Baker-Smith v. Healan et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: The Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants Motion for Partial Summary Judgment 82 as further set out in the opinion and order. The Court grants the motion as to Counts VI, VII, and VIII of the Second Amended Complaint 25 . The Court denies it in all other respects. The Court further notes that Plaintiff has withdrawn Counts III and V. Signed by Honorable Judge Keith Starrett on 6/5/2017. (dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:13-CV-00140-KS-WC
DAN M. HEALEN, et al.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
For the reasons provided below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant’s
Motion for Summary Judgement .
This case arises from an automobile accident on Interstate 85 in Macon County, Alabama, on
May 19, 2011. Id. at 4. Defendant Dan Healen and his wife were traveling northbound when he
noticed the cars ahead had stopped. He then tried to stop his car, but was unable to. Healen
shifted the car into second gear to slow down and tried to bank the car off the bridge to stop. But
he bounced off the bridge and hit another car, which bounced into Plaintiff’s car.
Plaintiff filed this action in the Circuit Court of Macon County, Alabama on January 31,
2013 against Healen and Alfa Insurance Company. (See Doc. 1, Exhibit A, Complaint at p. 1-2.)
Healen removed the case on March 4, 2014, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff asserts
the following claims under Alabama law: (I) Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle, (II)
Wanton Operation of a Motor Vehicle, (III) Negligent and/or Wanton Entrustment, (IV) Claim
for Uninsured and/or Uninsured Motorist Benefits, (V) Respondeat Superior, (VI) Negligent
Repair/Maintenance/Manufacture of Equipment, (VII) Wanton Repair/Maintenance/Manufacture
of Equipment, and (VIII) Negligence Per Se-Violation of Safe Break Act. Defendant Healen
filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgement , which the Court now considers.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 56 provides: “[I]f the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Greenberg v.
BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c)). The moving party must “inform[…] the district court of the basis for its motion, and
identify[...] those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’ which it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608
(11th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).
If the movant meets this burden, the non-moving party “may not rest upon the mere
allegations or denials of the […] pleadings, but ... must set forth specific facts showing that there
is a genuine issue for trial.” Gonzalez v. Lee County Hous. Auth., 161 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir.
1998). “If the non-moving party fails to ‘make a sufficient showing on an essential element of
her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof,’ then the court must enter summary
judgment for the moving party.” Id. (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). However, “[i]n
determining whether genuine issues of material fact exist, we resolve all ambiguities and draw
all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2513, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).
In response to Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment , Plaintiff
consented to summary judgment on counts VI, VII, and VIII. Plaintiff also conceded that
summary judgment is appropriate as to counts III and V, which the Court will deem a withdrawal
of those claims. Therefore, the only claim to be addressed here is Count II, Wanton Operation of
a Motor Vehicle.
Wantonness is “[c]onduct which is carried on with a reckless or conscious disregard of
the rights or safety of others.” Ala. Code 1975, § 6-11-20(b)(3). “[T]o be guilty of wanton
conduct it must be shown that with reckless indifference to the consequences [one] consciously
and intentionally did some wrongful act or omitted some known duty which produced the
injury.” Stallwoth v. Illinois Central Gulf R.R., 690 F.2d 858, 863 (11th Cir. 1982) (citing
English v. Jacobs, 263 Ala. 376, 82 So.2d 542, 544 (1955)). It is undisputed that Defendant
made a conscious decision to attempt to bank off the bridge to stop his car instead of pursuing
another course of action, such as driving off the road. Likewise, it is undisputed that Defendant’s
actions caused Plaintiff to suffer an injury. The question is whether Defendant’s decision
qualifies as acting with “reckless indifference to the consequences.” Id.
Defendant argues that the Essary presumption - that “every person in possession of his
normal faculties in a situation known to be dangerous to himself, will give head to the instincts
of safety and self-preservation to exercise ordinary care for his own personal protection” – bars a
finding of wantonness. Ex parte Essary, 992 So.2d 5, 12 (Ala.2007) (quoting Atlantic Coast Line
R. Co. v. Wetherington, 16 So.2d 720, 723 (1944)). Defendant contends that the decision to try
and bank the car off the bridge was not “inherently reckless” under the circumstances.
Defendant also argues that he was not “inherently reckless” because the sudden
emergency doctrine applies. This doctrine provides that “a person faced with sudden emergency
calling for quick action is not held to the same correctness of judgment that would apply if he
had had the time and opportunity to consider fully and choose the best means of escaping peril or
preventing injury.” Dairyland Ins. Co. v. Jackson, 566 So.2d 723, 727 (Ala. 1990) (citing
Jefferson County v. Sulzby, 468 So.2d 112 (Ala. 1985)).
There is some merit to Defendant’s arguments, but, ultimately, these questions belong to
the jury. The question of “wantonness should be submitted to a jury unless there is a total lack of
evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer wantonness.” Monroe vs. Brown, 307
F.Supp.2d 1268, 1271-72 (M.D. Ala. 2004) (citing McDougle vs Shaddrix, 534 So.2d 228, 231
(Ala. 1988)). Likewise, whether the Essary presumption or sudden emergency doctrine applies is
a question for the jury. See Atlantic, 16 So.2d at 723; Friedlander v. Hall, 514 So.2d 914, 915
(Ala. 1987) (citing Rollins v. Handley, 403 So.2d 914, 917 (Ala. Civ. App. 1980)).
A genuine dispute of material fact exists as to whether Defendant’s brakes actually
malfunctioned. Defendant claims that his brakes went out, but he also testified that he saw the
State Trooper press “his foot on the pedal and [say] he felt resistance,” indicating to Defendant
that the brakes worked. (Dan Healen deposition, page 78 line 1 through line 11.) Even if
Defendant’s brakes went out, a jury could reasonably conclude that his decision to bank off the
bridge was “inherently reckless.” It is undisputed that Defendant had enough time to weigh his
options and choose a course of action. Therefore, a jury must decide whether his decision
qualifies as “inherently reckless.”
For these reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant’s Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment . The Court grants the motion as to Counts VI, VII, and VIII of the
Second Amended Complaint . The Court denies it in all other respects. The Court further notes
that Plaintiff has withdrawn Counts III and V.
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED, on this, the _5th____ day of June, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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