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Watts v. Starbucks Corp.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 12, 2018

DANNY WATTS, Plaintiff,


          David C. Nye U.S. District Court Judge

         I. OVERVIEW

         The Court has before it two interrelated Motions. First, Defendant Starbucks Corporation has filed a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and Idaho Code section 6-1604. Dkt. 17. Second, Plaintiff Danny Watts has filed a Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint. Dkt. 18.

         II. FACTS

         Watts asserts that an employee at a Starbucks in Ponderay, Idaho, served him Urnex, a cleaning chemical, in his coffee cup on or about July 4, 2015. Watts ingested the chemical, believing it was the coffee he had ordered. Watts alleges that his ingestion of the chemical caused him to suffer severe physical injury and pain that lasted for months.

         Based on these events, Watts filed the current suit on June 27, 2017. On August 10, 2017, Watts filed an Amended Complaint in which he asserted five causes of action:

         (1) negligence; (2) negligent supervision; (3) negligent training; (4) respondent superior; and (5) violation of the Idaho Food Code. Dkt. 7. Among other things, Watt requested general and special damages exceeding $500, 000. Id. at 13. Watt also “reserved” his right to amend his Amended Complaint to seek punitive damages and “reserved” his right to “seek leave of the court to lift the cap on non-economic damages.” Id. at 10-12.

         On October 20, 2017, Starbucks filed the pending Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. 17. In this Motion, Starbucks asks the Court to dismiss with prejudice Watt's fourth and fifth causes of action and to strike any reference to punitive damages in the Complaint. Along with his response, Watts filed a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint. Dkt. 18. In this Motion, Watts seeks to fix some of the problems Starbucks identified in his original Complaint. After these motions were fully briefed, one of the parties filed a request for reassignment to a district judge. Accordingly, the Court reassigned this case to the undersigned on February 27, 2018. Dkt. 29.


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss a claim if the plaintiff has “fail[ed] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” “A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal may be based on either a ‘lack of a cognizable legal theory' or ‘the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.'” Johnson v. Riverside Healthcare Sys., LP, 534 F.3d 1116, 1121 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554 (2007). “This is not an onerous burden.” Johnson, 534 F.3d at 1121. A complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” but it must set forth “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must also contain sufficient factual matter to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must view the “complaint in the light most favorable to” the claimant and “accept[] all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, as well as any reasonable inference drawn from them.” Johnson, 534 F.3d at 1122.

         B. Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), a party may amend its pleading once “as a matter of course” before a responsive pleading is served. After that, a plaintiff may amend the complaint only with the written consent of the opposing party or with leave of the court. Id.; see also DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 185 (9th Cir. 1987). However, Rule 15 also instructs the court to grant leave to amend “when justice so requires.” Nevertheless, “[a] district court . . . may . . . deny leave to amend due to undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, and futility of amendment.” Zucco Partners, LLC v. Digimarc Corp., 552 F.3d 981, 1007 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted).

         “An amendment is futile when ‘no set of facts can be proved under the amendment to the pleadings that would constitute a valid and sufficient claim or defense.'” Missouri ex rel. Koster v. Harris, 847 F.3d 646, 656 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Miller v. Rykoff- Sexton, Inc., 845 F.2d 209, 214 (9th Cir. 1988)). “When a motion to amend is opposed on the grounds that amendment would be futile, the standard of review in considering the motion is akin to that undertaken by a court in determining the sufficiency of a complaint which is challenged for failure to state a claim under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12(b)(6).” Arbon Valley Solar LLC v. Thomas & Betts Corp., No. 4:16-cv-00070-DCN, 2017 WL 5613009 (D. Idaho Nov. 21, 2017) (quoting Doe v. Nevada, 356 F.Supp.2d 1123, 1125 (D. Nev. 2004)).

         IV. ...

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