Rockman v. Union Carbide Corp., Case No: 1:16-cv-02459-JKB (Jan.3, 2017), is a notable decision in that the Court (Bredar, J.) granted the defendants’ motions for judgment on the pleadings and allowed the plaintiffs to amend the complaint.
The Plaintiffs, Jeffrey and Sonja Rockman, brought this action as a result of Mr. Rockman’s alleged exposures to Defendants’ asbestos-containing products which caused him to develop mesothelioma. This action was initially filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, alleging strict liability, breach of warranty, negligence, fraud, conspiracy, market share liability and loss of consortium. The case was since then removed to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.
In its decision, the Court noted that a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. The Court further emphasized that although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions “couched as factual allegations.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
When considering the Defendants’ motions for judgment, the Court explained that the Plaintiff’s complaint, both the Short Form Complaint and the Master Complaint, was insufficient to state a claim for relief under Rule 8(a), as construed by the Supreme Court in Iqbal and Twombly. The Court noted that Plaintiffs relied upon on broad conclusions and “formulaic recitation” of the elements of negligence and strict liability instead of alleging sufficient factual content against each Defendant to permit a reasonable inference that such Defendant engaged in actionable misconduct. The Court further emphasized that Plaintiffs failed to narrow the relevant time period as to each Defendant and lumped all Defendants together generally. Moreover, the Plaintiffs failed to allege facts to satisfy the “frequency, regularity [and] proximity” test as required under Maryland law to establish causation in asbestos cases. Lastly, Plaintiffs’ claims for conspiracy and fraud would also fail. Based on all the above-stated, the Court granted the Defendants’ pending motions for judgment on the pleadings. However, at the same time, it provided the Plaintiffs an opportunity to file an amended complaint to cure the deficiencies noted in this decision and provided a specific deadline to do so.
Defense counsel should note, following this ruling, Plaintiffs will be expected to provide sufficient factual content to support an inference that Defendant was engaged in actionable misconduct instead of relying on broad conclusions. In addition, Plaintiffs will be expected to allege facts particular to each Defendant rather than grouping them all together, and also to allege the relevant time period as to each Defendant. Although this decision may indicate that courts may be more diligent in demanding the requisite specificity from Plaintiffs, it may also indicate that Plaintiffs may be shown greater leniency in curing deficiencies in their complaints.