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Henry v. Sunshine Freight, Inc.

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

September 17, 2018

RUSSELL HENRY, ET AL
v.
SUNSHINE FREIGHT, INC., ET AL

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KATHLEEN KAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by plaintiffs Russell and Stacia Henry ("plaintiffs"). Doc. 28. Defendants Reinaldo Quintanilla, Sunrise Freight, Inc., and National Specialty Insurance Company (collectively referred to as "defendants") oppose the motion. Doc. 30.

         The motion has been referred to the undersigned in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636. For the reasons that follow it is recommended that the motion be GRANTED.

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises from an automobile accident that occurred on Interstate 10 in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. Doc. 1, art. 1, pp. 2-3. Plaintiffs allege that defendant, Mr. Quintanilla, was driving an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer westbound in the inside lane of Interstate 10 when he twice swerved in Mr. Henry's lane striking his pickup truck. Id. Mr. Henry's vehicle was travelling in the right lane of Interstate 10 and when Mr. Quintanilla's 18-wheeler entered his lane the second time the vehicles became entangled. Id. at p. 2. Mr. Henry's pickup was dragged for a short distance on Interstate 10 before dislodging and crashing into a guardrail. Id. Following the accident, Quintanilla's 18-wheeler continued to travel down Interstate 10 and was flagged down by another motorist and eventually pulled to the shoulder. Id.

         Plaintiffs move for summary judgment alleging that the undisputed facts show that Mr. Quintanilla was 100% at fault in causing the accident, that he was in the course and scope of his employment with Sunrise Freight, Inc. at the time of the accident, and that he is insured under the National Specialty Insurance Policy as a permissive driver and employee of Sunrise Freight, Inc. Doc. 28.

         Defendants maintain that Mr. Quintanilla, "did not realize he was in an accident." Doc. 30, p. 6. According to Mr. Quintanilla's deposition testimony, he "never felt the hit." Doc. 28, art. 8, p. 5. In opposing the motion defendants maintain that summary judgment is not proper because there are two versions of events surrounding the accident which create issues of material fact that must be resolved by the trier of fact. Doc. 30, p. 2. Defendants further maintain that factual issues remain regarding whether or not Mr. Henry's negligence contributed to the accident. Id. at pp. 6-8. Defendants do not dispute, however, that Mr. Quintanilla was in the course and scope of his employment with Sunrise Freight, Inc. at the time of the accident and that he was a permissive driver under the policy of insurance issued to National Specialty Insurance. Id. at p. 8.

         II.

         Law and Analysis

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         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, 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., 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).

         B. Applicable Law and Analysis

         In a diversity case federal courts must apply state substantive law. Erie R.R. Co. v Tompkins, 58 S.Ct. 817 (1938); In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 495 F.3d 191 (5th Cir.2007). Both parties agree that Louisiana Revised Statute 32:79 is applicable here. That statute provides, in part;

Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic, the following rules, in addition to all others consistent herewith, shall apply.
(1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.

La. Rev. Stat. § 32:79. The case of Bethel v National Indemnity Ins. Co., 2017 WL 125028 (M.D. La. Jan. 12, 2017), a case cited by plaintiffs in brief is instructive on the law. In that case an 18- wheeler changed lanes from the left to the center lane and struck plaintiff's vehicle that was travelling in the center lane. Id. at *1. The driver of the 18-wheeler claimed that he checked his mirrors and turned on his turn signal before moving into the center lane but because plaintiff s car was "beyond his sight" he did not see her as he moved into the center lane. Id. The defendant also alleged that plaintiff contributed to the collision by failing to appropriately react to the situation. Id. The court granted plaintiffs motion for summary judgment finding the driver of the 18-wheeler solely at fault in causing the accident. Id. at *4. Relying on Louisiana Revised Statute 32:79(1) and the Louisiana Supreme Court case of Brewer v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., 35 So.3d 230, 241 (La.2010), the court noted that 'Louisiana law requires that [the driver of the 18-wheeler] must have ascertained, before he moved from the left to center lane, that he could have done so safely without hitting [plaintiff's ] car." Id. at *2. The court further found that the driver of the 18-wheeler owed "a greater duty of care as a motorist changing lanes than the duty owed by [plaintiff] who was travelling straight in the center lane." Id.

         In rejecting defendant's argument that plaintiff was contributorily negligently, the court stated that under Louisiana law, "the defendant bears the burden of proving contributory negligence/comparative fault by a preponderance of the evidence" and must also prove that "such negligence was a contributory cause'' Id. at *3 (citing Barnes v. Quinlan, 2002 WL 31375606 (E.D. La Oct. 22. 2002, and Hano v. La. Dept. of Trans, and Dev., 519 So.2d 796, 798 (La.App.1 Cir. 10/29/2010 (emphasis original)). Noting defendant's lack of any summary judgment evidence of fault on the part of plaintiff or any evidence that plaintiff was a cause-in-fact of the accident, the court determined that defendant was 100% at fault for the accident.

         The case before us presents a similar factual scenario. While defendants urge the court to find that there are "two different versions" of the accident and that material facts regarding the cause of the accident are in dispute, the evidence does not support their argument. Doc. 30, pp 1-2.

         In Mr. Henry's deposition, which is offered as evidence in support of the motion, he testified as follows regarding the accident:

A. We were on the ...

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