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Granger v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 3, 2014



KIMBERLY J. MUELLER, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on a motion by defendant Lowe's Home Centers, LLC to strike claims for punitive damages from plaintiffs Gary M. Granger and Elena Granger's First Amended Complaint (FAC). Defs.' Mot. to Strike (Mot.), ECF No. 6. Notice of Removal (Rem.) Ex. B, ECF No. 1. Defendant Samsung Electronics America, Inc. joined in the motion to strike. Notice of Joinder, ECF No. 9. The motion was submitted for decision without argument. As explained below, the court construes the defendants' motion to strike as a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and grants the motion.


A. Factual Allegations

The Grangers allege the following facts in their First Amended Complaint: In March 2012, Gary and Elena Granger purchased a Samsung washing machine from the Lowe's store in Sonora, California. FAC ¶ 6. They also purchased an extended warranty for the washer and contracted for Lowe's to install the machine in their home. Id. In January 2013, the washing machine flooded the Grangers' home. Id. ¶ 7. The Grangers notified Lowe's, but Lowe's did not promptly respond. Id. When Lowe's did respond, it instructed the Grangers not to take any remedial actions and to contact Samsung for an assessment of the damages done. Id. The Grangers contacted Samsung, and Samsung repeated the instruction not to take any remedial actions. Id. ¶ 8. An investigator visited the Grangers' home on March 21, 2013. Id. ¶ 9. The Grangers requested and were promised a copy of the results of the investigator's report. Id. On the same day, Lowe's loaned the Grangers a washing machine and installed it in their home. Id. ¶ 10. Unfortunately, when the Grangers used the new machine for the first time, it flooded their home again. Id.

In May 2013, Gary Granger underwent abdominal surgery for cancer. Id. ¶ 12. The Grangers did not know at the time that their home had become contaminated with "toxic mold" as a result of the flooding, id. ¶ 11, so Gary Granger returned home to recover, id. ¶ 12. The mold complicated his recovery and he soon returned to the hospital. Id. When Samsung and Lowe's gave the Grangers a copy of the investigator's report in August 2013, the Grangers learned of the mold problem, and their doctors advised them to move. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Lowe's agreed in the same month to provide the Grangers with a "travel trailer" until the parties reached a resolution. Id. ¶ 14. Unfortunately that trailer was also contaminated with mold, and Gary Granger experienced further health problems. Id. ¶ 15. The Grangers received a second trailer in September 2013. Id. The Grangers continued to experience health problems and have suffered emotional distress. Id. ¶ 17. Their dog died from a mold-related illness. Id. ¶ 16.

B. Procedural History

The Grangers filed a complaint in the Superior Court for Tuolomne County on June 19, 2014. Rem. Ex. A. In the complaint the Grangers alleged causes of action in negligence, strict liability, breach of express and implied warranties, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Id. ¶¶ 18-64. Among other requested relief, including general damages, medical costs, and property damages, the Grangers sought punitive damages in connection with their claims for strict liability and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Id. at 14-16. On July 21, 2014, before the defendants were served with the complaint, the plaintiffs filed the First Amended Complaint, adding only the word "America" to Samsung's name. See FAC Caption, ¶ 3; Opp'n at 1, ECF No. 19.

Lowe's and Samsung removed the case to federal court on August 1, 2014. Rem. at 1. On August 8, 2014, the defendants filed a motion to strike the following from the First Amended Complaint: paragraph 46; paragraph 61; paragraph 64; the prayer for punitive damages on line 23 of page 15; and the prayer for punitive damages on lines 10 to 11 of page 16. Mot. at 1-3. In its motion, Lowe's argues (1) the First Amended Complaint did not satisfy the requirements of § 3294(b) of the California Civil Code for asserting a claim for punitive damages against a corporate defendant; and (2) the First Amended Complaint did not contain sufficient factual allegations to support a claim for punitive damages. Mot. 5, 14-15. Samsung joined in the motion on August 13, 2014. ECF No. 9.

On August 26, 2014, the Grangers filed a Second Amended Complaint (SAC). ECF. No. 11. The Second Amended Complaint includes relatively few modifications. It omits the prayer for punitive damages from the cause of action for strict liability. Compare FAC 15:13-23 with SAC 16:14-23. It includes a more detailed explanation of the events leading up to the original complaint, particularly of the Grangers' interactions with Lowe's and Samsung in 2013. Compare FAC ¶¶ 6-11 with SAC ¶¶ 6-14. The Second Amended Complaint also refers to Lowe's and Samsung's "managing agents and/or managing members" at several points where the First Amended Complaint had referred only to Lowe's and Samsung in general. Compare, e.g., FAC ¶¶ 7-11 with, e.g., SAC ¶¶ 8-14.

On September 9, 2014, Lowe's filed an Objection to the Second Amended Complaint, alleging the Second Amended Complaint was improperly filed and had not cured the defects Lowe's had described in its August 8 Motion. Defs.' Objection (Obj.) 2-6, ECF No. 18. Samsung joined in this objection on September 9, 2014. ECF No. 20.

The Grangers filed an opposition to the defendants' motion to strike on September 10, 2014. Pls.' Opp'n (Opp'n), ECF No. 19. In their opposition, the Grangers affirm their belief that their Second Amended Complaint was properly filed. Opp'n 5-6. In the alternative they request the court grant them leave to amend the First Amended Complaint and consider the Second Amended Complaint the operative pleading. Opp'n 6. In addition, the Grangers agreed with the defendants that the prayer for punitive damages arising from their claim for strict liability should be stricken from the First Amended Complaint. Opp'n 3. As to their compliance with section § 3294(b) of the California Civil Code and the sufficiency of their factual allegations, however, the Grangers disagreed and opposed the motion to strike. Opp'n 3-5.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) provides in pertinent part that "[t]he court may strike from a pleading... any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." "Immaterial matter is that which has no essential or important relationship to the claim for relief or the defenses being pleaded[, and] [i]mpertinent matter consists of statements that do not pertain, and are not necessary, to the issues in question.'" Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty, 984 F.2d 1524, 1527 (9th Cir. 1993) (quoting 5 Charles A. Wright ...

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