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Alexander v. Employers Mutual Casualty Co.

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

March 24, 2017





         Currently pending is defendant Employers Mutual Casualty Company's motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. 40). The motion is opposed, and oral argument was held on March 23, 2017. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, the motion is denied.


         The plaintiff alleged in her petition that she was injured in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on July 17, 2014 at the intersection of Willow Street and the Evangeline Throughway in Lafayette, Louisiana. She further alleged that, as she was traveling east on Willow, defendant James Allen Thornton, Jr., made an improper left turn from the westbound lane of Willow, causing the accident. The plaintiff alleged that Thornton was in the course and scope of his employment with defendant Franklin Homes, Inc., at the time of the accident and that Franklin is insured by defendant Employers Mutual Casualty Company. After the accident, Thornton died, and Franklin sought bankruptcy protection. Therefore, Employers Mutual is the only remaining defendant.[1] In the pending motion, Employers Mutual seeks to be absolved of liability for causing the accident.


         A. The Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable governing law.[2] A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party.[3]

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact.[4] If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact.[5] All facts and inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[6]

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.[7] The motion should be granted if the nonmoving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim.[8]

         In this case, subject-matter jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship, under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Accordingly, this Court must apply Louisiana's substantive law.[9]

         B. Disputed Factual Issues Preclude Summary judgment in Employers Mutual's Favor

         In support of its motion for summary judgment, Employers Mutual argued that the evidence concerning the parties' respective fault for causing the accident is in equipoise, mandating a ruling that the plaintiff cannot prove her case and entitling Employers Mutual to summary judgment in its favor. This argument rests on Employers Mutual's contention that both drivers claim to have had a green light at the time of the accident.

         In support of its theory, Employers Mutual presented its responses to written discovery, in which it stated that its internal investigation “revealed that the sole cause of the accident was Shantell Alexander running a red light.” (Rec. Doc. 40-5 at 2). Employers Mutual presented no evidence that the light controlling the plaintiff's travel lane was actually red at the time of the accident. Employers Mutual seems to assume that the plaintiff's light was red because the defendant driver said in a recorded statement that his light was green. Such an assumption has no evidentiary value at this stage of the proceedings.

         Employers Mutual also submitted the affidavit of Todd Riplie, a claims adjuster, who stated that he investigated the accident and was unable to identify any witnesses or obtain any video footage depicting the accident. (Rec. Doc. 40-6).

         Riplie also stated in the affidavit that he took a statement from Thornton in which Thornton stated that the left turn arrow was green when he made the left turn. (Rec. Doc. 40-6). Riplie also stated that a copy of “the crash report” was attached to the affidavit. (Rec. Doc. 40-6). It is not clear what “crash report” Riplie is referring to, and there is nothing attached to Riplie's affidavit. Employers Mutual argued that the investigating police officer did not issue a citation because both drivers told him they had a green light, and he could locate no witnesses to the accident. No evidence was presented in support of that argument; and there was no testimony of any kind from an investigating officer submitted along with the motion.

         Employers Mutual also submitted the affidavit of Kelly Reily (Rec. Doc. 40-7), who stated that she transcribed a recorded statement obtained from Thornton. There is no evidence that the statement was sworn or that Thornton was cautioned with regard to perjury before making the statement, and therefore, its status as competent summary judgment evidence is questionable. However, evan assuming it can and should be considered, it does not carry the day for the defendant. The transcript of Thornton's statement is attached to Reily's affidavit, and Employers Mutual used the ...

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