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Hinkle v. Continental Motors Inc.

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

October 14, 2017

Robert Hinkle, Brenda Hinkle, John Michael Skinner, and Dawn Skinner, Plaintiffs,
v.
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.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Kavlico Corporation's motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 27). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion to dismiss.

         I. Background

         On 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. (M¶39.) Mrs. Hinkle's injuries were serious. (Id.)

         Post-accident testing showed that the oil pressure transducer was faulty and that the engine did not produce the required power to function properly.[1] (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, Continental manufactured an engine with defects in the fuel delivery system and turbocharger, and Cirrus manufactured a defective aircraft and misrepresented its airworthiness. (Id. ¶¶ 41-54.)

         Plaintiffs first filed suit in the Middle District of Florida, but that court dismissed the complaint sua sponte as a shotgun pleading. Hinkle v. Cont'l 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'l 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'l Motors, Inc., No. 8.T6-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.

         The stay of this case was lifted on August 8, 2017. Shortly thereafter, Kavlico moved to dismiss, arguing the complaint fails to comply with federal pleading standards. Specifically, Kavlico argues (1) Plaintiffs have not pleaded a proper breach of contract claim, because they have not alleged the existence of any contract between Kavlico and Plaintiffs; (2) Plaintiffs have not pleaded a proper breach of warranty claim, because they have not alleged where or to whom any express or implied warranty was provided; (3) Plaintiffs have not alleged fraud with the particularity Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires; (4) Plaintiffs' asserted cause of action for "recklessness, outrageousness, willful and wanton conduct" is not a cognizable claim; and (5) Plaintiffs' prayer for attorney's fees fails to identify any statute or contract allowing recovery of fees.

         Kavlico also complains that many of the factual allegations against Kavlico are identical to allegations against other Defendants, including allegations that are irrelevant to Kavlico. Beyond that general objection to the complaint, Kavlico has not challenged Plaintiffs' claims for strict liability and negligence. Kavlico has not challenged jurisdiction.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 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.

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. 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.

         III. Discussion

         A. Breach of Contract

         Plaintiffs assert a breach of contract claim against Kavlico, alleging they were the intended beneficiaries of a contract between Kavlico and Cirrus or Continental (the alleged counter party is unclear), which Kavlico allegedly breached, causing the crash at issue. It is unclear what state's substantive law would apply to this claim, because the unidentified contract likely has a choice of law provision. South Carolina's choice of law rule for contract actions applies the substantive law of the lex loci contratus for issues regarding formation, interpretation, or validity, and the substantive law of the place of performance for issues regarding performance. Witt v. American Trucking Associations, Inc., 860 F.Supp. 295, 300 (D.S.C. 1994). Plaintiffs allege Kavlico failed to perform as required under the (unidentified) contract. Presumably, the allegedly defective oil pressure sensor was delivered to the manufacturer in Minnesota (though it may have been delivered instead to another component manufacturer in another state). Under Minnesota law, a claim of breach of contract has four elements: (1) formation of the contract; (2) performance of conditions precedent by the plaintiffs; (3) a material breach of the contract by the defendant; and (4) damages. Parkhill v. Minn. Mut. Life Ins. Co.,174 F.Supp.2d 951, 961 (D. Minn. 2000). Plaintiffs allege Kavlico entered ...


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