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James L. Norton v. Independence Technology

August 15, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


Plaintiff James Norton ("Plaintiff") originally initiated this action in El Dorado County Superior Court on July 2, 2010. Defendant Independence Technology ("Defendant") filed an answer in state court and subsequently removed the case to this Court pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings ("Motion") seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety on the basis that Plaintiff's claims are preempted by federal law. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED with leave to amend.


In his state court complaint, Plaintiff very generally alleges causes of action against Defendant for strict products liability, negligence and breach of implied warranty arising out of Defendant's design and manufacture of his iBOT(R) 4000 Mobility System ("iBOT"). According to Plaintiff's Complaint, on July 4, 2009, while on a camping trip at Emerald Bay of Lake Tahoe, California, Plaintiff attempted to navigate his iBOT wheelchair on a trail leading to a fireworks viewing area. Plaintiff was operating the chair in low four-wheel drive when he made a slow left turn. The wheelchair over-turned and a T-handle on the chair's arm rest struck Plaintiff, cracking three of his ribs. Plaintiff now seeks to recover from Defendant for his injuries.

According to Defendant, it does manufacture the iBOT, which is motorized stair-climbing wheelchair that has been approved as a Class III device by the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") through a Pre-Market Approval ("PMA") process. See Declaration of Mollie F. Benedict, Exhs. A-C.*fn1 The sale and marketing of the iBOT are directly regulated by the FDA pursuant to the Medical Device Amendments ("MDA"), 21 U.S.C. § 360c et seq., to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which contains an express preemption clause.

See, e.g., Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 522 U.S. 312, 316-20 (2008). Defendant thus argues by way of the instant Motion that any state requirements Plaintiff seeks to impose upon the design, manufacture or labeling of the iBOT are preempted by federal law.


A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) challenges the legal sufficiency of the opposing party's pleadings. See, e.g. Westlands Water Dist. v. Bureau of Reclamation, 805 F. Supp. 1503, 1506 (E.D. Cal. 1992). Any party may move for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) after the pleadings are closed but within such time as to not delay trial.

A motion for judgment on the pleadings should only be granted if, accepting as true all material allegations contained in the nonmoving party's pleadings, the moving party "'clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he [or she] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Doleman v. Meiji Mut. Life Ins. Co., 727 F.2d 1480, 1482 (9th Cir. 1984) (quoting Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1368 (1969)); Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989)). Judgment on the pleadings is also proper when there is either a "lack of cognizable legal theory" or the "absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

The standard for evaluating a motion for judgment on the pleadings is essentially the same as the standard applied to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989). Rule 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," to "give the defendant fair notice of what the...claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Though "a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion" need not contain "detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 2869 (1986)). A plaintiff's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

Further, "Rule 8(a)(2)...requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief. Without some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirements of providing...grounds on which the claim rests." Id. at 555 n.3 (internal citations omitted). A pleading must then contain "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. If the "plaintiffs...have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed." Id.

Courts have discretion to grant leave to amend in conjunction with motions made pursuant to Rule 12(c). Moran v. Peralta Cmty. Coll. Dist., 825 F. Supp. 891, 893 (N.D. Cal. 1993) (citing Amersbach v. City of Cleveland, 598 F.2d 1033, 1038 (6th Cir. 1979). Generally, leave to amend a complaint is denied only if it is clear that the deficiencies of the complaint cannot be cured by amendment. DeSoto v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 957 F.2d 655, 658 (9th Cir. 1992).


Defendant moves for judgment on the pleadings arguing that each of Plaintiff's causes of action is preempted by federal law. More specifically, Defendant contends Plaintiff's state law ...

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