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Boyance v. United Fire and Casualty Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

March 28, 2018

RAVEN BOYANCE, ET AL.
v.
UNITED FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. MARTIN, NO. 82216 HONORABLE LEWIS H. PITMAN, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE

          David R. Rabalais The Dill Firm Counsel for Defendants/Appellees: Canal Insurance Company Clodhopper Trucking, LLC William Caldwell.

          Kraig Thomas Strenge Counsel for Defendants/Appellants: Christopher Crain Louisiana Fresh Produce, LLC United Fire and Casualty Company.

          Harry K. Burdette The Glenn Armentor Law Corporation Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee: Raven Boyance Raven Boyance o/b/o Rashawn Boyance.

          Court composed of Phyllis M. Keaty, John E. Conery, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          PHYLLIS M. KEATY, JUDGE

         This appeal arises out of a three-vehicle collision. Appellants, United Fire and Casualty Company, Christopher Crain, and Louisiana Fresh Produce, LLC (hereafter collectively referred to as the Crain Defendants), appeal a judgment granting summary judgment in favor of defendants, Canal Insurance Company, William Caldwell, and Clodhopper Trucking, LLC (hereafter collectively referred to as the Caldwell Defendants), "finding that William R. Caldwell was without fault in causing the accident giving rise to this litigation." For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Raven Boyance, individually and on behalf of her minor son, Rashawn Boyance (hereafter collectively referred to as Ms. Boyance or Plaintiff), filed a Petition for Damages in January 2015 against the Crain and the Caldwell Defendants. The Petition alleged, in pertinent part, as follows:

3. On January 9, 2014, [Ms.] Boyance was the driver of a 1999 Dodge Dakota. . . .
4. Ms. Boyance was traveling westbound on I-10, in St. Martin Parish, State of Louisiana. She was forced to slow to a stop after a 2000 Kenworth Trailer/Truck, driven by WILLIAM R. CALDWELL, and owned by CLODHOPPER TRUCKING, L.L.C., pulled onto the roadway from the shoulder immediately ahead of Ms. Boyance, without notice. Ms. Boyance immediately applied her brakes.
5. At that time, CHRISTOPHER D. CRAIN, while operating a 2012 Isuzu Truck owned by LOUISIANA FRESH PRODUCE, L.L.C., suddenly, and without warning, violently struck the back of Ms. Boyance's vehicle. The force of the collision was so severe that it forced Ms. Boyance's vehicle to rotate clockwise and then be pushed into the 2000 Kenworth Trailer/Truck being operated by Mr. WILLIAM R. CALDWELL. The full force of the collision set off a chain reaction that also forced Ms. Boyance's vehicle into the rear of the vehicle in front of her, then continue to rotate clockwise until it came to a rest in the middle of the roadway, engulfed in flames. Plaintiff, Rashawn Boyance was a passenger in the vehicle, and was trapped in his car seat in the back seat of the burning car, as his mother watched.
6. At the time of the accident Mr. WILLIAM R. CALDWELL was an employee and agent of CLODHOPPER TRUCKING, L.L.C.. Further, at the time of the accident, Mr. CHRISTOPHER D. CRAIN was an employee and agent of CUSIMANO-CUCCIA, L.L.C. D/B/A LOUISIANA FRESH PRODUCE L.L.C. AND LOUISIANA FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES, D/B/A LOUISIANA FRESH PRODUCE, L.L.C.

         The Caldwell Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (MSJ) on July 26, 2016, asserting that Ms. Boyance would be unable to meet her burden of proving negligence on the part of Mr. Caldwell. After several continuances, the MSJ came for hearing on April 13, 2017. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Caldwell Defendants.

         The Crain Defendants now appeal, asserting that[1]:

1. Opposing counsel for Canal Insurance, Clodhopper and Caldwell failed to make a proper record for summary judgment.

2. The Honorable Louis Pittman, Jr. erred in making a factual finding on ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment.

3. The Honorable Louis Pittman, Jr. erred in granting plaintiff's[2]Motion for Summary Judgment.

         DISCUSSION

         "Appellate review of the granting of a motion for summary judgment is de novo, using the identical criteria that govern the trial court's consideration of whether summary judgment is appropriate." Smitko v. Gulf S. Shrimp, Inc., 11-2566, p. 7 (La. 7/2/12), 94 So.3d 750, 755. "The summary judgment procedure is designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action. . . . The procedure is favored and shall be construed to accomplish these ends." La.Code Civ.P. art. 966(A)(2). On de novo review, "there is no deference to the trial judge's legal findings, and we make an independent review of the evidence in determining whether there is no genuine issue of material fact and whether the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under La.Code Civ.P. art. 966." Bridges v. Cepolk Corp., 13-1051, p. 10 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/12/14), 153 So.3d 1137, 1145, writ denied, 14-901 (La. 8/25/14), 147 So.3d 1117. "A genuine issue of material fact is one as to which reasonable persons could disagree; if reasonable persons could reach only one conclusion, there is no need for trial on that issue and summary judgment is appropriate." Smitko, 94 So.3d at 755.

         According to La.Code Civ.P. art. 966(D)(1):

The burden of proof rests with the mover. Nevertheless, if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the issue that is before the court on the motion for summary judgment, the mover's burden on the motion does not require him to negate all essential elements of the adverse party's claim, action, or defense, but rather to point out to the court the absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense. The burden is on the adverse party to produce factual support sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact or that the mover is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         Code of Civil Procedure Article 967(B) further provides:

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided above, an adverse party may not rest on the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided above, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does ...

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