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Price v. Stryker Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 15, 2017

STRYKER CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.



         The plaintiffs, Imelda Price and her husband, Kenneth Price, initiated this products liability action against the defendants, Stryker Corporation, Stryker Sales Corporation, and Stryker Sustainability Solutions, Inc. See generally Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”). Currently before the Court is the defendants' Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (“Defs.' Mot.”), which seeks dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Defs.' Mot. at 1. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part the defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following allegations are asserted in the Amended Complaint. On July 17, 2014, Imelda Price, “an operating room nurse at the Washington Hospital Center, was directed by the surgeon during the course of a laparoscopic surgery to adjust the monitor [that] is part of . . . a ‘Stryker Standard Video Cart.'” Am. Compl. ¶ 5. The Stryker Standard Video Cart (“Stryker Cart”) is “manufactured and/or distributed by Stryker”[2] and “consists of the electronic equipment contained in a cabinet-type structure.” Id. The top of the Stryker Cart contains “an armature and monitor, the latter of which allow the surgeon to see inside the patient while performing a surgical procedure.” Id. The plaintiff “attempted to move the monitor pursuant to the instructions of the surgeon . . . and while doing so[, ] the monitor and possibly the armature became detached and fell and struck the [p]laintiff[, ] causing injury to her.” Id. ¶ 6.

         On November 18, 2016, the plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleging negligence, strict liability, breach of implied warranty, and loss of consortium. See generally Complaint. On December 6, 2016, the defendants removed the case to this Court, see Notice of Removal From State Court Under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446 at 1, and filed a motion to dismiss, see Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Complaint at 1. On December 20, 2016, the plaintiffs amended their complaint, alleging the same four tort claims.[3] See generally Am. Compl. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that (1) the Stryker Cart “was defective in that it lacked a locking mechanism that would prevent the monitor and armature from detaching, ” id. ¶ 12; see also id. ¶ 23(C); (2) the defendants “failed to properly service and maintain the product” onsite, id. ¶ 18(A); and (3) the defendants “failed to warn the [p]laintiff of the defect in the product, ” id. ¶¶ 18(B), 23(A). The defendants now move to dismiss all of the claims asserted in the Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Defs.' Mot. at 1.


         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint properly “state[s] a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Rule 8(a) requires only that a complaint provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)), a plaintiff must provide “more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation, ” id. Rather, the “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 is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw [a] reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A complaint alleging “facts [which] are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         “In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must construe the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). However, conclusory allegations are not entitled to an assumption of truth, and even those allegations pleaded with factual support need only be accepted insofar as “they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Loss of Consortium Claim

         The parties disagree as to whether District of Columbia or Virginia law applies to the loss of consortium claim.[4] See Defs.' Mem. at 4-5; Pls.' Opp'n at 2-6. “A choice of law issue arises when the facts underlying a legal issue implicate multiple jurisdictions.” Barimany v. Urban Pace LLC, 73 A.3d 964, 967 (D.C. 2013). “As a general matter, [the Court] must apply the choice-of-law rules of the jurisdiction in which [it] sit[s]-namely, the District of Columbia.” Wu v. Stomber, 750 F.3d 944, 949 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

         The District of Columbia choice-of-law analysis requires two steps. Parnigoni v. St. Columba's Nursery Sch., 681 F.Supp.2d 1, 11-12 (D.D.C. 2010) (Walton, J.). First “the [C]ourt must . . . determine if there is a conflict between the laws of the relevant jurisdictions.” Id. at 12 (quoting Young Women's Christian Ass'n of Nat'l Capital Area, Inc. v. Allstate Ins. Co. of Canada, 275 F.3d 1145, 1150 (D.C. Cir. 2002)). “If no conflict exists, District of Columbia law applies by default.” Magee v. Am. Inst. of Certified Pub. Accountants, __ F.Supp.3d __,, 2017 WL 1183950, at *2 (Mar. 29, 2017) (Walton, J.). A conflict exists regarding the loss of consortium claim because the District of Columbia recognizes this claim, see Stutsman v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan of Mid-Atl. States, Inc., 546 A.2d 367, 373 (D.C. 1988) (“This jurisdiction has long recognized that the tort of loss of consortium is a distinct cause of action for injury to the marriage itself . . . .”), while Virginia does not, see id. at 372 (“Virginia . . . has abrogated this common law right of action and does not permit a husband to recover damages from a third party for loss of consortium due to injuries negligently inflicted upon his wife.”).

         Because a conflict exists, the Court moves to the second step of the conflicts-of-law analysis. “To determine which jurisdiction's substantive law governs a dispute, District of Columbia courts blend a ‘governmental interest analysis' with a ‘most significant relationship' test.” Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 573 F.3d 835, 842 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Hercules & Co. v. Shama Rest. Corp., 566 A.2d 31, 40-41 n.18 (D.C. 1989)). In determining the underlying governmental interest, the Court may look to both the legislature as well as the common law established by the state's highest court. See Williams v. Williams, 390 A.2d 4, 6 (D.C. 1978) (relying on Maryland's policy interest as established by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in its choice-of-law analysis).

         The defendants argue that Virginia law should apply to the loss of consortium claim because that claim “is governed by ‘the law of the state where the marriage is domiciled' rather than the law of the state where the wrong occurred.” Defs.' Mem. at 4 (quoting Cardenas v. Muangman, 998 A.2d 303, 312 (D.C. 2010)). In response, the plaintiffs argue that the governmental interest analysis compels this Court to apply District of Columbia law because the District “has the greater interest in ruling” on the issue of loss of consortium, whereas “Virginia has little if any interest in whether a consortium claim is recognized herein other than to the extent that the allowance of such a claim promotes its government interest in its citizens achieving maximum recovery.” See Pls.' Opp'n at 2-3. The plaintiffs cite various cases, see Id. at 3-5, in support of their position that “Virginia [c]ourts either at the federal or state level have consistently . . . allow[ed] a loss of consortium claim to proceed in Virginia where the injury is governed by the law of another jurisdiction which allows such claims, ” id. at 5.

         The Court agrees with the defendants that Virginia law applies to this claim because District of Columbia law is clear-“[a]s Virginia does not recognize a claim for loss of consortium brought by a husband, . . . no such claim [may] be brought in the District by a plaintiff who resides in Virginia with his wife.” Cardenas, 998 A.2d at 311-12; see also Parnigoni, 681 F.Supp.2d at 13 (“[U]nder this jurisdiction's choice of law analysis, the law governing the plaintiffs' loss of consortium claims is Virginia law, which is where [the plaintiffs] are domiciled.”). The facts in this case are virtually identical to those in Cardenas-in both cases, the plaintiffs resided in Virginia, see Cardenas, 998 A.2d at 312; Am. Compl. ¶ 1, and “the tortious act[s] occurred in the District, ” Cardenas, 998 A.2d at 312; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6 (noting that the injury occurred in Washington Hospital Center). And in that case, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that “the trial court properly dismissed the loss of consortium claim, ” 998 A.2d at 313, after concluding that

[a]lthough the District may have “strong interest in punishment and deterrence of wrongful conduct causing harm to . . . plaintiffs within its borders, ” that interest is satisfied by applying the District's substantive tort law to the wrongful conduct itself, and is less concerned with regulating the rights of married partners in resulting damage awards, inter sese, a matter in which ...

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