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In re McNeilus Manufacturing Explosion Coordinated Litigation

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 6, 2019

In re McNeilus Manufacturing Explosion Coordinated Litigation
v.
Swagelok, et al., 17cv5237 Filed as to See, et al.

          ORDER

          Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Amend the Complaint to Add Claims for Punitive Damages filed by the plaintiffs, Eemou and Sing See. [ECF No. 139.] As explained below, the Sees' motion to amend is denied.

         I. Allegations in the First Amended Complaint[1]

         McNeilus manufactures large trucks for waste removal purposes that are powered by a compressed natural gas (“CNG”) system. The gas is stored in pressurized cylinders on top of the vehicles. During the manufacturing process, after the CNG trucks are painted, they are moved into a heated baking room so that the paint can cure.

         On January 11, 2017, McNeilus was finishing a CNG vehicle for Waste Management. The truck had four CNG cylinders atop the vehicle, which were connected to a manifold with a high-pressure hose manufactured by Swagelok Company (“Swagelok”) and distributed by San Diego Valve and Fitting Company (“San Diego Valve”).

         At the time of the events giving rise to this lawsuit, Eemou See was a production worker at a McNeilus facility. Around 10:00 a.m. on January 11th, a massive explosion occurred while the Waste Management truck was in the baking room. The explosion caused serious injuries to several people and severely damaged the McNeilus building. Ms. See suffered burns over nearly half of her body and the amputation of each finger on her left hand.

         In the aftermath of the explosion, the Dodge County Sheriff's Office and the state fire marshal investigated its cause. The sheriff's report noted that a hose came unfastened from the CNG system-the hose appeared to have pulled out of the factory-crimped connection. The fire marshal's initial investigation similarly suggested that the hose became “undone and may have released some of the natural gas product into the room.” [First Am. Compl. ¶ 44.]

         Ms. See and her husband brought this lawsuit against Swagelok and San Diego Valve under negligence and strict-liability theories. They allege that the defendants defectively designed and manufactured the hose and hose assemblies. They also allege that Swagelok and San Diego Valve provided inadequate warnings with their products regarding how to use them safely. The Sees claim that the CNG hose connecting the cylinders to the manifold on the truck was not properly inserted into the fitting; if it had been, the hose would not have decoupled from the fitting, releasing natural gas into the baking room. The Sees also claim that Swagelok and San Diego Valve failed to properly test the hose assembly, which would have caught the flaw prior to the explosion.

         II. Motion to Amend Complaint to Add Claims for Punitive Damages

         The Sees ask the Court to allow them to amend their complaint so they can seek punitive damages from Swagelok and San Diego Valve. [ECF No. 139.] The defendants oppose the motion, arguing that the proposed amendment is futile. For the reasons set forth below, the Sees' motion is denied.

         A. Legal Standard

         Except in situations where amendment is permitted as a matter of course or the parties agree, neither of which apply here, a party may amend its pleadings only with leave of court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Federal courts should grant leave to amend freely “when justice so requires.” Id. Courts will, however, deny leave to amend for several reasons, including: “undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the non-moving party, or futility of amendment.” Streambend Props. II, LLC v. Ivy Tower Minneapolis, LLC, 781 F.3d 1003, 1015 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Moses.com Sec., Inc. v. Comprehensive Software Sys., Inc., 406 F.3d 1052, 1065 (8th Cir. 2005)). In this case, only the futility of the proposed amendment is at issue.[2]

         When determining whether to deny amendment because a proposed amendment is futile, a court must “reach the legal conclusion that the amended complaint could not withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Zutz v. Nelson, 601 F.3d 842, 850 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Cornelia I. Crowell GST Trust v. Possis Med., Inc., 519 F.3d 778, 782 (8th Cir. 2008)). Under Rule 12(b)(6), courts look only at the sufficiency of the allegations in the proposed amended complaint to determine whether it “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         The Court's futility analysis in this context asks “whether [the Sees' proposed amendment] states a plausible claim for punitive damages in light of substantive Minnesota law.” Shank v. Carleton College, No. 16-cv-1154 (PJS/HB), 2018 WL 4961472, at *4 (D. Minn. Oct. 15, 2018) (emphasis in original); Barry, 2019 WL 351339, at *4 (same). Minnesota's substantive law makes punitive damages available to a plaintiff upon a showing “that the acts of the defendant show deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others.” Minn. Stat. § 549.20, subd. 1(a). Deliberate disregard occurs when “the ...


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