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Fontenot v. Rakin

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

February 21, 2017

DEIDRA A. FONTENOT
v.
MOHAMMAD S. RAKIN AND WERNER ENTERPRISES, INC. of NEBRASKA

          PEREZ-MONTES MAG. JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          DEE D. DRELL JUDGE,

         Before the court are the plaintiffs motion in limine (Doc. 86) and partial motion for summary judgment (Doc. 87). Defendants have filed oppositions to both motions which are currently ripe for decision.

         Background

         The instant lawsuit arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on November 4, 2014, in Pineville, Louisiana. According to plaintiff, Deidra A. Fontenot, she was proceeding southbound on U.S. 165 in her 2001 Nissan Maxima when Mohammad S. Rakin attempted to make a left hand turn from the northbound lane onto T. Hollingsworth Road in the 2013 Peterbuilt tractor trailer he operated on behalf of his employer, Werner Enterprises of Nebraska. (Doc. 1-3). Fontenot claims that Rakin failed to yield to oncoming traffic and traffic signals that caused her vehicle to "slam" into the trailer he was towing. (Id. at p.1). Fontenot sustained bodily injuries as a result of the accident and was taken to Rapides Regional Medical Center for treatment.

         On September 26, 2014, Fontenot filed a Petition for Damages in the 9th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Rapides, Louisiana against Mohammad S. Rakin and Werner Enterprises, Inc. of Nebraska. Therein, she alleged she sustained bodily injuries, incurred medical expenses and suffered mental anguish and suffering for which she sought reasonable damages.

         On October 30, 2014, the defendants removed the matter to this court citing 28 U.S.C. §1332, providing for diversity jurisdiction.[1] (Doc. 1). The defendants answered the complaint and requested a trial by jury (Docs. 5 and 18).

         Approximately one year later, through the course of discovery, defendants learned that Fontenot underwent a urine drug screen on the evening of the accident, approximately six or seven hours after arriving at Rapides Regional Medical Center for treatment. The drug screen was positive for the presence of THC, benzodiazepines, methadone and opiates. Based on this finding, the defendants sought and were granted leave to supplement and amend their answer to assert a thirteenth defense pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute 9:2798.4 that they were not liable for Fontenot's injuries or damages because she was "intoxicated at the time of the accident in question and greater than 25% comparatively negligent as a result of such intoxication." (Doc. 53).[2]

         The urine drug screen results and the aforementioned affirmative defense are at the heart of both the motion in limine and motion for partial summary judgment.

         Law and Analysis

         Plaintiffs Motion in Limine

         Fontenot seeks to exclude "any and all evidence or inference to the use of illicit or nonprescription drugs, including the drug screen from Rapides Regional Medical Center." (Doc. 86). The urine drug screen performed by Rapides Regional Medical Center showed a positive result for several controlled substances, THC[3], benzodiazepines, methadone and opiates. (Doc. 86-4). The motion states that it seeks to exclude the laboratory report "based on reliability, relevance, foundation and hearsay concerns"; however, the memorandum focuses on exclusion of "illicit" and "non-prescription drugs" and not the entirety of the report. This, coupled with the fact that the positive test results for Fontenot's prescription drugs, benzodiazepines and opiates, is material to her argument that La. R.S. 9:2798.4(D) applies to preclude the defendants' immunity defense, we will not address the exclusion of the report as a whole. Rather, the ruling shall be limited to "any and all evidence or inference to the use of illicit or non-prescription drugs."

         Defendants' expert toxicologist, Dr. William George, testified via deposition that the positive test results from the urine drug screen were indicative of drug use prior to the time of the test, not impairment or intoxication, as follows: "I would, again, say it does not measure the level of intoxication, it is not intended to. It's a measurement of a drug and/or its metabolite in the urine which is not indicated by itself to indicate intoxication." (Doc. 87-3, p. 35) (See also Id. at 16, 30-33, 39-40). He also provided testimony regarding how long the drugs at issue could remain in one's system subsequent to use. While THC could remain present in the urine of a frequent user up to a month, it would only remain in the urine of an occasional user one or two days. (Id. at 26, 40). Benzodiazepines could remain present in urine three to five days, whereas amphetamines and opiates could remain for two to three days. (Id at 25, 27).

         Dr. George testified that he considered all evidence, including the urine drug screen results, to determine the amount of the drugs in Fontenot's system at the time of the accident and whether that rendered her intoxicated. (Doc. 13-15). Dr. George established a calculation and determined the amount of Valium that remained in her system. (Id.). He then considered the supplemental effect of the other drugs (for which she tested positive) on the Valium in her system. Though not conceded by Dr. George, it is clear that there was no evidence before him indicating the levels of THC or methadone in her system nor could any be calculated as there was no evidence of the date and time she used marijuana and/or ...


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