United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Spartanburg Division
G. ROSS ANDERSON, Jr., Senior District Judge.
This matter comes before this Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(7) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 8. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff Theodore Martin, Jr. ("Plaintiff") was a machine operator at Fitesa Simpsonville, Inc. ("Fitesa") who was injured on October 24, 2012, when a slitter machine, "manufactured by Defendant, " malfunctioned and crushed Plaintiff's hands. ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant A. Celli International, Inc. ("Defendant") "manufactured, sold, and/or installed the slitter machine, " and that Fitesa "purchased the slitter machine in a new condition from Defendant on or about 2010." Id. Plaintiff initially filed this case in the Spartanburg County Court of Common Pleas on December 5, 2013. Id. Defendant removed the case to this Court on January 10, 2014, ECF No. 1-2, and filed the present Motion to Dismiss, pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(7), on January 17, 2014, ECF No. 8. Plaintiff responded in opposition to Defendant's Motion on February 21, 2014. ECF No. 16. Defendant replied in support of its Motion to Dismiss on February 28, 2014. ECF No. 19. This matter is now ready for ruling.
Standard of Review
Defendant bases its Motion to Dismiss on Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(7) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 8. Rule 12(b)(6) provides a defense to a claim for relief based on failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Randall v. United States, 30 F.3d 518, 522 (4th Cir. 1994). "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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
While analyzing Defendant's Motion, the district court must construe all inferences in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, and the motion should be granted only if Plaintiff has no chance of prevailing on the merits of their arguments. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Chisolm v. TranSouth Fin. Corp., 95 F.3d 331, 334 (4th Cir. 1996). Therefore, Defendant's Motion "should only be granted if, after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). However, this Court is not required "to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences, " nor must this Court "accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or by exhibit." Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001)). This Court may consider the complaint, "documents attached to the complaint", documents "attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic, " and "may properly take judicial notice of matters of public record." Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).
Rule 12(b)(7) provides a defense to a claim for relief based on failure to join a party under Rule 19. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7); Register v. Cameron & Barkley Co., 467 F.Supp.2d 519, 530 (D.S.C. 2006) ("Rule 12(b)(7) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a court to dismiss an action for failure to join a party in accordance with Rule 19."). To decide whether to dismiss an action for failure to join a party under Rule 19, the court must proceed in two-steps. First, the court must determine "whether a party is necessary to a proceeding because of its relationship to the matter under consideration pursuant to Rule 19(a)." Owens-Ill., Inc. v. Meade, 186 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 1999). The party arguing that another party must be joined has the burden to "show that the person who was not joined is needed for a just adjudication." Am. Gen. Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Wood, 429 F.3d 83, 92 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal citations omitted). If the absent party is necessary, it will be ordered into the action. Owens-Ill., 186 F.3d at 440. If the party cannot be joined because its joinder will destroy diversity, the court proceeds to the second step and must then determine "whether the proceeding can continue in its absence, or whether it is indispensable pursuant to Rule 19(b) and the action must be dismissed." Id. Rule 19(b) delineates four factors which help guide courts in determining whether to dismiss the action or allow the action to proceed in the absence of the missing party.
The court must proceed pragmatically, and "consider the practical potential for prejudice in the context of the particular factual setting presented by the case at bar." Schlumberger Indus., Inc. v. Nat'l Sur. Corp., 36 F.3d 1274, 1286 (4th Cir. 1994) (internal citation omitted). "Courts are loath to dismiss cases based on nonjoinder of a party, so dismissal will be ordered only when the resulting defect cannot be remedied and prejudice or inefficiency will certainly result." Owens-Ill., 186 F.3d at 441. The Court's determination under Rule 19(b) is equitable and left to the Court's discretion. See Provident Tradesmens Bank & Trust Co. v. Patterson, 390 U.S. 102, 118-119 (1968).
Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(7) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 8. This Court will address each of these arguments below. However, this Court must first consider Defendant's judicial notice request, as it directly relates to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.
I. Judicial Notice
Defendant asks this Court to take judicial notice of the fact that Defendant "is not a textile plant equipment manufacturer." ECF No. 8-1. "The Court may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it: (1) is generally known within the trial court's territorial jurisdiction; or (2) can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned." Fed.R.Evid. 201. First, Defendant states that it is incorporated in the State of Florida, and cites to Annual Reports from the official website of the Florida Department of State for the proposition that it maintains a single "principle place of business." ECF Nos. 8-1 & 8-4; see Phillips v. McKie, C/A No. 2:10-2956-HFF-BHH, 2011 WL 1326328, at *FN 4 (D.S.C. Feb. 15, 2011) report and recommendation adopted, Civil Action No. 2:10-2956-HFF-BHH, 2011 WL 1322867 (D.S.C. Apr. 6, 2011) ("The court may take judicial notice of factual information located in postings on government websites."). Defendant then cites to Google Maps, building photos, zoning maps, City of Fort Lauderdale Planning and Zoning Department ordinance excerpts and designations, and Coral Springs Land Development Code excerpts and zoning designations for the proposition that Defendant's "principle place of business has always been located in office buildings zoned for the business, shopping, and service industry. ECF Nos. 8-1 & 8-5; see Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1216 (10th Cir. 2013) (taking "judicial notice of a Google map and satellite image because the accuracy of the source could not reasonably be questioned); see also Koscielski v. City of Minneapolis, 435 F.3d 898, 901 (8th Cir. 2006) (taking judicial notice of zoning ordinances). Defendant argues that because "applicable zoning codes actually prohibit manufacturing in the areas where [Defendant] has ever been located" and because Defendant "is and always has been located in office space in a commercial office building, [Defendant] could not possibly manufacture or maintain large textile equipment." ECF No. 8-1.
"Plaintiff concedes Defendant's legal assertion that courts may take judicial notice of applicable zoning codes." ECF No. 16. However, Plaintiff asserts that it is inappropriate for this Court "to take judicial notice that Defendant was not the manufacturer, seller or installer of the slitter machine" based on these zoning maps and designations. Id. "The consequences of a court taking judicial notice are significant." Loftus v. F.D.I.C., C.A. No. 2:13-CV-00379-PMD, 2013 WL 5797727, at *4 (D.S.C. Oct. 28, 2013). Not only will judicial notice of a fact in a civil matter establish the fact as conclusive, but judicial notice "may also preclude the introduction of evidence to disprove the noticed fact." Id. ; Fed.R.Evid. 201(g); see Fed.R.Evid. 201(g) advisory committee's note. Analyzing Defendant's request in light of the "tradition of circumspection" surrounding judicial notice in this Court, this Court finds ...