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Marquez v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 27, 2017

MARY MARQUEZ, individually and as the personal representative of the Estate of Robert L. Balerio, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Defendant BNSF Railway Company seeks an order requiring Plaintiff Mary Marquez to file an amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). Mot. for More Definite Statement, ECF No. 6. Because the Complaint provides sufficient detail for BNSF to respond, the Court denies BNSF's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Ms. Marquez initiated this action on May 9, 2017, individually and on behalf of her deceased husband, Robert L. Balerio. ECF No. 1. Ms. Marquez claims Mr. Balerio was exposed to a variety of toxic chemicals while he was employed by BNSF's predecessor, Colorado and Southern Railway. Id. at ¶¶ 4-5. According to Ms. Marquez, the cumulative exposure to at least eight substances over Mr. Balerio's nine-year employment caused him to develop esophageal cancer. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. The railway's negligence alleged resulted in Mr. Balerio's exposure to these chemicals. Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.

         On June 30, 2017, BNSF responded to the Complaint by filing the present Motion for a More Definite Statement. ECF No. 6. BNSF contends the Complaint “lacks sufficient substantive information to allow [it] to perform an adequate pre-answer investigation and provide a meaningful answer.” Id. at 2. BNSF requests that this Court issue an order requiring Ms. Marquez to amend her Complaint and include “the specific substances, the specific types of exposure(s), the specific manner of the exposure(s), the locations of the exposure(s), and the specific time frames of the exposure(s) alleged to have injured [Mr. Balerio].” Id. at 6.

         Ms. Marquez objects to such an order. Resp. to Mot. for More Definite Statement, ECF No. 15. According to Ms. Marquez, the Complaint provides BNSF with sufficient information to respond. Id. Moreover, Ms. Marquez contends she “cannot plead with the specificity that [BNSF] demands simply because her husband did not know he was being exposed to carcinogens at various points in his railroad career.” Id. at 3. BNSF filed its reply brief on July 19, 2017. ECF No. 23.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) provides:

A party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response. The motion must be made before filing a responsive pleading and must point out the defects complained of and the details desired.

         Therefore, “[r]equiring a more definite statement is appropriate when addressing unintelligible or confusing pleadings.” Mechler v. United States, No. 12-1183-EFM-GLR, 2012 WL 5289627, at *1 (D. Kan. Oct. 23, 2012). “A motion for more definite statement should not be granted merely because the pleading lacks detail; rather, the standard to be applied is whether the claims alleged are sufficiently specific to enable a responsive pleading in the form of a denial or admission.” Emp'rs Mut. Cas. Co. v. Downey Excavation, Inc., No. 10-cv-02043-MSK-KMT, 2011 WL 1335839, at *1 (D. Colo. Apr. 7, 2011) (quoting Advantage Homebuilding, LLC v. Assurance Co. of Am., No. 03-2426-KHV, 2004 WL 433914, at *1 (D. Kan. Mar. 5, 2004)). Accordingly, Rule “12(e) motions are discouraged unless the complaint is so unintelligible that defendants cannot understand the allegations and are unable to respond.” Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Wise, 758 F.Supp. 1414, 1418 (D. Colo. 1991). The decision to grant or deny a motion for more definite statement rests within the trial court's sound discretion. Emp'rs Mut. Cas. Co., 2011 WL 1335839, at *1.

         ANALYSIS

         The Court holds that Ms. Marquez's Complaint is sufficient to withstand a Rule 12(e) motion. Ms. Marquez states that BNSF's predecessor railway employed Mr. Balerio as a trackman/machine operator from 1971 to 1980. Compl. ¶ 4. Further, she alleges that during Mr. Balerio's employment, he was exposed to “chemicals, solvents, diesel fuel/exhaust, benzene, heavy metals, creosote, manganese, and rock/mineral dust and fibers, ” the combination of which caused his esophageal cancer. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. She contends that Mr. Balerio's cancer was not caused by any one substance on any one day; instead, it was caused by the cumulative effect of the toxins. Id. at ¶ 7. Finally, Ms. Marquez pleads that Mr. Balerio was exposed to these substances, because the railway negligently took or failed to take a variety of actions. Id. at ¶¶ 8-9. Therefore, the Complaint informs BNSF of when Mr. Balerio was employed, his job title, the chemicals that combined to cause his esophageal cancer, and the specific ways in which the railway acted negligently. Although BNSF may prefer more detail, the Complaint is far from being “so unintelligible that [BNSF] cannot understand the allegations.” Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., 758 F.Supp. at 1418.

         The holdings of other judges within this District support the Court's denial of BNSF's motion. In Roddy York v. BNSF Railway Co., the court denied BNSF's Rule 12(e) motion in a nearly identical case. ...


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