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Reed v. Arthrex, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 11, 2017

PAUL REED and ELENA GOLOVINA-REED, individually and as husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
ARTHREX, INC., a foreign corporation; and JOHN DOES I - XX, inclusive, Defendants.



         Defendant Arthrex, Inc. moved to dismiss several claims in this product-liability case. ECF No. 7. Plaintiffs Paul Reed and Elena Golovina-Reed opposed the motion. ECF No. 13. Arthrex filed a reply. ECF No. 16. After considering the parties' arguments, the court denies Arthrex's motion as to the claims for strict product liability and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. However, the court grants Arthrex's motion as to the claims for breach of express warranties and fraudulent misrepresentation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Reed received treatment for a deformity on one of his left toes. ECF No. 1 at Ex. 1 ¶ V. The treatment entailed the placement of an internal-fixation plate across a joint in his deformed toe. Id. The plate should have prevented excessive motion in the toe joint. Id. ¶ VI. But the plate fractured only 120 days after it was implanted, requiring Mr. Reed to undergo surgery to remove it. Id. ¶¶ V, VI. After surgery, Mr. Reed received the diagnosis of “left 1st metatarso-phalangeal joint fusion nonunion with broken internal fixation;” his toe was still deformed due to excessive motion in the toe joint, which prevented unionization of the joint. Id. While an internal-fixation plate will not “last forever, ” the plate here should not have fractured and required removal so soon. Id. ¶ VI.

         As a result of the alleged premature fracture in the plate, the Reeds filed this action in the Second Judicial District Court for Washoe County, Nevada in May 2017. See ECF No. 1 at Ex. I. The Reeds collectively allege (1) negligence, (2) strict product liability, (3) breach of express and implied warranties, including the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, (4) misrepresentation, and (5) loss of consortium. Id. ¶¶ VII-X, XII. After additional briefing in regards to the amount in controversy, Arthrex successfully removed the action to this court. ECF Nos. 1, 4, 12, 14, 17. Arthrex then moved to dismiss the claims for strict product liability, breach of express and implied warranties, and misrepresentation. ECF No. 7. The Reeds opposed the motion, and Arthrex filed a reply. ECF Nos. 13, 16.


         A party may seek the dismissal of a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a legally cognizable cause of action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (stating that a party may file a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]”). To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint must satisfy the notice pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2). See Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2008). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) does not require detailed factual allegations; however, a pleading that offers only “‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” is insufficient and fails to meet this broad pleading standard. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         To sufficiently allege a claim under Rule 8(a)(2)-viewed within the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss-a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference, based on the court's judicial experience and common sense, that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. See Id. at 678-679 (stating that “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Further, in reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Id. However, bare assertions in a complaint amounting “to nothing more than a formulaic recitation of the elements of a . . . claim . . . are not entitled to an assumption of truth.” Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 698) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court discounts these allegations because “they do nothing more than state a legal conclusion- even if that conclusion is cast in the form of a factual allegation.” Id. “In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory ‘factual content, ' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief.” Id.


         Arthrex moves to dismiss the following claims: (1) strict product liability; (2) breach of express and implied warranties; (3) misrepresentation. The court considers the parties' arguments regarding each claim in turn.

         A. Strict Product Liability

         Arthrex first moves to dismiss the Reed's strict-product-liability claim, arguing the complaint lacks sufficient factual allegations and contains contradicting allegations. ECF No. 7 at 5-8. The Reeds respond, asserting the complaint adequately alleges that the device failed and that it is unfit and unreasonably dangerous as shown by its premature fracturing. ECF No. 13 at 3-4. Alternatively, the Reeds request leave to amend their claim. Id. at 4.

         To bring a claim for strict product liability in Nevada, a plaintiff must “demonstrate that (1) the product at issue was defective, (2) the defect existed at the time the product left the manufacturer, and (3) the defect caused the plaintiff's injury.” Ford Motor Co. v. Trejo, No. 67843, 2017 WL 4294559, at *4 (Nev. Sept. 27, 2017) (citing Shoshone Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Dolinski, 420 P.2d 855, 858 (Nev. 1966)). A plaintiff may bring a strict-product-liability claim on the theory of defect by failure to warn, defect by design, or defect by manufacturing. Id. Regardless of the chosen theory, the plaintiff must show the product was defective by satisfying the consumer-expectation test. Id. at *4. Under this test, “a plaintiff must demonstrate that a product ‘failed to perform in the manner reasonably expected in light of its nature and intended function and [is] more dangerous than would be contemplated by the ordinary user having the ordinary knowledge available in the community.'” Id. at *3 (quoting Ginnis v. Mapes Hotel Corp., 470 P.2d 135, 138 (Nev. 1970)). “Such a condition is, in the words of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 402A(1) (1965), ‘unreasonably dangerous.'” Stackiewicz v. Nissan Motor Corp. in U.S.A., 686 P.2d 925, 928 (Nev. 1984). “[A]n unexpected, dangerous malfunction may suffice to establish a prima facie case for the plaintiff of the existence of a product defect, ” and “a specific defect in the product is not an essential element in establishing a cause of action, since in the field of products liability the focus is on the product and not necessarily its components.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “When there is evidence of some dangerous condition, the factfinder can find, where other identifiable causes are absent, that the mere evidence of a malfunction is sufficient evidence of a defect.” Id.; see also Krause Inc. v. Little, 34 P.3d 566, 572 (2001) (stating that “direct proof of the malfunction's cause is unnecessary; the circumstantial evidence of the malfunction can prove a manufacturing defect.”).

         Here, the Reeds assert a strict-product-liability claim under the theories of design defect and manufacturing defect. ECF No. 1 at Ex 1 ¶ VIII. Both theories require the Reeds to satisfy the consumer-expectation test and, contrary to Arthrex's argument, neither theory requires the Reeds to identify a specific defect. Here, the Reeds allege that the plate was placed internally across Mr. Reed's toe joint but then fractured only 120 days later. It is reasonable to infer that the plate was defective; the plate should have remained intact for the time necessary for Mr. Reed's deformed toe to heal-or in any event, longer than 120 days. The plate instead fractured prematurely. The plate therefore failed to operate in a manner reasonably expected given its intended function: to prevent joint mobility for the time necessary for Mr. Reed's toe to heal. The alleged defect prevented Mr. Reed's toe from healing by allowing excess ...

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