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Padilla v. Toyota

June 26, 2006

KRISTY PADILLA, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PRICE TOYOTA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS, AND PRICE TOYOTA, ET AL., THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WILLIAM R. BAKER, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

HON. JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon Third-Party Defendant William R. Baker's motion to dismiss the Third Party-Complaint brought by Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs Price Toyota and other Toyota entities. Plaintiff is Kristy Padilla, a passenger injured in a two car motor vehicle accident on May 18, 2002. The accident occurred when a car crossed the center line striking a vehicle in which she was a passenger.*fn1 Padilla brings this case against Defendants, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, Inc., and Price Toyota (collectively "Toyota") alleging that Padilla's injuries were caused by a defect in the passenger air bag system in the 2002 Toyota Corolla in which she was riding. Defendant Toyota has filed a third-party complaint against Third-Party Defendant William Baker, the driver of the car that struck the Padilla vehicle, seeking contribution from Baker as a joint tortfeasor.

In this action, Baker brings this motion to dismiss the third-party complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed. R. of Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Baker contends that a general release between Padilla and Baker precludes Toyota from filing a third-party complaint for contribution against him.

For the reasons discussed herein, because the general release does not mention the right to contribution and Toyota did not possess such a right at the time the release was executed, the general release between Baker and Padilla does not bar Toyota's contribution claim against Baker. In addition, under New Jersey law, the fact that Padilla is unable to file an action against Baker does not prevent Toyota from pursuing its contribution claim against Baker. Therefore, Baker's motion to dismiss will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

On May 18, 2002, Edwin Padilla, Kristy Padilla, and William Baker were involved in a two vehicle collision. Edwin Padilla (the driver of a 2002 Toyota Corolla) and Kristy Padilla (a front seat passenger) were traveling north-bound on Delsea Drive in Vineland, New Jersey. William Baker, driving a 1994 Chevrolet truck, was traveling south-bound on Delsea Drive when he crossed the center line into the oncoming lane of traffic striking Mr. Padilla's vehicle nearly head on. (Police report, Third-Party Defs.' Br. Ex. A.)

Following the accident, Edwin Padilla initiated an action on behalf of Kristy Padilla against Baker. (Notice of Mot. to Dismiss the Third-Party Compl. ¶6.) Prior to trial, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement and Release (the "Release") in favor of Baker and his insurer on October 26, 2003. (Notice of Mot. to Dismiss the Third-Party Compl. ¶11.) The Release states:

Claimant [Padilla] hereby completely releases and forever discharges Defendant [Baker] and Insurer from any and all past, present or future claims, demands, obligations, actions, causes of action, wrongful death claims, rights, damages, costs, losses of services, expenses and compensation of any nature whatsoever, whether based on a tort, contract or other theory of recovery, which the Claimant now has, or which may hereafter accrue or otherwise be acquired, on account of, or may in any way grow out of the incident...including, without limitation, any and all known or unknown claims for bodily and personal injuries to Claimant, or any future wrongful death claim of Claimant's representatives or heirs, which have resulted or may have resulted from the challenged act or omissions of the Defendant. (Settlement Agreement and Release, Third-Party Defs.' Br. Ex. D.) Thus, under the terms of the Release, Padilla released Baker of all claims she had arising out of the May 18, 2002 accident. (Id.)

B. Procedural History

On July 20, 2004, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Defendants Toyota in the Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, Cumberland County. (Pls.' Compl.) Toyota then filed a Notice of Removal from the New Jersey Superior Court to this Court. (Notice of Removal). On December 7, 2004, Toyota filed a third-party complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 14(a) in this Court against Third-Party Defendant, William Baker.*fn2 (Defs.' Third-Party Compl.) Baker subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the third-party complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). [Docket Item No. 46.] Toyota filed opposition to Padilla's motion. [Docket Item No. 47.] Baker replied. [Docket Item No. 48.] The Court did not hear oral argument on the motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted must be denied "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). A district court must accept any and all reasonable inferences derived from those facts. Unger v. Nat'l Residents Corp. V. Exxon Co., U.S.A., 761 F. Supp. 254, 260 (D.N.J. 1991); Gutman v. Howard Sav. Bank, 748 F. Supp. 254, 260 (D.N.J. 1990). Further, the court must view all allegations in the complaint in ...


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