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Parrish v. JCI Jones Chemicals, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

March 27, 2019

LUCAS PARRISH; MELINA PARRISH, Individually and as prochien ami for minor Children E.L.P., born in 2002; and E.D.P., born in 2002, Plaintiffs,
JCI JONES CHEMICALS, INC., a for profit New York Corporation; JOHN DOES 1-10; DOE CORPORATIONS 1-10; DOE PARTNERSHIPS 1-10; and DOE ENTITIES 1-10, Defendants.



         Before the Court is Defendant JCI Jones Chemicals, Inc.'s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings filed October 15, 2018. Doc. No. 62. Plaintiffs Lucas and Melina Parrish filed their response and opposition on January 25, 2019. Doc. No. 100. The Motion was heard on February 15, 2019. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         This action arises from Plaintiff Lucas Parrish's alleged exposure to hazardous chemicals at a Hilo facility run by his employer, BEI Hawaii. Doc. No. 1, Ex. A at ¶¶ 26-34. In and prior to September 2016, Defendant supplied chlorine cylinders and salvage vessels to the BEI Hawaii facility. Id. at ¶ 23-24. On September 22, 2016, a leak was discovered in one of the chlorine cylinders. Id. at ¶ 26. The cylinder was placed in a salvage vessel, but the salvage vessel also had a leak. Id. at ¶ 27-28. Hazardous materials personnel employed by the County of Hawai‘i and State of Hawai‘i responded to the leak and instructed the facility to place the salvage vessel and cylinder in a tub of water. Id. at ¶ 29. On the morning of September 23, 2016, more chlorine leaked from the cylinder than what the water could absorb, and high levels of chlorine entered the facility's environment. Id. at ¶ 33. Plaintiff Lucas Parrish arrived at work that morning and was exposed to high amounts of chlorine gas, which he alleges severely and permanently damaged his lungs. Id. ¶ 34.

         B. Procedural History

         On August 22, 2017, Plaintiffs initiated this action in the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit, State of Hawai‘i, asserting negligence (Count I) and strict liability (Count II) claims against Defendant. Doc. No. 1, Ex. A. Defendant removed the action on the basis of diversity jurisdiction on October 13, 2017. In its answer, Defendant alleges that the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (“HMTA”), 49 U.S.C. § 5101-5128, and the Hazardous Materials Regulations (“HMR”), 49 C.F.R. Parts 171-179, preempted Plaintiffs' state-law claims. Id. at ¶ 67.

         On October 15, 2018, Defendant filed the instant Motion. Doc. No. 62. Magistrate Judge Puglisi granted in part Plaintiffs' request to file an amended complaint, Doc. No. 77, and Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on November 26, 2018, Doc. No. 80. Defendant thereafter filed its Answer, again asserting that Plaintiffs' claims were preempted by the HMTA and HMR. Doc. No. 85 at ¶ 68.


         Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) states, “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The standard governing the Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is the same as that governing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989); see also McGlinchy v. Shell Chemical Co., 845 F.2d 802, 810 (9th Cir. 1988). Accordingly, “[a] judgment on the pleadings is properly granted when, taking all allegations in the pleading as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Enron Oil Trading & Transp. Co. v. Walbrook Ins. Co., 132 F.3d 526, 528 (9th Cir. 1997) (citing McGann v. Ernst & Young, 102 F.3d 390, 392 (9th Cir. 1996)).

         As with a motion to dismiss, a claim may survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings if the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although a court must accept as true all allegations contained in the complaint, this obligation does not extend to legal conclusions. Id. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (citing Fed. Sprewell, 266 F.3dR. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)) (some alterations in original).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), review is ordinarily limited to the contents of the complaint. Marder v. Lopez, 450 F.3d 445, 448 (9th Cir. 2006); Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001); Campanelli v. Bockrath, 100 F.3d 1476, 1479 (9th Cir. 1996). A 12(b)(6) motion is treated as a motion for summary judgment if matters outside the pleadings are considered. Anderson v. Angelone, 86 F.3d 932, 934 (9th Cir. 1996).

         To determine whether Plaintiffs' claims are preempted by the HMTA and HMR, the Court must determine whether the claims fall within the domain of § 5125(b)(1), the HMTA's express preemption clause. See Roth v. Norfalco LLC, 651 F.3d 367, 376 (3d Cir. 2011). To do this, the Court must first analyze the text of the preemption clause and determine its scope. Id. Next, the Court must “identify the contours of the non-federal law, regulation, order, or requirement at issue in the case.” Id. The Court “must [then] ascertain (1) whether § 5125(b)(1) applies to the non-federal law, regulation, order, or requirement [] identified, and (2) whether the non-federal requirement is ‘substantively the same as' the conditions imposed by federal hazardous materials law.” Id. If the non-federal requirement is substantively the same as the federal law, then the claims are not preempted. See id.


         Defendant moves for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the state-law duties that Plaintiffs seek to impose on Defendant are expressly preempted by the HMTA. Plaintiffs oppose the Motion, arguing that (1) the requirements at issue are beyond the HMTA's domain, (2) the state-law requirements Plaintiffs seek to impose on Defendant are substantially the same as the HMTA's requirements, and (3) the HMTA does not extend to “end users” such as Mr. Parrish.

         A. Express Preemption

         Defendant argues that the HMTA's preemption provision expressly preempts the imposition of state-law duties related to the packaging, distribution, handling, transporting and labeling of chlorine. Plaintiffs argue that the duties at issue in their Amended Complaint are beyond the HMTA's domain.

         The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution states that the Constitution, the laws of the United States, and all Treaties “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Art. VI cl. 2. Under the Supremacy Clause, “state laws that interfere with, or are contrary to the laws of [C]ongress, made in pursuance to the [C]onstitution are invalid.” Wis. Pub. Intervenor v. Mortier, 501 U.S. 597, 604 (1991) (internal citation omitted). “Federal preemption may be express or implied.” Donell v. Kowell, 533 F.3d 762, 775 (9th Cir. 2008). When Congress has included a provision explicitly addressing preemption, the preemptive scope of the statute “is governed entirely by the express language.” Congress Cipollone v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 505 U.S. 504 (1992).

         A court must analyze the language of an express preemption provision to “identify the domain expressly pre-empted” by the provision. Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 484 (1996) (internal quotation omitted). Assessment of an express preemption provision's domain “must begin with its text . . . . [T]hat interpretation is informed by two presumptions about the nature of pre-emption.” Id. at 484-85. The first presumption is that “the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in every pre-emption case, ” and the second is that “the historic police powers of the States [are] not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.” Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555, 565 (2009) (internal citation and quotation omitted). However, “[w]here the intent of a statutory provision that speaks expressly to the question of preemption is at issue, [courts] do not invoke any ...

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