehension about his mental and physical conditions.” (Id. at ¶ 16). “Some or all of [these] injuries and damages have affected the Plaintiff's ability to engage in, and enjoy, his activities of daily living and have prevented him from resuming his pre-incident lifestyle.” (Id.). The plaintiff has also “incurred expenses for his medical care and treatment and will likely continue to do so in the future.” (Id. at ¶ 17).

         II. Legal Standard

         When reviewing a complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a court must “accept as true all allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.” E & L Consulting, Ltd. v. Doman Indus., 472 F.3d 23, 28 (2d Cir. 2006). “To survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion, the complaint must plead ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Morales v. Weiss, 569 Fed.Appx. 36, 37 (2d Cir. 2014), quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim lacks facial plausibility when it offers mere “labels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Discussion

         Design makes three arguments in its motion to dismiss the plaintiff's product liability claim against it, all of which center on the plaintiff's decision to amend his complaint. The plaintiff's original complaint alleged a negligence claim against Design. (ECF No. 1-1 at 4). On July 13, 2017, Design filed a motion to dismiss the claim. (ECF No. 18). Upon Design's filing of the motion to dismiss, the Court issued the following order on July 14, 2017:

[Design] has filed a . . . motion to dismiss Plaintiff[‘]s complaint in part for failure to state a claim. On or before August 4, 2017, Plaintiff shall either file a response to the motion or file an amended complaint in which Plaintiff pleads as many facts as possible, consistent with Rule 11, to address the alleged defects discussed in [Design's] memorandum of law. The Court will not allow further amendments after August 4, 2017. If Plaintiff chooses to amend and if [Design] renews its motion to dismiss, [Design] may incorporate by reference any prior briefing.

(ECF No. 19 (emphases omitted)). The plaintiff then filed a timely amended complaint on August 3, 2017, which replaced the negligence claim with a product liability claim against Design. (See ECF No. 26 at 5). Design contends that the plaintiff's addition of the new product liability claim defied the Court's order recounted above. (ECF No. 28-1 at 4-5). It also contends that the new claim is barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations. (Id. at 5-7). Finally, it avers that the plaintiff‘s product liability claim does not relate back to the filing of the original complaint, thereby making it time barred. (Id. at 7-8).

         The former two arguments are nonstarters. There is nothing in the Court's July 14, 2017 order that prohibited the plaintiff from amending his complaint to include a new claim. Rather, the Court's order notified the plaintiff that he had a onetime opportunity to amend his claim as he saw fit in response to Design's motion to dismiss-an opportunity afforded him by Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B). Design's second argument concerning the applicability of the statute of limitations for the plaintiff's product liability claim lacks any force absent its third argument that the plaintiff's claim does not relate back to his original complaint. The statute of limitations for a product liability claim under Connecticut law extends “three years from the date when the injury, death or property damage” at issue was “first sustained or discovered or in the exercise of reasonable care should have been discovered, ” save for certain exceptions inapplicable in this case. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-577a(a). The plaintiff's accident took place “on or about April 11, 2014, ” (see ECF No. 26 at ¶ 15), and the plaintiff filed his original complaint on April 10, 2017. (See ECF No. 1-1 at 6).[1] He filed his amended complaint on August 3, 2017. (See ECF No. 26 at 1). Thus, whether the plaintiff's product liability claim against Design is time barred hinges on whether the claim relates back to his original complaint.

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1), an “amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . the law that provides the applicable statute of limitations allows relation back” or “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. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(A-B). The “central inquiry” in determining whether an amendment setting out a new claim may relate back to the original complaint “is whether adequate notice of the matters raised in the amended pleading has been given to the opposing party within the statute of limitations ‘by the general fact situation alleged in the original pleading.'” Stevelman v. Alias Research Inc., 174 F.3d 79, 86 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Rosenberg v. Martin, 478 F.2d 520, 526 (2d Cir. 1973) (citation omitted)). In determining “whether adequate notice has been given, ‘the test is not contemporaneity'”; “in other words, the test is not simply whether the events giving rise to the different complaints occurred at the same time.” McCarthy v. Associated Clearing Bureau, Inc., No. 3:97CV1969, 1999 ...

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