FORT MYERS — The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has ruled in a product liability complaint against a motorcycle manufacturer.
District Judge Sheri Polster Chappell in a Feb. 2 opinion granted in part and denied in part a motion by defendant Suzuki Motor of America Inc. to dismiss a product liability suit and amended petition brought by Benjamin Spector.
Spector began his complaint in 2017, when he filed a petition for pure bill of discovery in state court to find out who manufactured the motorcycle, which Spector argued lost power due to a defective ignition switch in a 2008 model, causing his 2016 accident; however, Suzuki Motor of America countered, claiming lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.
Chappell began her discussion noting that a two-step inquiry must be applied when ruling over a personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, citing Meier v. Sun Int’l Hotels, Ltd.
“The Court first determines whether defendant’s activities satisfy the Florida long-arm statute, and if so, whether the extension of jurisdiction comports with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Chappell wrote in the opinion. “Here, Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff’s Complaint sets forth allegations that facially comply with Florida’s long-arm statute. However, the parties dispute which Defendant can in fact bear legal responsibility for Plaintiff’s accident.”
According to Suzuki Motor of America, the company is not liable since it was not incorporated until 2013 and is in no responsible for the 2008 model’s “design, manufacture, testing, assembly, inspection, importation, distribution, formulation, advertisement, or sale,” according to the opinion, which notes that “this affidavit shifts the burden back to Plaintiff to produce evidence supporting personal jurisdiction.”
Spector argued dismissing Suzuki Motor of America's motion for lack of personal jurisdiction would be premature at this point since discovery will eventually reveal its liability.
“Although the Court is aware that [Suzuki Motor of America] was not in existence until 2013 and the motorcycle at issue in this case was manufactured in 2008, the accident occurred in 2016 and there is no evidence before the Court at this point to show that SMAI could bear no liability whatsoever for the accident that occurred in Florida,” Chappell wrote.
After ruling in favor of Spector on personal jurisdiction, the judge addressed Suzuki Motor of America's “shotgun pleading” in Spector’s failure to state a claim, citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly.
“Although the complaint need not make detailed factual allegations, it must provide more than labels, conclusions, and formulaic recitations of the elements of the cause of action,” Chappell wrote, adding, “Here, the Amended Complaint is a typical shotgun pleading that improperly commingles claims.”
The judge continues to conclude the complaint is a shotgun pleading, citing Kyle K. v. Chapman.
“While generally a complaint that makes no distinction between defendants’ liability is considered a shotgun pleading, a ‘complaint that can be fairly read to aver that all defendants are responsible for the alleged conduct’ may refer to defendants collectively,” Chappell wrote.
Before making her final ruling, the judge addressed the breach of express warranty and breach of implied warranty of merchantability claims, respectively noting that Spector’s claims are insufficient on the first count and lack privity on the later.
“The Court tends to agree that now that Plaintiff has filed a products liability lawsuit he may proceed with discovery at the appropriate time,” Chappell wrote. “The Court sees no reason to strike this portion of the Amended Complaint if the parties will proceed with discovery in the normal course of litigation.”