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Elizabeth Aylward, Both Individually and v. Wal-Mart Stores

June 9, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez




Plaintiff, Elizabeth Aylward ("Plaintiff") brought this action as the executrix of the estate of Paul J. Aylward ("Aylward") and in her own right against Aylward's employer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("Wal-Mart"). Plaintiff alleges that Wal-Mart was negligent in requiring Aylward to work excessive hours and allowing him to drive home from work in an exhausted and fatigued state, which resulted in his fatal automobile accident. Presently before the Court is Wal-Mart's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). [Dkt. No. 9]. The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties and heard oral argument on the motion on March 30, 2011. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons stated below, Wal-Mart's motion will be granted.

I. Background

Aylward began working as a store manager in Wal-Mart's Brick, New Jersey store in July 2008. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 11-12.) Soon after, he was transferred to the Mays Landing, New Jersey store, which was experiencing a litany of managerial problems.

(Id. at ¶ 13.) Aylward was instructed to immediately remedy these problems and was told that his success would "make or break" his career at Wal-Mart. (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 19.) Aylward's scheduled shift was usually from approximately 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, but he typically worked longer hours because of the pressure to perform placed on him by his superiors at Wal-Mart. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 24, 26.)

Shortly before the start of the 2009 Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday shopping season, Aylward was advised by his superiors that "Black Friday," November 27, 2009, would "make or break not only his store's profits for the year, but also the security of his job at Wal-Mart." (Id. at ¶ 20.) Concerned with an incident that occurred the previous year at one of Wal-Mart's New York stores where an employee was trampled by a crowd waiting to enter the store in the early hours, the company decided to keep all of its stores open twenty-four hours, from November 26 through November 27. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Wal-Mart informed all store managers that they were responsible for the crowds and any negative incidents that might occur. (Id.)

Aylward's scheduled "Black Friday" shift was from 7:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 26 through 5:00 a.m. on Friday, November 27; a total of twenty-two hours. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-30.) On Thursday, Aylward left his home at approximately 6:30 a.m., drove his daily hour-long commute, and entered the store at 7:49 a.m. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-35.) Aylward worked all morning until 12:20 p.m., when he left the store for a scheduled break. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Wal-Mart permitted employees to take a break during the afternoon so that they could have Thanksgiving dinner with their families. (Id. at ¶ 37.) Rather than drive the two hours round-trip to eat with his family, Aylward decided to rent a room at a nearby hotel and rest for a few hours in preparation for the long night.

(Id. at ¶ 38.) At approximately 4:55 p.m., Aylward returned to the store and worked continuously through the night. (Id. at ¶¶ 39, 43, 46.) At around 9:20 a.m., Aylward left the store and began his commute home. (Id. at ¶ 48.) Approximately forty-five minutes into his drive, Aylward's vehicle crossed the center line of the highway and collided with a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. (Id. at ¶ 54.) He sustained multiple blunt force injuries and ultimately died at the scene of the accident. (Id. at ¶ 55.)

On September 17, 2010, Plaintiff brought this suit against Wal-Mart as the executrix of Aylward's estate and in her own right. The Amended Complaint, filed on September 28, 2010, alleges causes of actions under the New Jersey Survival Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:15-3 (Count I), and the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:31-1 et seq. (Count II). [Dkt. No. 4]. Both claims predicate liability on a theory of negligence. Plaintiff alleges that Wal-Mart placed extraordinary, unhealthy and dangerous physical and emotional demands on Aylward by pressuring him to work unreasonably long hours, and that these demands left him too exhausted and/or fatigued to safely drive home from work, causing his accident. The gravamen of Plaintiff's negligence claim is that Wal-Mart, by requiring Aylward to work approximately twenty-one of the preceding twenty-six hours, had a duty to ensure that he was not too fatigued to drive himself home and to prevent him from doing so. On November 18, 2010, Wal-Mart filed the instant motion to dismiss all counts for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

II. Standard of Review

A complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain only a "short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." A plaintiff is not required to plead evidence. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 561 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). However, although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary, "a plaintiff's obligation to show the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, "courts 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." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.2009) (internal quotations omitted). The question is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007). Rather, to survive a motion to dismiss, "the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 'to state ...

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