Wilson v. Midway Games, Inc., 3:00CV2247(JBA).

Decision Date27 March 2002
Docket NumberNo. 3:00CV2247(JBA).,3:00CV2247(JBA).
Citation198 F.Supp.2d 167
PartiesAndrea WILSON, individually and in her capacity as administratrix of the Estate of Noah Wilson, Plaintiff, v. MIDWAY GAMES, INCORPORATED, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut

Joseph A. Moniz, Moniz, Cooper & McCann, Hartford, CT, for plaintiff.

David L. Belt, Jacobs, Grudberg, Belt & Dow, P.C., New Haven, CT, Gerald O. Sweeney, Jr., John T. Williams, Lord, Bissell & Brook, Chicago, IL, Stephen G. Murphy, Jr., Milano & West, Branford, CT, for defendant.

Ruling on Motions to Dismiss [Doc. # 25 & # 43]

ARTERTON, District Judge.

On November 22, 1997, thirteen-year-old Noah Wilson died when his friend, identified as Yancy S., stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife. Noah's mother, Andrea Wilson, filed this suit against Midway Games, Inc., alleging that at the time Yancy stabbed Noah, Yancy was addicted to a video game manufactured by Midway called Mortal Kombat, and that Yancy was so obsessed with the game that he actually believed he was the character Cyrax.

Wilson claims that Midway's design and marketing of Mortal Kombat caused her son's death. She alleges that she is entitled to damages under theories of product liability, unfair trade practices, loss of consortium, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jurisdiction is predicated on diversity of citizenship.

Midway has moved to dismiss the complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), on the grounds that even if everything Wilson alleges is true, she has not stated a claim for which relief can be granted. The first motion to dismiss [Doc. # 25] claims that Wilson's allegations fail as a matter of state tort law. Specifically, Midway argues that: Mortal Kombat is not a "product" that can give rise to a product liability claim; Wilson's CUTPA action is time-barred; a loss of consortium claim cannot be maintained by a parent based on the death of her child; and Wilson cannot recover for negligent or intentional emotional distress because Midway owed no duty to her or Noah and Midway's design and marketing of Mortal Kombat was not the legal cause of any injury sustained by her or her son. After oral argument on the first motion, Midway filed a second motion to dismiss [Doc. # 43] addressed to what Midway claims are constitutional infirmities in plaintiff's complaint. Midway claims that both the Connecticut constitution and the U.S. constitution bar an action to recover damages from the maker of a video game such as Mortal Kombat, when the basis for liability is alleged to be the expressive content of the game.

For the reasons set out below, the Court concludes that Wilson's complaint, while artfully drafted and skillfully defended at oral argument and in the briefing, nonetheless fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted: the product liability counts fail because Mortal Kombat is not a "product" within the purview of the CPLA; the unfair trade practices claim is time-barred; the loss of consortium claim is not recognized under Connecticut law in this context; and the negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims are precluded by the First Amendment. Thus, the Court grants Midway's motions, and Wilson's claims are dismissed in their entirety.

I. Facts

In her complaint, Wilson describes Mortal Kombat as a virtual reality video game that uses sophisticated technology to make players physically feel as if they are killing the characters in the game, and rewards players when they tap their "killer responses."1 She alleges that "Mortal Kombat was designed with the use of extremely sophisticated futuristic technology that was intended to cause the user to believe and physically feel that he is actually participating in the violent battles,"2 and describes the vast technological advances in video game technology that have taken place since the advent of the medium thirty years ago: "The games have gone from bouncing a little white ball from side to side on a screen to games of virtual reality in which the player has an active role within the game."3

Wilson describes the game as having seven fictional characters, each of which has a unique fighting style, including method of killing opponents, or "finishing move."4 The characters advance through the various levels of the game by using increasing levels of violence, which Wilson claims presents violence as a viable problem-solving technique.5 Significantly, Wilson states that Mortal Kombat differs from media such as motion pictures and music "in one significant respect—they are interactive, permitting the [player] to control, or even assume the identity of, a digitalized game character."6

One of the characters, "Cyrax," kills his opponents by grabbing them around the neck in a "headlock" and stabbing them in the chest.7 Wilson claims that Yancy used this same maneuver to stab her son, and that Yancy was addicted to Mortal Kombat when he killed Noah. She further alleges that Midway designed Mortal Kombat to addict players to the exhilaration of violence,8 and specifically targeted a young audience, intending to addict them to the game.9

II. Standard

Courts dismiss complaints at the 12(b)(6) stage "only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." D'Alessio v. New York Stock Exchange, Inc., 258 F.3d 93, 99 (2d Cir.2001) (internal citations and quotations omitted). It is important to remember that "[t]he issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." County of Suffolk v. First Am. Real Estate Solutions, 261 F.3d 179 (2d Cir.2001) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 127 (2d Cir.2001). The case will not be dismissed unless the Court is "satisfied that the complaint cannot state any set of facts that would entitle [the plaintiff] to relief." Id. However, because "bald assertions and conclusions of law will not suffice to state a claim," Tarshis v. Riese Org., 211 F.3d 30, 35 (2d Cir.2000) (citation omitted), the Court "need not accept averments which are legal conclusions unsupported by the facts alleged elsewhere in the complaint." K-Mart Corp. v. Midcon Realty Group of Conn., Ltd., 489 F.Supp. 813, 814 (D.Conn. 1980) (citations omitted).

III. Product Liability Claim

The first and second counts of Wilson's complaint are brought under Connecticut's product liability statute. The first count is styled as a failure to warn of Mortal Kombat's "inappropriate level of violent content" and "mentally-addictive" nature, while the second count is a defective design claim.

The Connecticut Product Liability Act ("CPLA" or "Act"), Conn. Gen.Stat. §§ 52-572m et seq., is the exclusive remedy for all claims of injury and property damage alleged to have been caused by defective products. CPLA merges the various theories of liability—including strict liability and failure to warn—into one cause of action: the "product liability claim." Conn. Gen.Stat. § 52-572m(b).10 "The legislature clearly intended to make [CPLA] an exclusive remedy for claims falling within its scope." Winslow v. Lewis-Shepard, Inc., 212 Conn. 462, 471, 562 A.2d 517 (1989).

There are several substantive elements that must be present for a claim to fall within the scope of CPLA. Specifically, a CPLA claim can only be asserted against a "product seller," Conn. Gen.Stat. § 52-572n(a) —and whether the defendant in any given case is a product seller is an issue that often turns, as it does here, on whether the item involved is considered a "product." Conn. Gen.Stat. § 52-572m.11

Apart from the definitional prerequisites to bringing a CPLA claim and several other provisions not at issue here, CPLA contains little in the way of substance regarding liability for injuries caused by products. See LaMontagne v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., 41 F.3d 846, 856 (2d Cir.1994) ("CPLA was not meant to eliminate [common law] substantive rights [and] does not itself spell out the types of claims it consolidates"). Thus, although a product liability claim is a single cause of action and certain uniform provisions apply, different common law theories of liability undergird this statutorily-created cause of action.12

Wilson's complaint asserts product liability claims, thereby necessarily alleging that Mortal Kombat is a "product" within the scope of the CPLA. She supports her CPLA claim with two separate theories of liability. First, she asserts a "failure to warn" theory, claiming that her son's injuries and death "were the result of the defendant's failure to warn of the inappropriate level of violent content and mentally-addictive nature of the products it marketed and sold and the foreseeable risks that are likely to result from use of its products by individuals in decedent's age group."13 Second, she advances a design defect theory, claiming that the interactive video game was "negligently and/or intentionally designed by defendant Midway," and that her son's injuries and death "were the result of defendant Midway's negligent and/or intentional design of a dangerous product, and its reckless disregard for the safety of its products."14

In its motion to dismiss, Midway argues that Wilson's CPLA claim cannot be maintained at all, because Mortal Kombat is not a "product" within the meaning of CPLA. "Apart from the statutes that define `product' for the purposes of determining products liability, in every instance it is for the court to determine as a matter of law whether something is, or is not, a product." Restatement (Third) Torts: Products...

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