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Albert v. General Motors LLC

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 24, 2018



          John H. Rich III United States Magistrate Judge

         In this products liability action arising from a motor vehicle accident, defendant General Motors LLC (“GM LLC”) moves pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 14(a) for leave to file a third-party complaint against Brian A. Barker, a nonparty who settled with plaintiff Michael J. Albert prior to the filing of the instant suit. See Motion of Defendant General Motors LLC for Leave To File Third Party Complaint (“Motion”) (ECF No. 29) ¶¶ 1-10. For the reasons that follow, I grant the Motion over Albert's objection that his “Pierringer style release [of Barker] consistent with Maine law” renders GM LLC's impleader of Barker unnecessary. Plaintiff's Objection to Defendant's Motion for Leave To File Third Party Complaint (“Objection”) (ECF No. 33) at 2-5.

         I. Applicable Legal Standard

         Rule 14 provides, in relevant part, that “[a] defending party may, as third-party plaintiff, serve a summons and complaint on a nonparty who is or may be liable to it for all or part of the claim against it” but “must, by motion, obtain the court's leave if it files the third-party complaint more than 14 days after serving its original answer.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 14(a)(1). GM LLC appropriately seeks leave of the court to implead Barker, the 14-day period having elapsed. See ECF Nos. 7, 29.

         “Rule 14 is intended to provide a mechanism for disposing of multiple claims arising from a single set of facts in one action expeditiously and economically.” 6 Charles Allen Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1442, at 341-43 (2010) (footnotes omitted). “[W]hether a third-party defendant may be impleaded under Rule 14 continues to be a question addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court.” Id. § 1443, at 349 (footnote omitted). In exercising its discretion, the court “should allow impleader on any colorable claim of derivative liability that will not unduly delay or otherwise prejudice the ongoing proceedings.” Lehman v. Revolution Portfolio LLC, 166 F.3d 389, 393 (1st Cir. 1999).

         II. Factual Background

         Albert was injured on December 11, 2016, when, while driving a 2000 Buick LeSabre southbound on Interstate 95 in Hampden, Maine, he struck a disabled vehicle that was partially blocking his lane of travel. See Motion ¶¶ 1-2; Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“Amended Complaint”) (ECF No. 27) ¶¶ 6, 10, 12. The disabled vehicle was a 2006 Mitsubishi Galant owned and operated by Barker. See Motion ¶ 2. Albert seeks recovery from GM LLC for the personal injuries sustained in the crash as a result of alleged defects in the structure of the LeSabre, including the toeboard, footwell, and floor pan. See id. ¶ 3; Amended Complaint ¶ 35.

         GM LLC asserts that information contained in two crash reports prepared by the Maine State Police suggests that Barker may be at fault, or partially at fault, for Albert's accident. See Motion ¶ 4. Those reports indicate that (i) Barker struck a guardrail on the right side of the roadway, following which his vehicle spun around, struck a guardrail on the left side, and came to rest horizontally across the roadway, see id. ¶ 5, (ii) Albert struck the disabled Barker vehicle seconds after Barker had exited it, see id. ¶ 6, (iii) a trooper responding to the scene of the accident smelled alcohol and burnt marijuana on Barker's breath, see id. ¶ 7, and, (iv) after Barker failed a field sobriety test, he was arrested and transported to the Bangor Police Department for a breath test, which revealed a BAC of 0.10, above the legal limit, see id. ¶ 8.

         Upon learning of GM LLC's intended motion to join Barker as a party, Albert's counsel advised counsel for GM LLC that Albert had reached a settlement with Barker before filing the instant action and provided a copy of the release. See id. ¶ 10. The release provides, in relevant part:

It is the intention of the Parties hereto that the consideration described above is the total amount RELEASEES will ever pay to RELEASOR or any other person, firm, corporation or other entity including, without limitation, payments as contribution or indemnification, for that portion of any damages to RELEASOR attributable to the RELEASEES' share of responsibility for their damages suffered [as] a result of the Incident. In entering into this agreement, the Parties rely on and agree to follow Maine common and statutory law, including 14 M.R.S.A. §§ 156 and 163. In the event of any suit, action, proceeding or claim arising out of or related in any way to the Incident, damages, or injuries, RELEASOR hereby releases RELEASEES and all other persons and entities, from liability for any portion of any total damages determined or awarded, attributable to the percentage of fault contributed by RELEASEES or for which RELEASEES may be found liable. RELEASOR hereby releases and waives any right he may have to recover from any person or entity any damages from the Incident attributable to RELEASEES' share of responsibility.

         Release and Indemnity Agreement (“Release”) (ECF No. 33-1), Exh. A to Objection, at 1-2.[1]

         III. Discussion

         Albert objects to GM LLC's motion to implead Barker on the basis that, because he and Barker executed a Pierringer-style release, GM LLC need not implead Barker to protect its interests, and that doing so will add unnecessary cost and complexity to this case. See Objection at 2-5. GM LLC rejoins that, as it understands relevant Maine law, it must implead Barker as a defendant in order to protect its interests. See General Motors LLC's Reply to Plaintiff's Objection to Motion for Leave To File Third-Party Complaint (“Reply”) (ECF No. 35) ¶¶ 2-5. I need not definitively decide whose reading of Maine law is correct. Because (i) Albert fails to cite authority squarely in support of the proposition that impleading Barker is unnecessary to protect GM LLC's interests pursuant to relevant Maine law, (ii) GM LLC's proposed third-party complaint against Barker arises from the same nucleus of operative facts as Albert's claims against GM LLC, ...

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