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Michael Burke, et al v. Health Sciences Construction Group

March 30, 2011

MICHAEL BURKE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HEALTH SCIENCES CONSTRUCTION GROUP, LTD., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs, Michael Burke ("Burke") and Wendy Burke (collectively "the Burkes"), brought this action against Defendant Health Sciences Construction Group, Ltd., d/b/a HSC Builders & Construction Managers ("HSC") (improperly pleaded as Health Sciences Construction Group, Ltd. and HCS Builders & Construction Managers) alleging it failed to maintain a safe worksite, thereby causing Burke to be injured when part of a drill rig fell on him. (Dkt. entry no. 1, Compl.) HSC filed a Third-Party Complaint against Burke's then-employer, Schnabel Foundation Company ("Schnabel"), and drill rig manufacturer, Davey Kent, Inc. ("DK"). (Dkt. entry no. 15, Third-Party Compl.) HSC and Schnabel now separately move to dismiss the Complaint, arguing the action is barred by the New Jersey Entire Controversy Doctrine, with Schnabel relying on HSC's brief (collectively "the Motions"). (Dkt. entry no. 34, HSC Br.; dkt. entry no. 35, Schnabel Mot.) The Burkes oppose the Motions. (Dkt. entry no. 37, Pl. Opp'n.) The Court determines the Motions without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 78(b). For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny the Motions.

BACKGROUND

In January 2008 Burke was an employee of Schnabel, which was in turn under contract with HSC. (HSC Br. at 1.) On January 28, 2008, Burke was injured while doing construction work. (Id.) The Burkes allege that the boom of a drilling rig fell on Burke, injuring him. (Compl. at 3.) The Burkes claim these injuries are a "direct and proximate result" of HSC's failure to maintain a safe worksite or "comply with or formulate safety rules and regulations at the worksite." (Id. at 3-4.)

HSC alleges it is entitled to insurance and indemnity under its contract with Schnabel, and that the drill rig failed because of design defects, manufacturing defects, or both, attributable to DK. (Third-Party Compl. at 2-4.) HSC also notes that the Burkes previously brought an action ("First Action") against DK in the District of New Jersey under Docket Number 08-1423, which settled in September 2009. (Id. at 2; see Case No. 08-1423, dkt. entry no. 26, 9-29-09 Order.) In its current Motion, HSC contends that it should have been joined in the First Action, because both actions are based on the "same operative facts arising out of the same incident." (HSC Br. at 5-6.) Since it was not joined in the First Action, HSC argues the Entire Controversy Doctrine requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint, and that it has suffered prejudice because, among other reasons, the allegedly defective drill components have since been either modified or destroyed. (Id. at 6-7.)

The Burkes argue the Entire Controversy Doctrine does not apply here and that under federal principles of res judicata this action is not barred. (Pl. Opp'n at 6-7.) Alternatively, even if the Entire Controversy Doctrine applies, the Burkes argue it does not operate to bar this action because there is insufficient commonality of facts or because basic notions of fairness permit this action to move forward. (Id. at 7, 11.)

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

The Motions are not expressly premised on Rule 12(b)(6).*fn1

However, as discussed below, Rule 12(b)(6) provides the appropriate procedural vehicle.

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

In addressing a motion to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine, whether under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). At this stage, a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not ...


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