Sanchez et al v. Knight et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: For the reasons set out, Leroy Knight, Jr. and OldCastle Building Envelope, Inc.'s Motion to Summary Judgment 31 is due to be and hereby is GRANTED. Signed by Honorable Judge Mark E. Fuller on 3/4/2013. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(jg, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
RUBEN DARIO SANCHEZ, et al.,
LEROY KNIGHT, et al.,
CASE NO. 1:11-cv-863-MEF
(WO—Do Not Publish)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is Defendants Leroy Knight, Jr. (“Knight”) and OldCastle Building
Envelope, Inc.’s (“OldCastle”) (collectively, “Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. #31), which has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.1 For the reasons set forth
below, Defendants’ motion is due to be GRANTED.
This lawsuit arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on April 7, 2011, on
a public highway in Henry County, Alabama. The accident occurred between Plaintiff Ruben
Dario Sanchez’s (“Sanchez”) pickup truck and Defendants’ tractor-trailer.
Complaint, Plaintiffs Sanchez and Kenwin Stuckey (“Stuckey”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”)
assert the following state-law claims: (1) negligence; (2) wantonness; (3) respondeat
superior; (4) negligent/wanton hiring, training, and supervision; and (5) combined and
Defendant Penske Truck Leasing (“Penske”) has not moved for summary judgment, and
the December 17, 2012 deadline for dispositive motions has passed. (See Amended Scheduling
Order, Doc. #27, at 1.)
concurring negligence and wantonness. (Doc. #1-6.) The only claims presently before the
Court are the two claims for which Defendants seek summary judgment: wantonness and
negligent/wanton hiring, training, and supervision.
Plaintiffs concede that summary judgment is due to be granted on their claim for
negligent/wanton hiring, training, and supervision. As such, this Opinion will only determine
whether there is a genuine dispute of material fact on any element of Plaintiffs’ wantonness
II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
Jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (diversity
jurisdiction). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the Court finds
adequate allegations in support of both.
III. RELEVANT FACTS
The Court has carefully considered all affidavits and exhibits submitted in support of
and in opposition to the motion. The submissions of the parties, viewed in the light most
favorable to Plaintiffs, the non-moving parties, establish the following relevant facts:
On April 7, 2011, on a public highway in Henry County, Alabama, the front-left
bumper of the tractor-trailer driven by Knight collided with the back-right bumper of the
pickup truck driven by Sanchez with Stuckey as a passenger. This occurred while Sanchez
was in the process of making a legal left turn with his turn signal on.
For several minutes before the accident, Knight had been driving behind Plaintiffs in
the same lane. Moments before the collision, Sanchez gradually slowed down and signaled
that he was making a left turn off the highway. Sanchez testified that he did not check his
rearview mirror while preparing for the turn, and neither Plaintiff testified to observing
Knight’s actions in the moments immediately preceding the collision. Without hearing
anything, Plaintiffs report that the tractor-trailer driven by Knight struck the back-right
bumper of Sanchez’s pickup truck. Knight admitted he was exceeding the speed limit
immediately before braking for the collision, and according to deposition testimony, his
tractor-trailer was overloaded by 1,000 pounds.
One month before the accident, a
Preventative Maintenance Report by Defendant Penske indicated that the tractor-trailer
“needed rear axle brakes and drums soon” as the drive-axle brakes were worn below the
wear-bar safety indicators.
Plaintiffs’ alleged damages include property loss, personal injuries, and lost wages.
IV. LEGAL STANDARD
A motion for summary judgment looks to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof
in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). A court should grant summary judgment
when the pleadings and supporting materials show that no genuine issue exists as to any
material fact and that the moving party deserves judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party moving for
summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of
the basis for its motion, and identifying” the relevant documents that “it believes demonstrate
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986). To shoulder this burden, the moving party can present evidence to this effect. Id.
at 322–23. Or it can show that the non-moving party has failed to present evidence in
support of some element of its case on which it ultimately bears the burden of proof. Id.
If the moving party meets its burden, the non-movant must then designate, by
affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories, specific facts showing the
existence of a genuine issue for trial. Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590,
593–94 (11th Cir. 1995). And a genuine issue of material fact exists when the non-moving
party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in his
or her favor. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).
Thus, summary judgment requires the non-moving party to “do more than simply show that
there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586.
Indeed, a plaintiff must present evidence demonstrating that he can establish the basic
elements of his claim, Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, because “conclusory allegations without
specific supporting facts have no probative value” at the summary judgment stage. Evers v.
Gen. Motors Corp., 770 F.2d 984, 986 (11th Cir. 1985).
A court ruling on a motion for summary judgment must believe the non-movant’s
evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. It also must draw all justifiable inferences from the
evidence in the non-moving party’s favor. Id. After the non-moving party has responded to
the motion, the court must grant summary judgment if there exists no genuine issue of
material fact and the moving party deserves judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ.
As an initial matter, when a federal court exercises jurisdiction based upon diversity
of citizenship, the court is bound to apply the substantive law of the state in which it sits.
Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). The Erie doctrine extends to choice-of-law
questions, so that a court sitting in diversity must apply the forum state’s conflict-of-law
rules. Strochak v. Federal Ins. Co., 109 F.3d 717, 719-20 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Klaxon
Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941)). Because Plaintiffs’ claims sound
in tort, Alabama’s choice-of-law rules require this Court to apply Alabama law:
Lex loci delicti has been the rule in Alabama for almost 100
years. Under this principle, an Alabama court will determine the
substantive rights of an injured party according to the law of the
state where the injury occurred.
Fitts v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 581 So. 2d 819, 820 (Ala. 1991) (citations omitted).
Applying Alabama law, the Court will now address Defendants’ motion for summary
judgment on Plaintiffs’ wantonness and negligent/wanton hiring, training, and supervision
claims. Plaintiffs concede that summary judgment is due to be granted to Knight and
OldCastle on their claim of neligent/wanton hiring, training, and supervision. Accordingly,
Defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted on this claim. This means
that the only remaining issue before the Court is whether Defendants are due summary
judgment on Plaintiffs’ wantonness claim.
Knight and OldCastle argue that Plaintiffs cannot prove the essential elements of their
wantonness claim. Under Alabama law, wantonness is defined as “[c]onduct which is
carried on with a reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Ala. Code
§ 6-11-20(3). Further, “a plaintiff’s showing of ‘wanton misconduct’ requires more than a
showing of some form of inadvertence on the part of the driver; it requires a showing of
some degree of conscious culpability.” Ex parte Anderson, 682 So. 2d 467, 469 (Ala. 1996).
To survive summary judgment on a wantonness claim, a plaintiff must provide
substantial evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact that a defendant acted with
reckless or conscious disregard to the rights or safety of others in his operation of a vehicle.
See Monroe v. Brown, 307 F. Supp. 2d 1268, 1271 (M.D. Ala. 2004) (Thompson, J.)
(“Wantonness . . . has been defined by the Supreme Court of Alabama as ‘the conscious
doing of some act or the omission of some duty, while knowing of the existing conditions
and being conscious that, from doing or omitting to do an act, injury will likely or probably
result.’”) (quoting Alfa Mut. Ins. Co. v. Roush, 723 So. 2d 1250, 1256 (Ala. 1998))); Tolbert
v. Tolbert, 903 So. 2d 103, 115 (Ala. 2004) (affirming summary judgment on a wantonness
claim arising from an automobile accident where evidence did not establish “more than a
showing of some form of inadvertence on the part of the driver or that it rose to the required
showing of some degree of consciousness on the part of the defendant that injuries are likely
to result from his act or omissions”).2 As the Supreme Court of Alabama explained in
In Tolbert, a child and his grandmother were traveling by car in a light rain. As the car
traveled downhill, the child’s grandmother failed to negotiate an “S” curve, skidded into the
opposing lane of traffic, and collided with another vehicle. The child, the child’s grandmother, and
the driver of the other vehicle were killed. The child’s father filed a wrongful death action against
the grandmother’s estate, claiming the grandmother was operating her vehicle wantonly. See 903
So. 2d 103.
Wantonness is not merely a higher degree of culpability than
negligence. Negligence and wantonness, plainly and simply, are
qualitatively different tort concepts of actionable culpability.
Implicit in wantonness, willful, or reckless misconduct is an
acting, without knowledge of danger, or with consciousness,
that the doing or not doing of some act will likely result in injury
. . . Wantonness imports premeditation, or knowledge and
consciousness that the injury is likely to result from the act done
or from the omission to act . . .
Tolbert, 903 So. 2d at 115 (internal quotations and citations omitted). “What constitutes
wanton misconduct depends on the facts presented in each particular case.” Id.
Although, under Erie, this Court must apply the Alabama definition of wantonness,
“in diversity cases federal courts apply a federal rather than state test in determining the
sufficiency of the evidence to create a jury question . . . .” Salter v. Westra, 904 F.2d 1517,
1524 (11th Cir. 1990). In the context of summary judgment in the federal arena, the test is
whether, in viewing the substantial evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party, a genuine dispute exists for trial. Monroe, 307 F. Supp. 2d at 1271.
To survive summary judgment in this case, Plaintiffs must establish a genuine issue
of fact as to whether Knight: (1) acted consciously when he drove over the speed limit with
an overloaded truck and axle-brakes that were worn below the wear-bar safety indicators; and
(2) was conscious, based on existing conditions, that injury was a likely or probable result
of his actions. See Monroe, 307 F. Supp. 2d at 1272. The evidence in this case, viewed in
the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, reflects that Knight knowingly drove over the speed
limit with knowledge that his truck was overloaded by 1,000 pounds. However, there is no
evidence that Knight was aware that the axle-brakes were worn below the wear-bar safety
indicators. Only Penske is alleged to have known or been able to discover that, based on the
model of the tractor-trailer involved in the accident.3
Moreover, Plaintiffs have presented no evidence that Knight understood that the size
of the load he was carrying combined with his speeding made injury to others a “likely” or
“probable” result. See id. In fact, Knight’s testimony and the impact points of the tractortrailer and Sanchez’s truck indicate that Knight followed Plaintiffs at a safe distance and
attempted to avoid the collision.
In sum, the Court finds that “there is a total lack of evidence from which the jury
could reasonably infer wantonness.” See McDougle v. Shaddrix, 534 So. 2d 228, 231 (Ala.
1988). Plaintiffs offer no evidence of Knight’s wanton driving except for driving over the
speed limit in a slightly overloaded truck. As the Alabama Supreme Court has held, “[s]peed
alone does not import wantonness, and a violation of the speed law does not of itself amount
to wanton misconduct.” Knowles v. Poppell, 545 So. 2d 40, 42 (Ala. 1989). Although
Plaintiffs attempt to establish wantonness by combining Knight’s speed with the fact that he
was driving an overloaded truck, the Court sees little reason to infer wantonness from such
conduct, particularly when there is no evidence of a culpable state of mind.
Plaintiffs allege that Defendants OldCastle and Knight violated Federal Motor Carrier
Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”) that require brake inspections to be done by motor carriers and their
employees, but they fail to identify facts that specifically support this allegation. Plaintiffs point out
that in Knight’s pre-trip inspection, he did not visibly inspect the worn drive-axle brakes that may
have caused the accident. However, Plaintiffs fail to cite a statute or regulation that requires such
a specific, visible inspection rather than the functional inspection that Knight did perform.
For the reasons set forth above, Leroy Knight, Jr. and OldCastle Building Envelope,
Inc.’s Motion to Summary Judgment (Doc. #31) is due to be and hereby is GRANTED.
DONE this the 4th day of March, 2013.
/s/ Mark E. Fuller
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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