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Henry v. Sunshine Freight, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

August 30, 2018




         Before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 21] filed pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by defendants L&J Freight, Inc. (“L&J”) and Wesco Insurance Company (“Wesco”). Plaintiffs Russell Henry and Stacia Henry oppose the motion. Doc. 25. Defendants Reinaldo Quintanilla, Sunrise Freight, Inc. (“Sunrise”), and National Specialty Insurance Company (“National”) also oppose summary judgment and to that end they adopt the arguments made in plaintiffs' memorandum in opposition. Doc. 26.

         This matter has been referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636. For the reasons stated below, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED.



         This case arises from an automobile accident that allegedly occurred on Interstate 10 in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. Doc. 1, att. 1, pp. 2-3. Plaintiffs allege that Quintanilla was driving a truck and trailer hauling oranges from Florida to California when he twice swerved into Russell's lane, striking his (Russell's) pickup truck. Id. at p. 3. The pickup became entangled with the trailer and was dragged for a short distance on the highway before dislodging and crashing into a guardrail. Id.

         Plaintiffs filed suit in the 14th Judicial District Court, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, seeking to recover for Russell's personal injuries, past and future physical and emotional pain, past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and future lost income. Id. at pp. 4-5. Russell's wife, Stacia, asserted claims for non-pecuniary injuries, including loss of consortium. Id. at p. 5. They named as defendants Quintanilla, Sunrise, National, Amtrust North America d/b/a Wesco Insurance Company, and L&J, as well as Sunshine Freight, Inc. (“Sunshine”).[1] Id. at pp. 1-2. Plaintiffs maintain that Quintanilla's negligence caused the accident, Sunrise and/or L&J were his employer, and National and/or Wesco issued insurance policies covering the collision. Id. at pp. 3-4.

         Sunrise and National removed the action to this court with the consent of their co-defendants on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Doc. 1, pp. 3-6.[2] Wesco and L&J (collectively, “movants”) then filed the instant motion for summary judgment, [doc. 21], seeking a declaration that L&J is not vicariously liable for Quintanilla's alleged negligence because he was never an L&J employee and L&J did not own the truck he was driving. Doc. 21, att. 6, pp. 4, 6.


         Law & Analysis

         A court should grant a motion for summary judgment when 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The party moving for summary judgment is initially responsible for identifying portions of pleadings and discovery that show the lack of a genuine issue of material fact. Tubacex, Inc. v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995). The court must deny the motion for summary judgment if the movant fails to meet this burden. Id.

         If the movant makes this showing, however, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511 (1986) (quotations omitted). This requires more than mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings. Instead, the nonmovant must submit “significant probative evidence” in support of his claim. State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman, 116');">896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th Cir. 1990). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 106 S.Ct. at 2511 (citations omitted).

         A court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 7');">120 S.Ct. 2097, 2110 (2000). The court is also required to view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Clift v. Clift, 210 F.3d 268, 270 (5th Cir. 2000). Under this standard, a genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable trier of fact could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008).

         Movants assert that Quintanilla was never an L&J employee and “all of the other defendants” maintain that he was working only for Sunrise at the time of the accident. Doc. 21, att. 6, pp. 4-5. Plaintiffs do not contest that Quintanilla was a Sunrise employee. See doc. 25, att. 3, pp. 2-3. However, they contend that L&J should be deemed Quintanilla's statutory employer, based on the lease agreement, [doc. 21, att. 7, p. 65] that movants attached to the motion for summary judgment and ...

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