United States District Court, D. South Carolina
September 29, 2014
CHARLES KAUFMAN, Plaintiff,
TECHTRONIC INDUSTRIES NORTH AMERICA, INC.; ONE WORLD TECHNOLOGIES, INC.; and RYOBI TECHNOLOGIES, INC., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 5.) The defendants contend that application of S.C. Code § 15-5-150 bars suit in this Court.
The plaintiff commenced this product liability action on August 28, 2013, alleging claims of strict products liability, negligence, breach of implied warranty of fitness, breach of warranty of merchantability, and reckless, willful or malicious conduct. (See generally Compl.) The plaintiff alleges that this suit "arises out of the serious and permanent personal injuries suffered by Plaintiff on or about December 4, 2009, " while using a Ryobi table saw. (Compl. ¶ 7.) The plaintiff is a resident of Massachusetts (Compl. ¶ 1); the subject accident ostensibly occurred in Massachusetts (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7, 18); and the plaintiff purchased the subject saw outside of South Carolina. Each of the defendants are incorporated in and organized under the laws of the State of Delaware. (Compl. ¶¶ 2-4.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A plaintiff's complaint should set forth "a short and plain statement... showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 "does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfullyharmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To show that the plaintiff is "entitled to relief, " the complaint must provide "more than labels and conclusions, " and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court "accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff...." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). Notably, "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" do not qualify as well pled facts.
To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must state "a plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Stated differently, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). Still, Rule 12(b)(6) "does not countenance... dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations." Colon Health Centers of Am., LLC v. Hazel, 733 F.3d 535, 545 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). "A plausible but inconclusive inference from pleaded facts will survive a motion to dismiss...." Sepulveda-Villarini v. Dep't of Educ. of Puerto Rico, 628 F.3d 25, 30 (1st Cir. 2010) (Souter, J.).
The defendants argue that the South Carolina Door Closing Statute ("Statute") bars suit in this Court. See S.C. Code § 15-5-150. Specifically, defendants contend that suit here is impermissible under the Statute because the plaintiff is a non-resident suing a resident corporation over events that did not occur in the State of South Carolina. The South Carolina Door Closing Statute states:
An action against a corporation created by or under the laws of any other state, government or country may be brought in circuit court:
(1) By any resident of this state for any cause of action; or
(2) By a plaintiff not a resident of this State when the cause of action shall have arisen or subject of the action shall be situated within the State.
Id. It is well established that a South Carolina federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction "must apply § 15-5-150 unless there are affirmative countervailing federal considerations.'" Proctor & Schwartz, Inc. v. Rollins, 634 F.2d 738, 739 (4th Cir. 1980) (quoting Szantay v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 349 F.2d 60 (4th Cir. 1965)).
As an initial matter, there are two significant difficulties in the plaintiff's attempt to rejoin application of the statute. First, there is no factual dispute between the parties that the defendants are domestic corporations; the plaintiff is not a resident of this State; and the underlying factual circumstances occurred elsewhere than in South Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7, 18; Pl. Resp. at 5.) In other words, the elements of the Statute are agreed to be satisfied. Secondarily, the plaintiff has not at all argued the presence of "countervailing federal considerations" as required. See Rollins, 634 F.2d at 739. By the express language of Rollins, in the absence of such a showing, the undersigned is constrained to apply the Statute and bar suit. For this reason alone, the Court would dismiss the case. The plaintiff, however, makes various legal and constitutional challenges to application of the Statute in this case, which the Court would address briefly in turn, even as it also declines them.
I. The Purposes of the Door Closing Statute
The plaintiff would first emphasize the purposes of Door Closing Statute, see Murphy v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 590 S.E.2d 479, 481 (S.C. 2003), and how they are not served in application of it here. The Statute's purposes. have been articulated by the South Carolina Supreme Court as follows:
(1) It favors resident plaintiffs over nonresident plaintiffs;
(2) It provides a forum for wrongs connected with the State while avoiding the resolution of wrongs in which the State has little interest; and
(3) It encourages activity and investment within the State by foreign corporations without subjecting them to actions unrelated to their activity within the State. Murphy v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 590 S.E.2d 479, 481 (S.C. 2003) (citing Farmer v. Monsanto Corp., supra citing Rosenthal v. Unarco Industries, Inc., 278 S.C. 420, 297 S.E.2d 638 (1982))
The Court believes that this approach is the wrong end of the lens, so to speak. The Door Closing Statute need not prove itself anew each time. As stated, it applies, barring the presence of some countervailing federal consideration not present hear. See Rollins, 634 F.2d at 740. In Murphy, the South Carolina Supreme Court revisited these underlying policies only in the context of considering the novel issue of "when a latent disease cause of action arises' for purposes of the statute." Murphy, 590 S.E.2d at 481. The plaintiff, in Murphy, was physically present in the State of South Carolina and was exposed to a harmful substance there. The supreme court, therefore, was reasonably faced with whether exposure to an injurious substance in South Carolina provides a sufficient basis to determine that the plaintiff's claims "arose" in South Carolina for purposes of the Door Closing Statute.
By contrast, there is no legal or factual question about where the plaintiff's claim arose in this case - Massachusetts. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7, 18; Pl. Resp. at 5.) The defendant on Motion to Dismiss has had occasion to dispute this view as a matter of pleading or fact and has not. Instead, the plaintiff appears to believe that application of the Door Closing Statute in any given case turns on an evaluation of whether the policies are served by such application. In other words, the Statute may somehow be revetted each time for appropriateness. But, as far as the Court has ever known, such approach is not how legislative interpretation and enforcement works. By the terms of the Statute and subsequent case law, the Statute applies as written. The plaintiff does not get to escape the Statute by arguing that on the subjective facts of this case it does not do all that the legislature privately intended. The Court simply disagrees that Murphy allows for this kind of analysis.
To that same end, the Court agrees with the plaintiff that Murphy does not amount to some exception to the Door Closing Statute. The Murphy Court simply analyzed and applied how the Statute's "arose in" requirement applied in latent disease cases. The Murphy Court held that, in such cases, a plaintiff's claims "arose in" South Carolina for purposes of the Door Closing Statute when "the exposure itself occurred within the State." Id. at 482. There is no analogizing that determination here. As discussed, there is literally no allegation of contact by the plaintiff with South Carolina. The injury occurred elsewhere. The plaintiff even admits that his cause of action "arose" outside of South Carolina, acknowledging that "the [Door Closing] statute focuses on where a cause of action arises, which, under South Carolina tort law, is the place of the injury." (Pl. Resp. at 5.)
There is no basis for some exception, extrapolated from Murphy or independently imagined. The plaintiff would simply like the Statute to be another way. It is not. And, without the inkling of an amenable precedent to it, the Court would decline any invitation to fashion some products liability exception.
II. Constitutionality of the Door-Closing Statute
To great lengths, the plaintiff also claims that the Statute violates the Privileges and Immunities clause of the United States Constitution. The Privileges and Immunities clause states simply that "the Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." U.S. Const. art. IV, § 2. But, the Fourth Circuit has already resolved it in the negative - the Statute is not unconstitutional. See Szantay, 349 F.2d at 65. It is precisely because the Statute does not violate the Privileges and Immunities clause that the Fourth Circuit was compelled to include it and the Full Faith and Credit clause, in a subordinate status, as "federal considerations." Id.
Szantay expressly recognizes that the South Carolina Door Closing statute is not directly violative of either the Full Faith and Credit or the Privileges and Immunities Clauses. First, with respect to the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Fourth Circuit, in Szantay, transitioned, "While such discrimination may not be unconstitutional...." Id. And, again, concerning the Full Faith and Credit Clause, the court expressly acknowledged that the "South Carolina door-closing' statute does not directly violate the demands of this constitutional principle." Id. The use of the words "may" and "not directly" are not somehow qualifying or speculative about the constitutionality of the Statute. Rather, they are phrases of contrast, plainly indicating that even though the Statute could not actually be considered unconstitutional, it nevertheless implicates important constitutional concerns - restyled as "federal considerations." If the Statute was in fact violative of those constitutional provisions, then the Court would have simply concluded as much in the first instance. There would be no need to recharacterize existing constitutional constraints as federal interests to be discretionarily considered on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, that is the whole necessity of the Szantay balancing test - to still capture for consideration constitutional concerns that are not themselves, in the first instance, fully dispositive of the appropriateness of the Statute.
The Fourth Circuit may disagree that its decision in Szantay is so clear; it appears to escape the parties. But, there is a logical implication in language usage, described above, that until undone, persuades the undersigned that there already exists controlling Circuit authority which answers in the negative any question concerning the constitutionality of the Statute in light of the Privileges and Immunities clause. It is telling that such constitutional challenges essentially appear nowhere else subsequently, either in the state or federal courts of South Carolina, and, that at both levels the statute has been consistently enforced. The Court, therefore, would be hesitant to reach to reverse an existing constitutional determination where no South Carolina, state or federal, case has ever done so; quite to the contrary there is an historically lengthy standard of affirmation. See Central R.R. & Banking Co. v. Georgia Construction & Investment Co., 11. S.E. 192, 203 (S.C. 1890) ("[I]t is very manifest that the object of [the Door Closing Statute] was, not to so extend the jurisdiction of the courts of this state as to throw open their doors to any person, from any quarter of the globe, to demand redress for injuries received anywhere, but simply to secure the inhabitants of the state, for which the constitution was made, access to the courts for redress of any injury which they may have received.").
The plaintiff would characterize some of his constitutional challenge, "as applied." Notwithstanding the nomenclature, the plaintiff's objection still appears facial in nature. He has not differentiated some application of the statute unique to the particulars of this case that are not already contemplated by the plain and express language of the Statue. The plaintiff's evaluation of the Statute's purposes in light of its application in this case (Pl. Resp. at 18-30) are not considerations that would somehow not always be present. Indeed, the plaintiff, in this tack, continues only to challenge generally the legislative motives of the Statute and whether the purposes serve them. See id. The circumstances factually are simply on all fours, so to speak, with the Statute. It is a quintessential case not an exceptional one.
The Statute is not unconstitutional, facially or as applied.
For the foregoing reasons, the court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 5). The case is hereby dismissed without prejudice. 
IT IS SO ORDERED.