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Bolton v. Radisson Hotels International

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


July 9, 2009

WILLIAM BOLTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RADISSON HOTELS INTERNATIONAL, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; CARLSON HOTELS WORLDWIDE, INC., A MINNESOTA CORPORATION; DOES 1 THROUGH 20, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge United States District Court

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

On May 8, 2009, Defendants in this action filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. No. 18.) On June 22, 2009, Plaintiff filed his opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 24.) On July 6, 2009, Defendants filed a reply in support of their motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 27.) After due consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court concludes that this matter is appropriate for resolution without oral argument. Accordingly, the Court submits Defendants' motion to dismiss on the papers under Local Civil Rule 7.1(d)(1). For the following reasons, the Court denies Defendants' motion to dismiss.

Background

On October 21, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendants in the San Diego County Superior Court of the State of California. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. 1 [the "Complaint"].)

Plaintiff's Complaint alleges causes of action for negligence and negligence per se and seeks damages for personal injuries. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that, on or about November 1, 2007, he was a patron in the Super Stars Sports Bar located in the Radisson Hotel in Narita, Japan. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 10.) Plaintiff states that, at the bar, he observed a woman near him begin to lose her balance. Plaintiff reached out his hand to steady the woman, but he was unable to prevent her from falling, and she fell into a glass door at the bar's entrance. (Compl. ¶¶ 8, 11.) Plaintiff alleges that, because the door was not made of safety glass, it shattered upon impact into large sharp shards which rained down on Plaintiff and the woman, causing injuries. (Compl. ¶¶ 9, 12.)

The Complaint alleges that Defendant Carlson Hotels Worldwide ("CHW") is the owner, operator, parent company and/or management company of Defendant Radisson Hotels International ("RHI") and actively participated in and controlled the business of RHI. (Compl. ¶ 4.) The Complaint further alleges that Defendants maintained the Super Stars Sports Bar during the relevant time period, and that they negligently and carelessly designed, constructed, owned, maintained, and inspected the glass door at the entrance. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 15.) Plaintiff asserts that his injuries were directly and proximately caused by each Defendant's negligence in designing, constructing, maintaining, and inspecting the door. (Compl. ¶ 18.)

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that they neither own nor operate the bar and are therefore not liable for Plaintiff's injuries.

Discussion

I. Whether the Court Has Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under Rule 12(b)(1)

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must dismiss an action if it determines at any time that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). Rule 12(b)(1) provides that a defendant may move to dismiss on the basis that a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the action. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The question of constitutional standing is a "threshold matter central to [the Court's] subject matter jurisdiction," and the Court must assure itself that the constitutional standing requirements are satisfied before proceeding to the merits. Fulfillment Svcs. Inc. v. United Parcel Svc., Inc., 528 F.3d 614, 618 (9th Cir. 2008). For these requirements to be met, (1) the plaintiff "must have suffered an injury in fact -- an invasion of a legally protected interest," (2) "there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of -- the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court," and (3) "it must be likely... that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Paulsen v. CNF, Inc., 559 F.3d 1061, 1072 (9th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)).

"[A] plaintiff filing an action in federal court has the burden of alleging specific facts sufficient to satisfy the standing elements." Loritz v. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 382 F.3d 990, 992 (9th Cir. 2004). Here, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to satisfy the causation requirement for constitutional standing. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Defendants maintained the Super Stars Sports Bar during the relevant time period, and that they negligently and carelessly designed, constructed, owned, maintained, and inspected the glass door at the entrance. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 15.) Plaintiff asserts that his injuries were directly and proximately caused by each Defendant's negligence in designing, constructing, maintaining, and inspecting the door -- specifically, their failure to use safety glass. (Compl. ¶¶ 9, 18.)

Instead of attacking the allegations of the complaint, a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction "may be made as a 'speaking motion' attacking the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact." Thornhill Publ'g Co., Inc. v. Gen. Tel. & Elecs. Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1979). Here, Defendants make such a factual attack, arguing that there can be no causation because they neither own nor operate the subject premises. (Mot. at 5-6.) Specifically, Defendants assert that Northwest Airlines owns both the Radisson Hotel Narita Airport and the Super Stars Sports Bar located within. (Mot. at 3.) Defendants further argue that their subsidiary, Carlson Hotels Asia Pacific Pty Ltd. ("CHAP"), is the Radisson entity responsible for managing the subject hotel, so that their liability would have to be imputed through CHAP. (Mot. at 4.) Defendants seek to prove their lack of control over CHAP and the premises through several declarations and accompanying exhibits. (Doc. No. 18-2, -3, -4, -5.) "Where the jurisdiction issue is separable from the merits of the case, the judge may consider the evidence presented with respect to the jurisdictional issue and rule on that issue, resolving factual disputes if necessary." Thornhil, 594 F.2d at 733. However, "if the attack on jurisdiction requires the court to consider the merits of the case, the court has jurisdiction to proceed to a decision on the merits." Id. at 734 (citing Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 739 (1947)).

In this case, Defendants challenge the causation element of constitutional standing. (Mot. at 5-6.) However, causation is also an essential element of a negligence claim under California law. Phillips v. TLC Plumbing, Inc., 91 Cal. Rptr. 3d 864, 868 (Cal. Ct. App. 2009) (the elements of a negligence claim are "(1) a legal duty to use reasonable care, (2) breach of that duty, and (3) proximate or legal cause between the breach and (4) the plaintiff's injury."). The extent of Defendants' control over the subject premises will also determine whether Plaintiff can show that Defendants had a legal duty to use reasonable care. Thus, Defendants' jurisdictional attack is inevitably an attack on the first and third elements of Plaintiff's negligence claim.

Accordingly, because Defendants' jurisdictional attack goes to the merits of the case, the Court concludes that the arguments are better suited to a motion for summary judgment, rather than a Rule 12(b)(1) motion. Thornhill, 594 F.3d at 734.

II. Whether Plaintiff's Complaint States a Claim Under Rule 12(b)(6)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires a plaintiff to "plead a short and plain statement of the elements of his or her claim, identifying the transaction or occurrence giving rise to the claim and the elements of the prima facie case." Bautista v. Los Angeles County, 216 F.3d 837, 840 (9th Cir. 2000). This statement must be sufficient to "give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). Rule 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law if it lacks a cognizable legal theory or states insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984). The Supreme Court has stated that the factual allegations of a complaint must be "enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). The pleading standard of Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation" and a complaint does not suffice "if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1966).

In general, the scope of review on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is limited to "allegations contained in the pleadings, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters properly subject to judicial notice." Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 763 (9th Cir. 2007).

Here, Defendants argue that, even if Plaintiff's Complaint presents a cognizable legal theory, it fails to plead essential facts necessary to support that theory. (Mot. at 7.) Under California law, the elements of a negligence claim are: "(1) a legal duty to use reasonable care, (2) breach of that duty, and (3) proximate or legal cause between the breach and (4) the plaintiff's injury." Phillips v. TLC Plumbing, Inc., 91 Cal. Rptr. 3d 864, 868 (Cal. Ct. App. 2009). Defendants point out that "a defendant cannot be held liable for a defective or dangerous condition of property which defendant did not own, possess, or control." Hamilton v. Gage Bowl, Inc., 8 Cal. Rptr. 2d 819, 822 (Cal. Ct. App. 1992). Defendants state that they neither own nor control the bar at which Plaintiff was injured, and argue on that basis that Plaintiff has "failed to demonstrate any connection between RHI and CHW and the supposedly negligent conduct that led to [Plaintiff's] injuries." (Mot. at 7.)

However, Plaintiff's Complaint does allege such a connection, when it states that Defendants maintained the Super Stars Sports Bar during the relevant time period, and that they negligently and carelessly designed, constructed, owned, maintained, and inspected the glass door at the entrance. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 15.) Defendants seek to introduce evidence demonstrating that these allegations are false. However, the Court declines to consider the declarations and exhibits submitted by Defendants. They are not "part of the complaint," nor are they subject to judicial notice. Marder v. Lopez, 450 F.3d 445, 448 (9th Cir. 2006); Swartz, 476 F.3d at 763.*fn1 A 12(b)(6) motion only tests the sufficiency of the plaintiff's allegations, which must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. "[F]actual challenges to a plaintiff's complaint have no bearing on the legal sufficiency of the allegations under Rule 12(b)(6)." Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001).

Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's Complaint states a claim for negligence against Defendants. Defendants may avoid liability by demonstrating a lack of control over the subject premises, but a determination as to the extent of that control requires consideration of evidence not properly before the Court on a motion to dismiss.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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