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Lance v. Commerce Trust Co.

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 3, 2015

COMMERCE TRUST COMPANY, et al., Defendants.


KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiffs Anna Lance and Don Lance, who proceed without counsel, initially commenced this action against defendants The Commerce Trust Company and Christopher Blair in the El Dorado County Superior Court.[1] On February 10, 2015, defendants removed the action to this court, invoking the court's diversity of citizenship jurisdiction.[2] (ECF No. 2.)

Subsequently, on February 17, 2015, defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 5.) On March 6, 2015, plaintiffs filed an opposition to the motion, and on March 19, 2015, defendants filed a reply brief. (ECF Nos. 11, 12.) The motion was then submitted without oral argument on the record and written briefing pursuant to Local Rule 230(g). (ECF No. 13.)

After carefully considering the parties' written briefing, the court's record, and the applicable law, the court grants defendants' motion to dismiss, but with leave to amend.


Plaintiffs' original complaint consists of multiple California Judicial Council forms along with various attachments, including letters, reports, maps, graphs, and charts. (See ECF No. 2 at 7-93.) Although vague and somewhat confusing, plaintiffs' complaint, when liberally construed by reference to the various attachments, appears to allege that plaintiffs first received notice of problems with the well water on their property located at 2111 Dunlap Drive in South Lake Tahoe, California, from plaintiffs' tenants in 1999. The California Regional Water Quality Control Board ("CRWQCB") for the Lahontan Region then determined that plaintiffs' well was contaminated with the chemical tetrachloroethylene ("PCE") and was required to be capped off. Consequently, plaintiffs were forced to obtain an alternative source of water for the property, perform re-vegetation on the property, and hire an environmental company to make sure that the ground was not contaminated, all at plaintiffs' own expense. Plaintiffs assert that they lost their rental income and were not able to use the property until all environmental issues were resolved.

The complaint asserts five "general negligence" tort causes of action against defendants: (1) "environmental law"; (2) "common law" or "nuisance"; (3) "trespass law"; (4) "strict liability law"; and (5) "water pollution law." Plaintiffs seek, inter alia, compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $373, 286.00 from defendants.

The causes of action themselves contain little in the form of factual allegations, and do not plead any alleged facts regarding defendants' involvement with the PCE contamination of plaintiffs' well. However, attached to the complaint is a September 16, 2014 handwritten letter to plaintiffs from Lisa Dernbach, a geologist with the CRWQCB for the Lahontan Region, which indicates that a dry cleaning machine from a now-closed dry cleaning business, Lake Tahoe Laundry Works (previously located at 1024 Lake Tahoe Boulevard in the South Y Shopping Center) had purportedly released PCE into the groundwater in the late 1970s. (See ECF No. 2 at 21-22.) In that letter, Ms. Dernbach states that she believes that it is that same PCE that was detected in plaintiffs' domestic well. (Id.) She also purports to name the current and former owners of the shopping center, indicating that the current owner is "The Commerce Trust Company, Attn: Christopher Blair, 118 West 47th St., Kansas City, MO 64112." (Id.)


Defendants move to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants also move to dismiss defendant Blair from the action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Motion to Dismiss Complaint Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the pleadings set forth in the complaint. Vega v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 654 F.Supp.2d 1104, 1109 (E.D. Cal. 2009). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff ...

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