June 16, 2015
MITCHELL RUOFF, individually and as parent and next friend of DANIELLE RUOFF, a minor, Plaintiffs,
SANDRA LYNN DILKS, and BURRIS LOGISTICS, Defendants.
JAN R. JURDEN, PRESIDENT JUDGE
AND NOW TO WIT, this 16th day of June, 2015, upon consideration of Sandra Lynn Dilks' and Burris Logistics' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Civil Rules 9 and 12(b)(6), Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, and Sandra Lynn Dilks' and Burris Logistics' Reply to Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, IT APPEARS THAT:
1. This case arises out of an auto accident that occurred on October 14, 2014. On December 30, 2014, Plaintiffs Mitchell Ruoff and Danielle Ruoff ("Plaintiffs") filed a Complaint against Defendants Sandra Lynn Dilks and Burris Logistics ("Defendants") alleging they suffered personal injuries in the accident and the accident was directly and proximately caused by the Defendants' negligence.
2. Plaintiffs allege that on October 14, 2014, Plaintiff Mitchell was operating his vehicle in the left center lane of Interstate 95. Due to traffic stopped ahead, Plaintiff Mitchell began to slow his vehicle and came to a stop. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Dilks, an employee of Defendant Burris Logistics, was traveling directly behind Plaintiffs while operating a tractor trailer in the course and scope of her employment. Plaintiffs claim that Defendant Dilks failed to slow the tractor trailer based on the traffic conditions and as a result collided with the rear end of Plaintiffs' vehicle. Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant Dilks was speeding in violation of 21 Del. C. § 4168(a), driving recklessly in violation of 21 Del. C. § 4175(a), and driving in a careless and inattentive manner in violation of 21 Del. C. §§ 4176(a) and 4176(b). Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that Defendant Dilks was proceeding through a construction zone at 61 miles per hour just three seconds before striking Plaintiffs' car and Defendant Dilks never applied the brakes. Plaintiffs demand judgment against Defendants for general, punitive, and special damages.
3. On January 22, 2015, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Civil Rules 9 and 12(b)(6). Defendants argue Plaintiffs' demand for punitive damages must be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) because Plaintiffs have failed to allege any material facts supporting a claim for "reckless and wanton and/or willful conduct, " and failed to plead with particularity a demand for punitive damages pursuant to Rule 9(b).
4. When considering a Motion to Dismiss under Superior Court Civil Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must assume that all well-pleaded facts in the complaint are true. "Dismissal is appropriate only if it appears with reasonable certainty that, under any set of facts that could be proven to support the claims asserted, the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief." Although the pleading threshold in Delaware is low, "[a]llegations that are merely conclusory and lacking factual basis, however, will not survive a motion to dismiss." In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court generally may not consider matters outside the complaint. However, documents that are integral to or incorporated by reference in the complaint may be considered.
5. A claim of negligence must be pleaded with particularity under Superior Court Civil Rule 9(b). "Rule 9(b) ensures that a defendant is put on sufficient notice so that it may defend itself against a plaintiff's allegations."
6. Punitive damages are recoverable where the defendant's conduct exhibits a wanton or willful disregard for the rights of plaintiff. Wanton or willful conduct must reflect a 'conscious indifference' or 'I don't care' attitude. The Delaware Supreme Court has explained that, "[o]rdinarily, questions of gross negligence and willful or wanton conduct are for the jury and are not susceptible of summary adjudication." Thus, "[w]here the evidence supports a reasonable inference that Defendant's conduct meets the standard for recovering punitive damages, the question of punitive damages is typically for the trier of fact."
7. Viewing the pleadings in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to withstand a motion to dismiss. The allegations made in the Complaint are pleaded with sufficient particularity to put Defendants on notice of their claim.
NOW THEREFORE, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. IT IS SO ORDERED.