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Stieglitz v. Stryker Corp.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

January 4, 2016

Tammy Lynette Stieglitz, Plaintiff,
v.
Stryker Corporation, Defendant.

ORDER

PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter is before the Court on two motions: Defendant Stryker Corporation’s Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECF No. 7), and Plaintiff Tammy Stieglitz’s Motion to Amend the Complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2) (ECF No. 9). For the reasons set forth herein, Stieglitz’s motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Stryker’s motion to dismiss is denied without prejudice.

BACKGROUND[1] AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This is a products liability case involving a hip replacement system designed, manufactured, and sold by Stryker. In 2012, a surgeon implanted a Stryker hip replacement into Stieglitz. According to Stieglitz, her hip replacement was defectively designed and manufactured because “a screw in the acetabular component of the hip replacement system penetrate[d]” her acetabulum and pelvis. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 9-1, at ¶5.) Prior to Stieglitz’s surgery, Stryker had received complaints about its hip replacement system and had investigated problems with the system but did not disclose the complaints or problems to the public.

Soon after the surgery, the screw and other defective components of Stieglitz’s hip replacement began causing Stieglitz to walk with an abnormal gait, to fall several times, and to experience a substantial amount of pain. Although Stieglitz has sought medical treatment for her conditions, she is permanently disabled and will continue to incur medical costs for her conditions.

Stieglitz filed suit in this Court, asserting causes of action under South Carolina law for strict liability, breach of express and implied warranties, and negligence. On October 9, 2015, Stryker moved to dismiss. In its motion, Stryker argued Stieglitz had failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim for relief under any of her asserted causes of action. On November 6, Stieglitz filed a response in opposition, and, while not conceding that her original complaint was inadequate, also asked for leave to file an amended complaint that would address Stryker’s criticisms of her original pleading. On November 16, Stryker filed a reply in support of its motion to dismiss; and on the following day, Stryker filed a response in opposition to Stieglitz’s motion to amend. On November 30, Stieglitz filed a reply in support of her motion to amend. Finally, with the Court’s permission, Striker filed a sur-reply on December 22, 2015. Accordingly, both motions are now ripe for consideration.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The two motions before the Court involve a common scenario: defendant moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim; plaintiff seeks leave to file an amended complaint; and defendant contends the amendment would be futile. In such a scenario, the question of whether “justice . . . requires” the court to grant leave to amend, Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), becomes a matter of deciding whether the proposed amended complaint adequately states a claim for relief. See Woods v. Boeing Co., 841 F.Supp.2d 925, 930 (D.S.C. 2012) (“If an amendment would fail to withstand a motion to dismiss, it is futile. Thus, if the well-pleaded facts in the proposed new complaint do not amount to a showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief, the court should deny a motion for leave to amend.” (citations and quotation marks omitted)).

A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Our courts use a “two-pronged approach” to assess the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). First, the court must accept as true all of the facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. E.g., E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”). Then, it determines whether those presumed-true allegations “contain sufficient factual matter . . . to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (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).

In this case, a proposed amended pleading was submitted while the motion to dismiss the original pleading was still pending. A defendant is “not required to file a new motion to dismiss simply because an amended pleading was introduced while [its] motion was pending.” Tao of Sys. Integration, Inc. v. Analytical Servs. & Materials, Inc., 299 F.Supp.2d 565, 570 (E.D. Va. 2004) (citing 6 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1476 (2d ed. 1990)). Where, as here, “some of the alleged defects raised in the original motion remain in the amended pleading, the court will consider the motion as being addressed to the amended pleading.” Id.

ANALYSIS

Under South Carolina law, a “products liability case may be brought under several theories, including negligence, strict liability, and warranty.” Rife v. Hitachi Constr. Mach. Co., 609 S.E.2d 565, 568 (S.C. Ct. App. 2005) (citations omitted). Regardless of the particular theory, a plaintiff must allege facts showing “(1) that he was injured by the product; (2) that the product, at the time of the accident, was in essentially the same condition as when it left the hands of the defendant; and (3) that the injury occurred because the product was in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user.” Allen v. Long Mfg. NC, Inc., 505 S.E.2d 354, 356 (S.C. Ct. App. 1998) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

Stryker’s numerous criticisms of the amended complaint boil down to two arguments: Stieglitz has not specified what made her hip replacement defective, and she has not shown a causal connection between the alleged defect and her injuries.[2] Both of those arguments relate to the third basic element of a product liability claim, as stated in Allen.

In her amended complaint, Stieglitz alleges that Stryker sold the hip replacement system implanted in her and that the system “was defective and unreasonably dangerous and hazardous and unsafe for use. A screw in the acetabular component of the hip replacement system penetrates the acetabulum and pelvis which . . . caused Plaintiff pain and numerous falls.” (Am. Compl., ECF No. 9-1, at ¶ 5.) Stieglitz incorporates that allegation into all of her claims. (See Id. at ¶¶ 5, 7, 11.) Similarly, Stieglitz alleges that “a screw in the acetabular component of the hip replacement system penetrates the acetabulum and pelvis which . . . caused Plaintiff’s injuries.” (Id. at ¶ 9.) Stieglitz incorporates that allegation into her claims for negligence and breach of waranties. (See id. at ¶¶ 9, 11.) Finally, in her negligence claim, Stieglitz alleges that “[a] screw and metal on the hip replacement . . . was [sic] defective and Plaintiff was required to undergo medical treatment . . . ...


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