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Philadelphia Indemnity Ins. Co. v. Lennox Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 18, 2019




         Plaintiff Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company (“PIIC” or “Plaintiff”), as subrogee of Almost Home Day Care, brought this product liability action against Defendants Lennox Industries, Inc. (“Lennox”) and Nidec Motor Corporation (“Nidec”) under the Connecticut Product Liability Act (“CPLA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572m, et seq. Nidec now moves to dismiss the Second Count of the Third Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. For the reasons that follow, Nidec's Motion to Dismiss is granted. The Court also sua sponte dismisses Plaintiff's claims against Lennox, which rest on parallel allegations. Plaintiff will be given leave to replead all claims as specified below.

         I. Facts Alleged

         The allegations set forth in the Third Amended Complaint (the “TAC”), taken as true for purposes of this motion, are summarized as follows.

         On or about August 12, 2017, a fire broke out at a property in Ridgefield, Connecticut owned by Almost Home Day Care (“Almost Home”). [Doc. 40 (“Compl.”) ¶ 14.] The fire caused substantial damage to Almost Home's property. [Id. ¶¶ 14, 21.]

         Plaintiff alleges that the fire originated from a defective furnace designed, assembled, manufactured, sold, tested, distributed, and/or marketed by Defendant Lennox (the “subject furnace”), and a defective blower motor designed, assembled, manufactured, sold, tested, distributed, and/or marketed by Defendant Nidec (the “subject blower motor”). [Id. ¶¶ 14, 18, 20.] Prior to the fire, Almost Home used the subject furnace and blower motor (collectively, the “subject products”) in an ordinary and foreseeable manner at its Ridgefield property. [Id. ¶ 15.] The subject furnace and motor blower were not modified, changed, altered, or abused by Almost Home or any other users. [Id. ¶ 19.]

         Pursuant to a property insurance policy issued by PIIC to Almost Home, PIIC paid Almost Home for the property damage it incurred as a result of the fire. [Id. ¶¶ 2, 3.] On August 14, 2018, PIIC, as subrogor of Almost Home, filed its two-count Third Amended Complaint alleging that Defendants Lennox and Nidec violated the CPLA by manufacturing, designing, assembling, distributing and selling defective products, failing to provide adequate warnings or instructions on how to operate it, and breaching express and implied warranties. [See Doc. 40.] On September 10, 2018, Nidec filed a motion to dismiss the second count for failure to adequately plead a claim entitled to relief. [See Doc. 47.] In response, Plaintiff has both opposed Defendant's motion to dismiss on the merits and, in the alternative, requested leave to amend its complaint for a fourth time. [See Doc. 51 at 2.]

         II. Legal Standard for Dismissal

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires the plaintiff to provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The “principal function of pleadings under the Federal Rules is to give the adverse party fair notice of the claim asserted so as to enable him to answer and prepare for trial.” Simmons v. Abruzzo, 49 F.3d 83, 86 (2d Cir. 1995).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although detailed factual allegations are not required, Keller v. Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., 751 F.3d 64, 70 (2d Cir. 2014), mere “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Plaintiff must, at a minimum, “plead[ ] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In determining whether a plaintiff has met this standard, the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007).

         III. Discussion

         All of Plaintiff's claims are governed by the CPLA, which provides the exclusive vehicle in this state for actions premised on “harm caused by a product.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572n(a); see also Winslow v. Lewis-Shepard, Inc., 212 Conn. 462, 471 (1989). While all products liability claims have thus been consolidated into “a single form of action, ” LaMontagne v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., Inc., 41 F.3d 846, 855 (2d Cir. 1994), the CPLA permits a plaintiff to assert various common law theories of liability thereunder, Rosenthal v. Ford Motor Co., Inc., 462 F.Supp.2d 296, 307 n. 11 (D. Conn. 2006). See also Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572m(b) (“‘Product liability claim' shall include, but is not limited to, all actions based on the following theories: Strict liability in tort; negligence; breach of warranty, express or implied; breach of or failure to discharge a duty to warn or instruct, whether negligent or innocent; misrepresentation or nondisclosure, whether negligent or innocent.”). Importantly, however, the CPLA does not “alter the substance of a plaintiff's rights or the facts that a plaintiff must prove in order to prevail.” LaMontagne, 41 F.3d at 855 (citations omitted). Consequently, any sub-claim brought under the CPLA (e.g., negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty) must sufficiently allege all elements that would be required at common law. See Id. at 856 (concluding that the district court “was correct to assess plaintiffs' theories of recovery in light of the Connecticut common-law requirements”).

         Plaintiff's Complaint presents a single CPLA cause of action against Nidec premised on four underlying theories of liability: (1) strict liability; (2) negligence; (3) breach of express warranty; and (4) breach of the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. [See Compl. ¶ 27.] While Plaintiff need not make a pretrial election between these theories, each theory must itself be sufficient to state a claim standing alone, and “[f]actual allegations [in support of each] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545; see also Kwan v. Schlein, 246 F.R.D. 447, 452 (S.D.N.Y. 2007).

         In moving to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Nidec argues that the Complaint consists primarily of impermissible legal conclusions, unsupported by factual assertions sufficient to support a product liability claim. [Doc. 47 at 3.] The Court agrees and, for the reasons discussed in Section III(E) infra, also dismisses all claims against Defendant Lennox. However, Plaintiff will be granted leave to amend its complaint. See Simmons, 49 F.3d at 86-87 ([I]f the court dismisses the complaint for failure to comply with Rule 8, it should generally give the plaintiff leave to amend. This is especially true when the complaint states a claim that is on its face nonfrivolous.”); Michael Miller Fabrics, LLC v. Studio Imports Ltd., Inc., No. 12 CV 3858 KMW JLC, 2012 WL 4513546, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 1, 2012) (granting defendant's motion to dismiss but permitting plaintiff to amend complaint with more specific factual allegations).

         A. Product Defect and Causation

          Nidec argues that the Third Amended Complaint “fails to reveal any factual allegations to support its boilerplate allegations of a defect.” [Doc. 47 at 5.] Specifically, Nidec contends that Plaintiff has failed to identify a specific defect attributable to the blower motor. [Id. at 6.] Plaintiff counters that at this early stage of litigation, the allegations and facts set forth in the Third Amended Complaint are sufficient under the liberal pleading requirements of the federal rules to provide Nidec “with more than enough notice of” the pertinent facts and claims. [Doc. 51-1 at 6-7.]

         In any Connecticut products liability action, whether brought in strict liability or negligence, “the plaintiff must plead and prove that the product was defective and that the defect was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries.Haesche v. Kissner, 229 Conn. 213, 218 (1994) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Faux v. Thomas Indus., Inc., No. CV89-0233934S, 1992 WL 293230 (Conn. Super. Ct. Oct.8, 1992) (“[D]efectiveness is an essential element of a product liability action based on negligence as well as one based on strict tort liability.”). A product defect is typically established through direct evidence of a specific defect in the product's manufacturing, design, and/or warnings to buyers.[1] Vitanza v. Upjohn Co., 257 Conn. 365, 373 (2001); see also Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Deere & Co., 302 Conn. 123 (Conn. 2011). Alternatively, if direct evidence of a specific product defect is unavailable, a plaintiff may use what is known as the malfunction theory “to establish a prima facie product liability case on the basis of circumstantial evidence when direct evidence of a defect is unavailable.” Metro. Prop., 302 Conn. at 134. Under either approach, the TAC lacks sufficient factual content to raise the right to relief from speculative to plausible. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557.

         1. Sp ...

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