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Jackson v. Ford Motor Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

November 29, 2016

Victoria A. Jackson, individually and as surviving wife of Daniel A. Jackson, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Ford Motor Company, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Jackson. No. 1:15-cv-01180-J. Daniel Breen, Chief District Judge.

          Joe Bednarz, Jr., BEDNARZ & BEDNARZ, Hendersonville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          J. Randolph Bibb, Jr., Ryan N. Clark, LEWIS, THOMASON, KING, KRIEG & WALDROP, P.C., Nashville, Tennessee, Stephanie A. Douglas, Jessica R. Vartanian, BUSH SEYFERTH & PAIGE PLLC, Troy, Michigan, for Appellee.

          Before: MOORE and CLAY, Circuit Judges; HOOD, District Judge. [*]

          OPINION

          KAREN NELSON MOORE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In this diversity case, Daniel A. Jackson ("Mr. Jackson"), the husband of Plaintiff-Appellant Victoria A. Jackson ("Mrs. Jackson" or "Jackson"), died in a car accident on U.S. Highway 70 after he lost control of his 2012 Ford Focus. Mrs. Jackson, who was a passenger in the car, was seriously injured. She now alleges that Defendant-Appellee Ford Motor Company ("Ford"), the manufacturer of their car, was responsible for the accident because it equipped the car with a defective "Electronic Power Assisted Steering" ("EPAS") system that caused the loss of control. Ford filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, inter alia, that Jackson did not adequately plead proximate cause. The district court granted Ford's motion, and Jackson has appealed. For the reasons stated below, the district court demanded too much of Jackson under the familiar Iqbal and Twombly pleading requirements. Accordingly, we REVERSE the district court's judgment dismissing the complaint and REMAND the case for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because "[w]e . . . accept all plausible well-pled factual allegations as true, " see City of Cleveland v. Ameriquest Mortg. Sec., Inc., 615 F.3d 496, 502 (6th Cir. 2010), the following is a background of the case as described in Mrs. Jackson's amended complaint. Mr. Jackson was driving his 2012 Ford Focus on U.S. Highway 70 when "suddenly and without warning, the Ford Focus darted left across the center line into oncoming traffic. It was struck head on by a wrecker." R. 36 (Am. Compl. ¶ 13-14) (Page ID #403). "[A]s a result of the collision, Mr. Jackson received serious injuries and died. Mrs. Jackson received serious, permanent and life threatening injuries and was life flighted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center." Id. ¶ 15 (Page ID #403). Mrs. Jackson claims that the EPAS system "was the cause of the Plaintiff[']s vehicle darting left into oncoming traffic." Id. ¶ 16 (Page ID #403); see also id. ¶¶ 104, 107, 110, 118, 121, 124, 129, 135, 139 (Page ID #427-32, 434-35).

         "The EPAS system in the 2012 Ford Focus . . . replaces the traditional hydraulic-assist power steering pump and [consists] of a power steering control motor, electronic control unit, torque sensor and steering wheel position sensor." Id. ¶ 17 (Page ID #404). Jackson describes the "systemic defect" in this system as follows: "(1) seepage of conformal coating into the EPAS system's ribbon cable, which leads to the loss of connections within the EPAS system; (2) misalignment of ribbon cable pins utilized in the EPAS system, which leads to the breakage of critical wiring and the loss of connections within the EPAS system; (3) manufacturing defects in the contact plating used in the EPAS system, which causes corrosion and an interruption in electrical connections within the EPAS system; (4) defects in EPAS system's sensors; and (5) defects in the gear assembly." Id. ¶ 17 (Page ID #404); see also id. ¶ 47 (Page ID #412-13). Jackson claims that "[t]his defective EPAS system renders the system prone to sudden and premature failure during ordinary and foreseeable driving situations" and that "drivers of the Defective Vehicles experience significantly increased steering effort and an increased risk of losing control of their vehicles when the EPAS system fails." Id. ¶¶ 17-18 (Page ID #404). Jackson defined "Defective Vehicles" as vehicles that "contain the same or similar EPAS as the Plaintiff's 2012 Ford Focus, " which include various other Ford models. Id. ¶ 37 (Page ID #409).

         The alleged EPAS defect "can, and has, caused injuries to occupants of the Defective Vehicles." Id. ¶ 47 (Page ID #413). Jackson points to three instances where drivers experienced steering failure in their 2012 Ford Focuses, id. ¶¶ 87-89 (Page ID #424), and several other instances where other vehicles equipped with the same or similar EPAS system suffered from steering failure, id. ¶¶ 69-86, 90-91 (Page ID #419-25). Jackson's amended complaint alleges that Ford is strictly liable for manufacturing and design defects; strictly liable for defective warnings; liable for negligent manufacture, design, and warning; engaged in misrepresentations; and breached implied and express warranties. See id. ¶¶ 105-39 (Page ID #428-35).

         After Jackson filed her complaint in state court, Ford removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. R. 1 (Notice of Removal at 10) (Page ID #10). The district court then dismissed Defendants Golden Circle Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Inc. and Steve Marsh Ford, Inc. under the doctrine of fraudulent joinder. See Jackson v. Ford Motor Co., No. 15-1180, 2016 WL 270485, at *1 (W.D. Tenn. Jan. 21, 2016). Ford filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(e), arguing that Mrs. Jackson "has not pled facts suggesting that a defect in the 2012 Ford Focus Mr. Jackson was driving at the time of his crash caused or contributed to the crash." R. 15-1 (Def.'s Mem. in Support of Its Mot. Dismiss at 1) (Page ID #280). Following an amended complaint filed by Mrs. Jackson, R. 36 (Am. Compl.) (Page ID #401), and a supplemental motion to dismiss filed by Ford, R. 35 (Def.'s Supp. Mem. in Support of Mot. Dismiss) (Page ID #396), [1] the district court granted Ford's motion to dismiss. See Jackson v. Ford Motor Co., No. 15-1180, 2016 WL 324383 (W.D. Tenn. Jan. 26, 2016). Jackson then filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, which the district court denied. See Jackson v. Ford Motor Co., No. 15-1180, 2016 WL 4533028 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 21, 2016). Jackson has appealed the orders on the motion to dismiss and motion to alter or amend the judgment. See R. 59 (Notice of Appeal at 1) (Page ID #526). The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         "We review de novo a district court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." In re Darvocet, Darvon, & Propoxyphene Prods. Liab. Litig., 756 F.3d 917, 926 (6th Cir. 2014). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ...


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