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Wright v. National Interstate Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 6, 2017

TONJA WRIGHT, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR SON, NOAH JACKSON
v.
NATIONAL INTERSTATE INSURANCE CO., ET AL.

         SECTION L (1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          ELDON E. FALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, asking the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Mabe Trucking Company. Rec. Doc. 36. Plaintiff opposes the motion. Rec. Doc. 71. Having considered the parties' arguments, submissions, and applicable law, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an automobile accident. On September 9, 2015, Plaintiff Tonja Wright was operating her 2011 Ford Escape in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, when she was allegedly struck by a trailer operated by Defendant Terry Poole. At the time of the alleged accident, Poole was employed by Mabe Trucking Company. Mabe has stipulated that at the time of the alleged accident, Poole was in the course and scope of his employment with Mabe. Rec. Doc. 36-1.

         On August 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants, seeking damages for past and future mental and physical pain and suffering, property damage, loss of use of vehicle, depreciation, rental expenses, medical expenses, loss of past earnings, loss of future earning capacity, disability, scarring and disfigurement, loss of consortium, penalties, and attorneys' fees.[1] Plaintiff further alleges that Mabe was negligent for allowing Poole to operate the vehicle, for failing to train him, and for failing to “maintain” the vehicle. Rec. Doc. 1-1. Plaintiff claims that the 2015 accident caused her to need a cervical fusion at the C4-C6 levels, which was performed on August 2, 2016. Rec. Doc. 23.

         II. PRESENT MOTION

         Defendants filed their motion for partial summary judgment, seeking to dismiss claims against Mabe. Because Mabe has stipulated that Poole was in the course and scope of employment, Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot simultaneously pursue both (1) a negligence claim against Poole, in which Mabe would be held vicariously liable if Poole's fault is proven, and (2) a direct negligence claim against Mabe for allowing Poole to operate the vehicle, failing to train him, and failing to maintain the vehicle. See Rec. Doc. 36-3 at 1. To support their motion, Defendants rely on a recent case from the Western District of Louisiana: Dennis v. Collins, No. CIV.A 15-2410, 2016 WL 6637973 (W.D. La. Nov. 9, 2016) (Hicks, J.).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, the Court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 2008).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), the moving party bears the initial burden of “informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. When the moving party has met its Rule 56(c) burden, “[t]he non-movant cannot avoid summary judgment . . . by merely making ‘conclusory allegations' or ‘unsubstantiated assertions.'” Calbillo v. Cavender Oldsmobile, Inc., 288 F.3d 721, 725 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Little, 37 F.3d at 1075). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 253 (1986). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that “a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.

         Additionally, “[a] partial summary judgment order is not a final judgment but is merely a pre-trial adjudication that certain issues are established for trial of the case.” Streber v. Hunter, 221 F.3d 701, 737 (5th Cir. 2000). Partial summary judgment serves the purpose of rooting out, narrowing, and focusing the issues for trial. See Calpetco 1981 v. Marshall Exploration, Inc., 989 F.2d 1408, 1415 (5th Cir. 1993).

         IV. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Whether Plaintiff Can Pursue Simultaneous Causes of Action-Under Respondeat Superior and Negligence of Employer-When the Employer Has Stipulated that the ...


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