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Stanton v. Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 6, 2015

JODI STANTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BATTELLE ENERGY ALLIANCE, LLC., organized in Deleware, Defendant

For Jodi Stanton, Plaintiff: Lowell N Hawkes, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lowell N. Hawkes, Chartered, Pocatello, ID; David J Whedbee, PRO HAC VICE, MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, Seattle, WA; Ryan Scott Lewis, Pocatello, ID.

For Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC, organized in Delaware, Defendant: Eric M Barzee, Kimberly D Evans Ross, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC, Idaho Falls, ID.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Honorable Edward J. Lodge, United States District Judge.

Before the Court in the above-entitled matter is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. The parties have filed their responsive briefing and the matter is ripe for the Court's consideration. Having fully reviewed the record herein, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this Motion shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Defendant Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC (Battelle) has been the day-to-day operator of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) facility since 2005. Battelle employed Ralph Stanton as a nuclear operator at the INL's Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC) in the Zero Power Physics Reactor (ZPPR).[1] Plaintiff Jodi Stanton is the spouse of Ralph Stanton.

The facts underlying the claim in this case involve a release of radioactive contaminants on November 8, 2011 at the ZPPR. On that day, Mr. Stanton and others were packaging plutonium reactor fuel plates in the ZPPR. Mr. Stanton was instructed by his supervisors and managers to open two fuel storage containers that had unusual labels which indicated there were potential abnormalities with the fuel plates located inside the packaging. Upon opening the containers, radioactive contaminates, plutonium and americium, were released resulting in the contamination of sixteen workers at the facility including Mr. Stanton.[2]

Battelle's Health Physicist, Steve Braase, used a hand-held alpha-radiation detector to take radiation readings of Mr. Stanton which detected radiation on his person. Mr. Stanton was told to remove his gauntlets and gloves and his hands were sealed in a plastic bag. He was then taken through a series of security stations and surveyed for radiological contamination. Several measurements for radiation exposure were taken including nasal swabs, a lung count, and urine and fecal bioassay samples. Mr. Stanton was then allowed to leave after having only been " wiped down," not showered. Some of the exposure test samples taken following the release were later destroyed and, Mrs. Stanton alleges, Battelle denied the exposure and generally delayed, withheld, and/or misrepresented the level of exposure to radiation that resulted from the November 8, 2011 release.

Mrs. Stanton has brought this action against her husband's employer, Battelle, raising a cause of action for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Dkt. 1.) The allegations giving rise to the claim are that 1) Battelle allowed Mr. Stanton to leave the ZPPR facility without adequately decontaminating him and without accurately measuring the plutonium, americium, and other potential contaminants to which he was exposed and 2) Battelle failed to undertake comprehensive testing for radiation exposure and delayed, misrepresented, and denied the existence of any contamination. These acts, Mrs. Stanton alleged, caused her severe emotional distress because she feared the risk of radioactive contamination from Mr. Stanton's exposure on November 8, 2011. Battelle has filed the instant Motion to Dismiss which the Court takes up in this Order.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a party's claim for relief. When considering such a motion, the Court's inquiry is whether the allegations in a pleading are sufficient under applicable pleading standards. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) sets forth minimum pleading rules, requiring only a " short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

A motion to dismiss will only be granted if the complaint fails to allege " enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). " A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citations omitted). Although " we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Therefore, " conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim." Caviness v. Horizon Comm. Learning Cent., Inc., 590 F.3d 806, 811-12 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

DISCUSSION

Battelle argues the Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because Mrs. Stanton has failed to plead a viable claim for either negligent or intentional emotional distress. (Dkt. 6.) Specifically, Battelle contends it does not owe a legal duty to Mrs. Stanton and the allegations are insufficient to show Mrs. Stanton has suffered a compensable emotional injury. Mrs. Stanton responds that the Complaint has stated proper claims for damages and, alternatively, that the Court should grant her leave to amend the Complaint if necessary.

1. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

The tort of negligence includes a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress which requires the same elements as a common law negligence action. See Nation v. State Dep't of Correction, 144 Idaho 177, 158 P.3d 953, 965-66 (Idaho 2007); Black Canyon Racquetball Club, Inc. v. Idaho First Nat'l Bank, 119 Idaho 171, 804 P.2d 900, 904-06 (Idaho 1991); Brown v. Matthews Mortuary, Inc., 118 Idaho 830, 801 P.2d 37, 44 (Idaho 1990). The elements for this claim are: (1) a duty recognized by law requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the plaintiff's injury; and (4) actual loss or damage. Johnson v. McPhee, 147 Idaho 455, 210 P.3d 563, 574 (Idaho Ct.App. 2009) (citing Brooks v. Logan, 127 Idaho 484, 903 P.2d 73, 78 (Idaho 1995)). Negligent infliction of emotional distress also requires ...


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