Plaintiff, a former contract employee at Citgo Petroleum Corporation, claimed that he was injured as a result of his exposure to high levels of toxic materials and irritants during his employment as a sandblaster/painter for approximately twenty years. He filed suit against Citgo alleging that the company failed to warn of dangers associated with his work and failed to provide a safe work environment. In turn, Citgo moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims in Roach v. Air Liquide America.
The court, in analyzing Citgo’s motion, noted that the standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is that dismissal is warranted when the Complaint “appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” In determining whether this standard is met, the Complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” And, under Louisiana Civil Code article 2317.1 (pdf), an owner or custodian of a thing is only liable if the thing was under the defendant’s custody, contained a defect that presented an unreasonable risk of harm, the defect caused the damages, the defendant knew or should have known of the harm, and the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care.
In support of its motion, Citgo highlighted that plaintiff simply failed to allege any facts in support of his claims that Citgo failed to provide necessary protection, failed to warn of the risks associated with silica exposure, and failed to provide proper ventilation. Moreover, plaintiff did not provide facts regarding his claimed exposure to hazardous levels of silica, the frequency with which he was exposed, how Citgo knew of the alleged dangers, what Citgo could have done to prevent such alleged dangers, or any other circumstantial details.
The court ultimately agreed that the plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support his claims. However, the court gave the plaintiff 30 days to amend his Complaint to allege sufficient facts, and if he failed to do so, the suit would be dismissed with prejudice.
Take-Away: Although a plaintiff often will be given an opportunity to amend a poorly pled Complaint, a defendant–employer should nonetheless seek dismissal of a plaintiff–employee’s premises liability suit where the Complaint is woefully inadequate. This action will force the plaintiff to either properly plead his case, or if he is unable to do so, abandon the lawsuit.
This article was co-authored by Kelly Brilleaux, an associate at Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC.