Congress et al v. Morefield et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER- Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment 18 is GRANTED as to the Congresses' claims for negligent entrustment, negligent hiring and/or supervision, and wantonness. Therefore, Counts II and IV are DISMI SSED in their entirety, and Count III is DISMISSED to the extent it alleges wantonness. To the extent the complaint asserts claims of negligent hiring and/or supervision, those claims are DISMISSED. The remaining claims, Count I (negligence) and Coun t III (negligent violation of the rules of the road), proceed. The parties are encouraged to discuss alternative dispute resolution, including the potential for mediation. The parties are ORDERED to file a joint status report by January 22, 2018, regarding the status of such discussion and whether they believe mediation would be beneficial to the resolution of the remaining claim. Signed by Magistrate Judge John H England, III on 1/8/18. (SAC )
2018 Jan-08 PM 12:56
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ASHLEY CONGRESS, et al.,
JAMES MOREFIELD, JR., et al.,
Case No.: 2:16-cv-00909-JHE
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER1
On February 26, 2016, Plaintiffs Ashley and Unique Congress initiated this action against
Defendants James Morefield, Jr., Ronald R. Jones d/b/a R&M Jones Trucking, Ronald R. Jones
individually, and R&K Stoner Logistics, Inc. in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama,
alleging state law claims for (1) negligence, (2) wanton and reckless conduct, (3) negligent,
reckless and/or wanton violations of the rules of the road, (4) and negligent entrustment.2 (Doc.
1-1 at 37-44). On June 1, 2016, Defendants removed the action to this court. (Doc. 1). On April
11, 2017, Defendants filed a collective motion for partial summary judgment to the extent the
Plaintiffs assert wantonness, negligent hiring, and negligent entrustment claims,3 (doc. 18), and
In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 73, the parties have voluntarily consented to have a United States Magistrate Judge
conduct any and all proceedings, including trial and the entry of final judgment. (Doc. 9).
The complaint also asserts these claims against several fictitious parties. “As a general
matter, fictitious-party pleading is not permitted in federal court.” Richardson v. Johnson, 598
F.3d 734, 738 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
Defendants state they move for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 18 at 4).
However, their motion does not address Count I (negligence) at all, or Count III (negligent,
reckless, and/or wanton violations of the rules of the road) except to the extent that count alleges
wantonness. Because Defendants have not briefed these issues, the undersigned construes the
evidentiary material in support of that motion, (doc. 19). Plaintiffs responded on May 2, 2017,
stating they have no objection to the three grounds on which the Defendants have moved for
summary judgment, but maintaining there is a genuine issue of material fact with respect to the
negligence and negligent violation of the rules of the road claims. (Doc. 21). The motion is fully
briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 18 & 21). For the reasons stated below, Defendants’ motion
Standard of Review
Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper “if
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.” Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate
time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will
bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 447 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving
party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323.
The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to
establish there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
motion according to its substance—a motion for partial summary judgment—rather than according
to this stray, contradictory assertion.
The Court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157,
(1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the nonmoving party’s favor). Any factual disputes will be resolved in Plaintiff’s favor when sufficient
competent evidence supports Plaintiff’s version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco,
283 F.3d 1275, 1276-78 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the nonmoving party’s favor when that party’s version of the events is supported by insufficient evidence).
However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat
a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam)
(citing Bald Mtn. Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 836 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere
‘scintilla’ of evidence supporting the opposing party’s position will not suffice; there must be
enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911
F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
Summary Judgment Facts
On December 16, 2014, Plaintiff Ashley Congress was driving with her daughter, Unique,
on Princeton Parkway in Jefferson County, Alabama. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 10). At the same time,
Defendant James Morefield was driving a tractor-trailer (owned by Defendant R&M Jones
Trucking and leased to Defendant R&K Stoner Logistics, Inc.) in the same direction on Princeton
Parkway. (Doc. 19-3 at 13 (47:11-23, 48:4-6); doc. 19-4 at 5 (13:3-9); doc. 19-6 at 9 (8:5-9)).
Morefield was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Princeton Parkway and Third Avenue
West when the Congresses approached the intersection and stopped at the same light; Morefield
was stopped in the left lane, while the Congresses were in the right lane. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 10; doc.
19-3 at 13-14 (47:11-23, 48:4-6, 49:6-8)). When the light turned green, Morefield attempted to
make a right turn, but the turn was wide and his vehicle’s trailer contacted the Congresses’ front
bumper, pulling it off. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 10; doc. 19-3 at 18 (66:12-23, 67:-23, 68:1-14); doc. 19-4
at 14-16 (51:2-23, 56:11-25, 57:1-7)). Because the contact itself was minor, Morefield was
unaware that the collision had happened. (Doc. 19-3 at 14-15 (51:9-10, 54:17-18); doc. 19-4 at 13
(51:2-21)). However, Ashley Congress followed Morefield for about a block and got his attention,
after which Morefield pulled into a parking lot and Ashley Congress called the police. (Doc. 193 at 14 (51:2-5); doc. 19-4 at 13 (51:9-23)).
Morefield holds a commercial driver license (“CDL”), which has never been suspended or
revoked. (Doc. 19-4 at 6 (19:1-25, 20:13-14)). He has never received a traffic citation while
operating a commercial vehicle and, other than accident that is the subject of this action, has never
been involved in a motor vehicle accident. (Doc. 19-4 at 7 (21:12-14, 22:16-19)). Morefield has
received only one citation as a driver: for driving without a seatbelt. (Doc. 19-4 at 7 (21:20-25,
22:1-15)). R&K Stoner Logistics performed a check into Morefield’s driving qualifications and
background and determined he had a “clean record.” (Doc. 19-6 at 9-10 (8:13-24, 9:8-14)).
As stated above, Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment is unopposed.
However, “summary judgment, even when unopposed, can only be entered when ‘appropriate.’”
United States v. One Piece of Real Prop. Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d
1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004). Therefore, the court must consider the motion on its merits and
review the evidence in support of the motion to determine whether the Defendants have met their
burden under Rule 56.
Defendants have moved for summary judgment on two claims explicitly made in the
complaint: wantonness (which is the entirety of Count II and a portion of Count III) and negligent
entrustment (Count IV). They have also moved for summary judgment on a theory they claim is
implicit in the complaint: negligent hiring and/or supervision. They do not move for summary
judgment on the remainder of the Congresses’ claims: Count I (negligence) or Count III (to the
extent it alleges negligent violations of the rules of the road).4
A. Negligent Entrustment
To prevail on a claim for negligent entrustment, a plaintiff must show “(1) an entrustment
of the vehicle; (2) to an incompetent; (3) with knowledge that he is incompetent; (4) negligent or
wanton use of the entrusted vehicle which proximately caused the plaintiff's damages; and (5)
damages.” Penland v. Allsup, 527 So. 2d 715, 715 (Ala. 1988). “[T]he incompetence of a driver
is measured by the driver's demonstrated ability (or inability) to properly drive a vehicle.” Halford
v. Alamo Rent-A-Car, LLC, 921 So. 2d 409, 413–14 (Ala. 2005).
There is no evidence that Morefield was unable to properly drive a vehicle or that, if he
was, any of the other defendants were aware of his incompetence. Considering Morefield’s driving
record, the Alabama Supreme Court has held a driving record that includes two speeding tickets
and a deferred adjudication of a DUI charge to be insufficient as a matter of law to establish
incompetence. Pryor v. Brown & Root USA, Inc., 674 So. 2d 45, 52 (Ala. 1995). Morefield’s
record is far less problematic. The undisputed facts are that Morefield has held a CDL which has
never been suspended or revoked and has received only a single traffic citation as a driver, for
In a footnote, Defendants state “[t]he Complaint contains no allegations related to agency
and/or respondeat superior.” (Doc. 18 at 4 n.1). This is incorrect; the complaint explicitly
contends that “James Morefield Jr. was engaged in the regular course and scope of his employment
for Defendants Ronald R. Jones d/b/a R&M Jones Trucking and/or R&K Stoner Logistics, Inc., as
an agent, servant, and/or employee and are legally responsible for his actions.” (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 11).
Therefore, to the extent the Congresses’ unchallenged claims proceed, they proceed against all
driving without a seatbelt. Morefield has never received a citation while operating a commercial
There is simply no evidence from which a jury could conclude Morefield was
incompetent. Additionally, there is no dispute that Morefield’s background check was clean,
revealing nothing to indicate Morefield was incompetent; thus, there is nothing from which a jury
could find the other defendants had knowledge of Morefield’s incompetence.
Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the negligent entrustment claim, and their motion
is due to be GRANTED with respect to Count IV.
Defendants have also moved for summary judgment on the Congresses’ claims to the
extent they allege wantonness. Specifically, Count II (wanton and reckless conduct) and Count III
(negligent, reckless and/or wanton violations of rules of the road) allege some form of wanton
conduct. Under Alabama law, wantonness is “conduct which is carried on with a reckless or
conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” ALA. CODE § 6-11-20(b)(3) (1975).
Wantonness is distinct from negligence because it “requires some degree of consciousness on the
part of the defendant that injury is likely to result from an act or omission.” Coca-Cola Bottling
Co. United v. Stripling, 622 So. 2d 882, 884 (Ala. 1993). Unlike negligence, which is inadvertent,
“wanton or willful misconduct is characterized as such by the state of mind with which the act or
omission is done or omitted.” Id. at 885 (citation omitted).
There is no evidence of such culpability in this case. The collision occurred at low speed,
with no indication Morefield was aware of it at all until he was flagged down by Ashley Congress.
No evidence suggests Morefield engaged in any action at all with the conscious state of mind
required for wantonness. Therefore, the motion for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED
as to Count II in full and as to Count III to the extent it alleges wantonness.
C. Negligent Hiring and/or Supervision
Defendants also argue that to the extent the complaint references negligent hiring and/or
supervision, they are entitled to summary judgment on that claim as well. (Doc. 18 at 15-16). To
support such a claim against R&K Stoner Logistics, R&M Trucking, or Ronald Jones, the
Congresses must prove (1) Morefield committed a tort recognized under Alabama law; (2)
Morefield was incompetent to drive his vehicle; (3) R&K Stoner Logistics, R&M Trucking, or
Ronald Jones had actual notice of Morefield’s incompetence or would have known had they
exercised due diligence; and (4) R&K Stoner Logistics, R&M Trucking, or Ronald Jones failed to
respond to this notice adequately. Askew v. R & L Transfer, Inc., 676 F. Supp. 2d 1298, 1303–04
(M.D. Ala. 2009) (citations omitted).
As with the negligent entrustment claim, there is no evidence of Morefield’s incompetence
to support the second element. Further, there was no notice to R&K Stoner Logistics, R&M
Trucking, or Ronald Jones of any incompetence to satisfy the third element, and no indication that
R&K Stoner Logistics’ background check, which revealed Morefield’s undisputedly clean record,
was inadequate. Therefore, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the Congresses’
claims to the extent they allege negligent hiring and/or supervision, and the motion is due to be
GRANTED on this ground.
Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment, (doc. 18), is GRANTED as to the
Congresses’ claims for negligent entrustment, negligent hiring and/or supervision, and
wantonness. Therefore, Counts II and IV are DISMISSED in their entirety, and Count III is
DISMISSED to the extent it alleges wantonness. To the extent the complaint asserts claims of
negligent hiring and/or supervision, those claims are DISMISSED.
The remaining claims, Count I (negligence) and Count III (negligent violation of the rules
of the road), proceed. The parties are encouraged to discuss alternative dispute resolution,
including the potential for mediation. The parties are ORDERED to file a joint status report by
January 22, 2018, regarding the status of such discussion and whether they believe mediation
would be beneficial to the resolution of the remaining claim.
DONE this 8th day of January, 2018.
JOHN H. ENGLAND, III
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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