United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
Robert Hinkle, Brenda Hinkle, John Michael Skinner, and Dawn Skinner, Plaintiffs,
Continental Motors, Inc., d/b/a Continental Motors Group; Continental Motors Services, Inc.; Cirrus Design Corporation d/b/a Cirrus Aircraft; Cirrus Industries, Inc.; and Kavlico Corp., Defendants.
ORDER AND OPINION
Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendants Continental Motors,
Inc. and Continental Motors Services motion to dismiss (Dkt.
No. 28). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants
November 28, 2014, Plaintiffs Robert Hinkle, Brenda Hinkle,
Dawn Skinner and Michael Skinner, departed from
Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport in a nearly new
Cirrus S22T aircraft, bearing registration number N227RR,
piloted by Mr. Hinkle. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 20-21, 40.)
The intended destination was Orangeburg, South Carolina.
(Id. ¶ 22.) While flying near Hampton, South
Carolina, the aircraft experienced a sudden loss of oil
pressure, which caused the aircraft to lose engine power.
(Id. ¶¶ 25-27.) Because the aircraft would
not be able to glide to the nearest airport, Mr. Hinkle
activated the aircraft's ballistic parachute system.
(Id. ¶¶ 35-37.) The parachute did not
fully deploy, and the aircraft crash-landed in a wooded area.
(Id. ¶¶ 36-39.) All passengers were
injured. (Id. ¶ 39.) Mrs. Hinkle's injuries
were serious. (Id.)
testing showed that the oil transducer was faulty and that
the engine did not produce the required power to function
properly. (Id. ¶¶ 41-44.) Plaintiffs filed
suit against the Defendants Cirrus Design Corporation and
Cirrus Designs, Inc. (collectively "Cirrus"),
Continental Motors, Inc. and Continental Motors Services,
Inc. (collectively, "Continental") and Kavlico
Corporation, Inc. ("Kavlico"). Plaintiffs allege
generally that Kavlico manufactured a defective oil pressure
sensor in the aircraft, that Continental manufactured an
engine with defects in the fuel delivery system and
turbocharger, and that Cirrus manufactured a defective
aircraft and misrepresented its airworthiness. (Id.
first filed suit in the Middle District of Florida, but that
court dismissed the complaint sua sponte as a
shotgun pleading. Hinkle v. Cont 7 Motors,
Inc., No. 8:16-CV-2966-T-36MAP, 2016 WL 6518450, at * 1
(M.D. Fla. Oct. 26, 2016). Plaintiffs filed an amended
complaint on November 7, 2016. On November 22, 2016,
Plaintiffs filed the present action, which is an identical
action against the same Defendants. Meanwhile, in the Florida
action, Cirrus and Kavlico moved to dismiss for lack of
personal jurisdiction in Florida, and Continental moved to
dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing the amended
complaint was still a defective pleading. This Court stayed
the instant case pending disposition of those motions. In
July 2017, the Middle District of Florida granted both
motions. Hinkle v. Cont'I Motors, Inc., No.
8:16-CV-2966-T-36MAP, 2017 WL 3333120 (M.D. Fla. July 21,
2017) (against Cirrus and Kavlico); Hinkle v. Cont 1
Motors, Inc., No. 8:16-CV-2966-T-36MAP, 2017 WL 3131465
(M.D. Fla. July 24, 2017) (against Continental). The Florida
court granted leave to file a second amended complaint
against Continental, which was filed on August 7, 2017. A
motion to dismiss the second amended complaint is currently
pending in the Middle District of Florida. The dismissal of
Cirrus and Kavlico for lack of personal jurisdiction is
currently pending on appeal in the Eleventh Circuit.
stay of this case was lifted on August 8, 2017. Shortly
thereafter, Continental moved to dismiss, arguing that
Plaintiffs' action against it in this Court is
impermissible claim splitting and that the complaint fails to
meet federal pleading standards.
II. Legal Standard
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits the
dismissal of an action if the complaint fails "to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted." Such a motion
tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint and "does
not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of the
claim, or the applicability of defenses. . . . Our inquiry
then is limited to whether the allegations constitute 'a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief."' Republican
Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir.
1992) (quotation marks and citation omitted). In a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, the Court is obligated to "assume the
truth of all facts alleged in the complaint and the existence
of any fact that can be proved, consistent with the
complaint's allegations." E. Shore Mkts., Inc.
v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th
Cir. 2000). However, while the Court must accept the facts in
a light most favorable to the non-moving party, it "need
not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable
conclusions, or arguments." Id.
survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state
"enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Bell Art. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although the
requirement of plausibility does not impose a probability
requirement at this stage, the complaint must show more than
a "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009). A complaint has "facial plausibility"
where the pleading "allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Id.
argues the rule against claim splitting bars this case. The
rule against claim splitting is a principle of res
judicata. Sensormatic Sec. Corp. v. Sensormatic Elecs.
Corp., 273 Fed.Appx. 256, 265 (4th Cir. 2008). The rule
against claim splitting "prohibits a plaintiff from
prosecuting its case piecemeal and requires that all claims
arising out of a single wrong be presented in one
action." Myers v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 102
F.Supp.2d 1208, 1224 (D. Kan. 2000). The rule bars a claim
that involves the same parties and "arises out of the
same transaction or series of transactions as" a
previous claim. See Trustmark Insur. Co. v. ESLU,
Inc., 299 F.3d 1265, 1269-70 (11th Cir. 2002). "To
determine whether a plaintiff is claim-splitting, as would
support dismissal, the proper question is whether, assuming
the first suit was already final, the second suit would be
precluded under res judicata analysis." 1 Am. Jur. 2d
Actions § 99. Claim splitting is an affirmative defense
that requires consideration of facts beyond the complaint,
but a court may take judicial notice of facts from a prior
judicial proceeding if the affirmative defense does not raise
a disputed issue of fact. Kashyap, LLC v. Nat. Wellness
USA, Inc., No. CIV. A. DKC 11-0459, 2011 WL 2462192, at
*3 (D. Md. June 16, 2011); see also Brooks v.
Arthur, 626 F.3d 194, 200 (4th Cir. 2010) (same
regarding res judicata). Thus, claim splitting may
be grounds for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).
claims against Continental are identical to the
claims first filed in Winkle v. Continental Motors,
Inc. in the Middle District of Florida. Compare
(Dkt. No. 1) with Second Amended Complaint, No.
8:16-CV-2966-T-36MAP (M.D. Fla.), ECF 103 (the Hinkles'
claims) and Amended Complaint, No.
8:16-CV-2966-T-36MAP (M.D. Fla.), ECF 104 (the Skinners'
claims). Those claims are still pending in the Middle
District of Florida. If there were a final judgment in the
Florida case, this case would be precluded by res
judicata because the parties and claims asserted are
identical. See Federated Dep't Stores, Inc. v.
Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981) ("A final judgment
on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their
privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been
raised in that action."). This action therefore is claim
splitting is an equitable doctrine with many exceptions. 1
Am. Jur. 2d Actions § 99. Those exceptions ...