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Stacks v. Harco Services LLC

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

March 13, 2019





         Presently before the court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [doc 27] which relates solely to the issue of the Plaintiffs claim for punitive damages and attorneys' fees. The parties have fully briefed the matter.


         This lawsuit involves a traffic incident which occurred on U.S. Highway 171 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Plaintiff alleges was injured riding his motorcycle due to the negligence of defendant, Willard Honea, Jr. in maneuvering his tractor trailer rig into a parking lot. Honea, who was driving the tractor trailer rig in the course of his employment with Harco, was attempting to back into a parking lot and initially blocked several lanes across the highway. Plaintiff believed the tractor trailer was stopped and proceeded to pass behind the rig. According to Plaintiff, Honea unexpectedly started backing his rig up just as Plaintiff was passing. In order to avoid crashing into the rig, Plaintiff was forced to lay down the motorcycle. Plaintiffs maneuver to avoid a crash resulted in a broken leg and other injuries.

         Plaintiff is a Louisiana resident. Defendant, Honea, is a resident of Georgia and Harco Services, LLC is an entity domiciled in Georgia. Plaintiff asserts he is entitled to punitive damages under Georgia law. Defendants seek summary judgment dismissing the claims for punitive damages and attorneys' fees as Louisiana law does not provide a basis for these claims.


         1. 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/VRisan, 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., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (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, 477 U.S. at 249 (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., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (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. Rollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008).

         2. Choice of Law Analysis.

         Louisiana law prohibits an award of punitive damages and/or attorney's fees unless expressly authorized by statute. International Harvester Credit Corp. v. Seale, 518 So.2d 1039 (La. 1988); Egan v. Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp., 677 So.2d 1027, 1037-38 (La.App. 4th Cir. 5/22/96). No. Louisiana statute authorizes punitive damages in this case. Georgia law, however, permits the imposition of attorney fees and punitive damages in certain circumstances. Plaintiff contends Georgia law governs the question of punitive damages in this case. Based upon this conflict, the court must determine which state's law to apply on this issue.

         In diversity cases, the law of the forum state governs the proper choice of law. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co.,313 U.S. 487, 496-97, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941). As such, the court must apply Louisiana's choice of law provisions to determine which state's law will apply to the issue of ...

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