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Good v. Sugar Creek Packing Co.

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

February 28, 2018

JACK DALE GOOD, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SUGAR CREEK PACKING CO.; MICHAEL JOHN; NORBERT MUEHLICH; and WEBER, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jack Dale Good, Jr., filed this action against defendants Sugar Creek Packing Co. (“Sugar Creek”), Michael John, Norbert Muehlich and Weber, Inc (“Weber”). (Docket 1). Plaintiff advances a negligence claim. Id. He seeks to hold defendants liable for injuries he suffered as a result of the collision of his motorcycle and a car driven by Mr. John at an intersection in Lawrence County, South Dakota. Id. at p. 2.

         Plaintiff states Mr. John is a Sugar Creek employee who drove a vehicle that Weber owned, and Mr. Muehlich, Weber's president, permitted Mr. John to operate the vehicle. Id. at pp. 2-3. Although plaintiff does not state what business Weber engages in, he asserts Sugar Creek and Weber collaborate in business through “Sugar Creek buy[ing] equipment from and test[ing] prototypes for Weber.” Id. The collision occurred around the time of a company event Sugar Creek sponsored where it provided food and lodging for its employees in Lawrence County, South Dakota. Id. Mr. John and Mr. Muehlich attended the company event.[1] Id.

         DISCUSSION

         The court has jurisdiction because the parties are diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332; (Docket 1 at p. 1). “It is, of course, well-settled that in a suit based on diversity of citizenship jurisdiction the federal courts apply federal law as to matters of procedure but the substantive law of the relevant state.” In re Baycol Prods. Litig., 616 F.3d 778, 785 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         All parties filed motions to dismiss this case. (Dockets 14 & 20). Defendants collectively filed a motion claiming plaintiff's complaint is time-barred. (Docket 14). Less than one month later, plaintiff filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss his complaint without prejudice. (Docket 20). Each side resists the other's motion. (Dockets 25 & 29). Separate from each motion's substance, the parties dispute which motion the court should resolve first.

         I. Cross-motions

         Defendants argue plaintiff failed to comply with the applicable statute of limitations. (Dockets 14 & 15). South Dakota law subjects plaintiff's negligence claim to a three-year statute of limitations. See SDCL § 15-2-14(3).

         Although defendants' motion to dismiss does not cite a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure as the basis for dismissal, Rule 12(b)(6) applies to defendants' motion. “A court may dismiss a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) as barred by a statute of limitations if the complaint itself shows that the claim is time-barred.” In re Pre-Filled Propane Tank Antitrust Litig., 860 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2017) (en banc), cert. denied sub nom. Ferrellgas Partners, L.P. v. Morgan-Larson, LLC, No. 17-441, 2018 WL 311347 (U.S. Jan. 8, 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). “In addressing a motion to dismiss, the court may consider the pleadings themselves, materials embraced by the pleadings, exhibits attached to the pleadings, and matters of public record.” Roe v. Nebraska, 861 F.3d 785, 788 (8th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

         Plaintiff pursues voluntary dismissal based on Rule 41(a)(2). (Dockets 20 & 21). That Rule provides, “an action may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2). “When deciding whether to grant a motion for voluntary dismissal, the ‘district court should consider . . . whether the party has presented a proper explanation for its desire to dismiss; whether a dismissal would result in a waste of judicial time and effort; and whether a dismissal will prejudice the defendants.' A plaintiff cannot use a motion to voluntarily dismiss to seek a more favorable forum.” Blaes v. Johnson & Johnson, 858 F.3d 508, 512 (8th Cir. 2017) (quoting Donner v. Alcoa, Inc., 709 F.3d 694, 697 (8th Cir. 2013)) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). If the court grants plaintiff's motion, he intends to file suit in Oklahoma, where he is a resident. (Docket 21 at p. 4).

         Defendants' and plaintiff's motions hinge on the same issue: whether the statute of limitations bars plaintiff's claim. That is the entirety of defendants' motion. See Dockets 14 & 15. It is also critical to plaintiff's motion for voluntary dismissal because “[v]oluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a)(2) should not be granted if a party will be prejudiced by the dismissal, and there is clear legal prejudice where a Rule 41(a)(2) dismissal is granted in the face of a valid statute of limitations defense[.]” Metro. Fed. Bank of Iowa, F.S.B. v. W.R. Grace & Co., 999 F.2d 1257, 1262 (8th Cir. 1993). If defendants are correct on the statute of limitations issue, the court must grant their motion and deny plaintiff's motion to dismiss. If defendants lose their statute of limitations argument, their motion must be denied and plaintiff's argument regarding a lack of prejudice is strengthened.

         Plaintiff invites the court to adopt a particular understanding of the holding in W.R. Grace. See id. In that case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit stated: “We would consider it an abuse of discretion for a district court to find no legal prejudice, and thus to grant voluntary dismissal, where the non-moving party has demonstrated a valid statute of limitations defense to the claims sought to be dismissed.” Id. at 1263. According to plaintiff, W.R. Grace stands for the proposition that “the statute of limitations defense must be a complete defense as to all jurisdictions in which a plaintiff may bring an action.” (Docket 30 at p. 4) (emphasis omitted). This interpretation stretches W.R. Grace beyond its holding. The Eighth Circuit specified that legal prejudice arises “where the nonmoving party has demonstrated a valid statute of limitations defense to the claims sought to be dismissed.” W.R. Grace, 999 F.2d at 1263 (emphasis added). The claims defendants seek to dismiss are those plaintiff advances in this court-not potential claims in Oklahoma or any other court down the line. The court has access to far fewer facts of this case than the parties. It would not be possible for the court to consider and determine whether defendants' statute of limitations defense holds up in all possible jurisdictions. Understanding W.R. Grace this way is consistent with other United States District Courts in the Eighth Circuit. See United States v. $32, 820.56 in U.S. Currency, 106 F.Supp.3d 990, 997 (N.D. Iowa 2015) (“The Eighth Circuit has found legal prejudice, for purposes of considering a motion to dismiss without prejudice, when dismissal would cause the loss of a material advantage the resisting party would enjoy only if the pending action were to continue.”) (citing W.R. Grace); In re Prempro Products Liab. Litig., No. MDL 403CV01507, 2008 WL 5274338, at *1 (E.D. Ark. Dec. 18, 2008) (“Here, permitting Plaintiff to voluntarily dismiss this case to avoid a valid statute of limitations defense while pursuing identical claims against the same Defendants in another federal court, with a possibly longer statute of limitations, would prejudice Defendants.”).

         Because the statute of limitations is the critical issue in this case, and it is dispositive in relation to defendants' ...


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