Ansa Assuncao LLP’s Maryland Team Obtains Dismissal of Negligence and Products Liability Case at Pleading Stage in Texas Federal Court

On December 7, 2018, Ansa Assuncao LLP’s Maryland office team, working with their Texas colleagues, obtained dismissal of all causes of action against firm client Evergreen Tank Solutions, Inc. (“Evergreen”) in a suit brought by a Texas resident who sustained third-degree burns over 40% of his body (and other alleged injuries) while cleaning a tanker trailer for his employer. Plaintiff sued Evergreen, along with a host of other defendants, alleging product liability claims of design defect, manufacturing defect, and failure to warn. Plaintiff also claimed Evergreen was negligent and grossly negligent in its maintenance and inspection of the tanker, even though Evergreen’s only tangential involvement was as the tanker’s pre-incident lessor.

After removal to federal court, Evergreen filed multiple Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss in response to successive amended complaints filed and re-filed by Plaintiff. Over multiple motions, Evergreen argued that: (1) Plaintiff had, even with his amendments, failed to satisfy the federal pleading standard, relying instead on bare conclusory statements and legal allegations for all claims; (2) Plaintiff’s sparse allegations of fact against Evergreen stated no legally viable cause of action; and (3) even if they did, Plaintiff’s Complaint was barred by state and federal law: Chapter 82 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (which, subject to proof of discrete facts not pled by Plaintiff, precludes liability for lessors not involved in manufacturing products) and the Graves Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 30106 (which prohibits injury claims that arise from alleged use or operation of a vehicle against an owner who leases the vehicle to a third party absent sufficiently-alleged claims of wrongdoing by the owner).

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas agreed, finding that Plaintiff failed to plead a prima facie case against Evergreen. The Court found that, while Evergreen owned and bailed the tanker, no facts were alleged that Evergreen operated, maintained, or controlled the tanker once it was leased. Likewise, no facts were alleged to show that Evergreen inspected, parked, or supervised the parking of the tanker on the day of Plaintiff’s incident. As a mere owner/lessor, Evergreen had no involvement in the tanker’s design or manufacture. The Court further found that, even if Plaintiff’s claims had been sufficiently pled, they were barred by state and federal law and Evergreen had no duty to warn Plaintiff because a product’s lessor does not owe a duty to third parties who use a leased product as a matter of law. The Court dismissed all claims against Evergreen with prejudice.

A copy of the Court’s Opinion can be found hereGeorge v. SI Group, Inc., No. G-16-360, 2018 WL 6435740 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 7, 2018).

Jennifer Wright Schick is a Partner in our Maryland office.
Heather L. Williams is an Associate in our Maryland office.