United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
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.
Allegations in the First Amended
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.
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”).
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.
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.]
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.
Motion to Amend Complaint to Add Claims for Punitive
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.
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
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
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 ...