The VLW blog reports that the Western District of Virginia dismissed a state-law slip-and-fall case on a Twiqbal motion yesterday. The court’s opinion, in a case styled Branham v. Dolgencorp, is here.
It’s not too surprising that the Western District would apply the new federal pleading standard—it is, after all, a federal court. But Branham is worth noting for a few reasons:
- It was originally filed in Amherst County Circuit Court, so it at least started life as a state-court case.
- In her 1-page complaint, Branham alleges that the defendant negligently failed to remove a liquid from its its floor or warn her of its presence, She specifically alleges that the defendant and its employees breached their duty to warn her of the dangerous wet floor. As a result, Branham alleges, she fell and was severely injured. I am hardly an expert in premises liability cases, but I would have guessed that this makes out a prima facie case under Virginia law. It certainly compares favorably to the Complaint for Negligence in Form 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
- At points, the district court’s opinion reads more like a disposition on summary judgment than a motion to dismiss. In particular, some of the substantive Virginia law it cites seems like it would be more appropriately applied at a later stage in the case.
- The trial court looks very closely at the complaint, finding that “the Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts that show how the liquid came to be on the floor, whether the Defendant knew or should have known of the presence of the liquid, or how the Plaintiff’s accident occurred.” That’s a lot to ask before discovery.
All in all, it seems like Branham sets the bar awfully high for plaintiffs at the pleading stage. Let’s see if the state courts follow suit. Finally, it’s good to see that the Twiqbal shorthand is spreading. Nice work, Mr. Vieth!