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Williams v. Fentanes

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

March 18, 2019




         Before the court is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [doc. 27] filed by defendant George Obey and seeking judgment on the issue of liability. Defendant Agustin Fentanes opposes the motion. Doc. 34. This matter has been referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636.



         This suit arises from a car accident that occurred on July 16, 2017, in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, between plaintiffs Jared M. Williams and George Obey and defendant Agustin Fentanes. Williams alleges that he was driving a 2013 Honda Accord on Interstate 10, with Obey as his passenger, and had stopped due to heavy traffic when he was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler driven by Fentanes. Doc. 1, att. 4, pp. 1-2. Williams filed suit against Fentanes; his employer, Quality Carriers, Inc. (“Quality”); and Quality's insurer in the 31st Judicial District Court, Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. Id. at 1-5. There he asserted that the accident was caused by Fentanes's negligence and that he had suffered injury as a result. Id. Obey filed a separate suit against the same defendants, and defendants removed both cases to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Doc. 1; see Obey v. Fentanes, 18-cv-0821, doc. 1 (W.D. La.). After removal the court consolidated the two cases at defendants' motion, under the instant case number. Docs. 23, 24.

         Obey now moves for summary judgment on the issue of liability, asserting that Fentanes was negligent and completely at fault for the accident. Doc. 27; doc. 27, att. 1. Fentanes opposes the motion. Doc. 34.


         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).



         Because this is a diversity action, the substantive law of the forum state applies. Cates v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 928 F.2d 679, 687 (5th Cir. 1991). Under Louisiana law, a driver may not follow another vehicle “more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.” La. Rev. Stat. § 32:81(A). Accordingly, Louisiana courts uniformly recognize a rebuttable presumption “that a following motorist in a rear-end collision . . . [has] breached the standard of care prescribed [under Louisiana law] and hence is . . . negligent.” Mart v. Hill, 505 So.2d 1120, 1123 (La. 1987). The following motorist can rebut this presumption if he shows “that he had his vehicle under control, closely observed the lead vehicle and followed at a safe distance under the circumstances.” ...

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