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Hunt v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

Superior Court of Delaware

November 20, 2017

RICHARD B. HUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          Submitted: November 6, 2017

         Upon Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for a More Definite Statement DENIED

          The Honorable Andrea L. Rocanelli, J.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company's ("Defendant") motion made under Superior Court Civil Rules 8(a), 9(b), 12(b)(6), and 12(e) to dismiss for failure to state a claim or for a more definite statement. Upon consideration of the facts, arguments and legal authorities set forth by all parties; decisional precedent; and the record of this case, the Court finds as follows:

         1. Defendant is a railroad company incorporated in Delaware with its headquarters and principal place of business in Omaha, Nebraska. Defendant operates locomotives, railroad cars, and repair facilities throughout several states.

         2. Plaintiff Richard Hunt ("Plaintiff) was employed with Defendant from 1978 to 2014 as a machinist at Defendant's Roseville, California facility.

         3. On July 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant alleging that he was exposed to various toxic substances and carcinogens during the course of his employment with Defendant as a result of Defendant's negligence. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that his position as a machinist required him to maintain and repair locomotives, and that in the course of these duties he was exposed to:

[C]leaning solvents such as mineral spirits; diesel fuel/fume/benzene from locomotives and other diesel powered equipment; rust and other heavy metals from grinding and cutting steel on the locomotives; creosote from the railroad ties; manganese from the electrical welding process; asbestos insulation and asbestos brake shoe dust and; rock dust from railroad ballast.[1]

         4. On August 10, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens or, in the alternative, to dismiss to failure to state a claim or for a more definite statement. The Court has addressed Defendant's motion to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens in a separate order.

         5. With respect to Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or for a more definite statement, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs complaint is defective for two reasons. First, Defendant contends that Plaintiff did not adequately identify the toxic substances that he was exposed to and, therefore, that Defendant has not been placed on sufficient notice of Plaintiff s claim. Second, Defendant contends that Plaintiff failed to show compliance with the applicable statute of limitations.

         6. Delaware is a notice pleading jurisdiction.[2] Therefore, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint only needs to give general notice of the claim asserted.[3] In deciding a motion to dismiss under Superior Court Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)"), the Court shall accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.[4] Factual allegations, even if vague, are well-pleaded if they provide notice of the claim to the other party.[5] The Court should deny the motion if the claimant "may recover under any reasonably conceivable set of circumstances susceptible of proof."[6]

         7. As an alternative to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move under Superior Court Civil Rule 12(e) ("Rule 12(e)") for an order requiring the other party to file a more definite statement. In deciding a motion under Rule 12(e), the Court evaluates a complaint to see if it is "so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading."[7]

         8. Plaintiffs face unique challenges in toxic tort litigation because they are often "unwittingly exposed to the hazardous substance years before any injury is manifested" and find it difficult years later to identify the products to which they were exposed.[8] These challenges "may be considered at the pleading stage of the litigation and may justify some departure from the pleading standards" typical in other actions.[9] When alleging that exposure to toxic substances took place at a particular premises, this Court has held:

[A] plaintiff may identify the premises at issue by: (1) describing its location with the degree of precision dictated by the circumstances of the claim; (2) the type of facility located on the premises and a description of the toxic substances used there; and (3) ...

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