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Wilcox v. Harco International Insurance

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 26, 2017

JOSEPH WILCOX
v.
HARCO INTERNATIONAL INSURANCE, HILL AND HILL TRANSPORT, INC. AND ANTHONY RICHARDS

          RULING

          JUDGE SHELLY D. DICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment[1] by Defendants, Harco International Insurance (“Harco”), Hill and Hill Transport, Inc. (“Hill & Hill”), and Anthony Richards (“Richards”)(or collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiff, Joseph Wilcox (“Plaintiff”), has filed an Opposition[2] to this motion, to which Defendants filed a Reply.[3] For the following reasons, the Court finds that Defendants' motion should be granted.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on December 17, 2014, when Richards, operating a commercial tractor trailer owned by Hill & Hill, collided with an automobile being driven by Plaintiff. The underlying facts of the accident are disputed; however, Defendants contend there is no dispute that Richards was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Hill & Hill at the time of the accident. The Defendants have admitted to this fact.[4] Thus, if Richards is ultimately found to be at fault, Defendants concede that Hill & Hill will also be vicariously liable for Richards' negligence.

         Nevertheless, Plaintiff has also asserted independent claims of negligence against Hill & Hill alleging that Hill & Hill failed to properly train Richards; failed to employ a safe and competent driver; failed to properly supervise and instruct its driver; and permitted its employees to drive while distracted.[5] Defendants now move for partial summary judgment arguing that it would constitute legal error for a jury to allocate separate fault against Hill & Hill independent of the negligence of its employee Richards. Plaintiff opposes this motion and argues that Louisiana Civil Code article 2323 mandates a comparative fault regime; thus, Plaintiff is entitled to pursue independent claims of negligence against Hill & Hill.

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[6] “When assessing whether a dispute to any material fact exists, we consider all of the evidence in the record but refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.”[7] A party moving for summary judgment “must ‘demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ' but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case.”[8] If the moving party satisfies its burden, “the non-moving party must show that summary judgment is inappropriate by setting ‘forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.'”[9] However, the non-moving party's burden “is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.”[10]

         Notably, “[a] genuine issue of material fact exists, ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'”[11] All reasonable factual inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.[12] However, “[t]he Court has no duty to search the record for material fact issues. Rather, the party opposing the summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely how this evidence supports his claim.”[13] “Conclusory allegations unsupported by specific facts … will not prevent the award of summary judgment; ‘the plaintiff [can]not rest on his allegations … to get to a jury without any “significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.”'”[14]

         B. Vicarious Liability under Louisiana Law

         The principle of vicarious liability in Louisiana law is codified in Civil Code article 2320, which provides, in pertinent part: “Masters and employers are answerable for the damage occasioned by their servants and overseers, in the exercise of the functions in which they are employed.”[15] “Vicarious liability rests in a deeply rooted sentiment that a business enterprise cannot justly disclaim responsibility for accidents which may fairly be said to be characteristic of its activities.”[16] An employer's vicarious liability for conduct which is not his own extends only to the employee's tortious conduct which is within the course and scope of employment.[17]

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff cannot simultaneously allege Hill & Hill's negligence under a theory of vicarious liability for its driver's negligence and maintain independent negligence claims against Hill & Hill. Defendants further argue that comparative fault is inapplicable in a case where liability is based on the relationship between an employee and employer under the theory of respondeat superior. Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to recognize that vicarious liability is not a cause of action but a method of holding one party liable for the conduct of another; thus, the legal principles of comparative fault are irrelevant to the claims asserted in this case.

         Defendants cite to the Judgment of the Honorable William A. Morvant of the 19th Judicial District Court, Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana, in Croft v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, et al., [18] wherein the court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the defendants and stated:

It is undisputed that Lloyd Allen was acting in the course and scope of his employment with United Parcel Service, Inc. at the time of the accident with plaintiff Mark Croft. Thus, plaintiff's independent claims of negligent hiring, training, and supervision against ...

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