Curry et al v. Raymond et al
ORDER AND REASONS granting 16 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Penske Truck Leasing Co., L.P. Signed by Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle. (ijg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
PORTHEMOS CURRY, ET AL.
JEROME RAYMOND, ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is Defendant Penske Truck Leasing Co., L.P.’s
(“Penkse”) motion for summary judgment. Rec. Doc. 16. Penske seeks
dismissal of all claims against it on the grounds that there are
no genuine issues of material fact concerning Penske’s alleged
(hereinafter “Plaintiffs”), filed a memorandum in opposition. Rec.
Doc. 17. For the reasons enumerated below,
IT IS ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This case arises out of a car accident in which a truck driven
by Jerome Raymond struck a tree, causing injury to Plaintiffs.
Rec. Doc. 1 at 2. On June 25, 2015, Plaintiffs filed suit against
Raymond, Starr Textile Services of Louisiana, L.L.C (“Starr”),
Penske, and National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh,
PA. Rec. Doc. 1. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that the
negligence of all four defendants was the sole and proximate cause
of the accident. Rec. Doc. 1 at 2. More specifically, they claim
that Raymond drove the vehicle at an excessive rate of speed and
in a careless, reckless, and inattentive manner. Rec. Doc. 1 at 3.
Further, they claim that he failed to pay proper attention to his
surroundings and drive under control. Rec. Doc. 1 at 3. The only
alleged basis of liability for Starr and Penske is the doctrine of
respondeat superior. Rec. Doc. 1 at 3.
Plaintiffs concede that Raymond, at all pertinent times,
served as an employee of Starr. Rec. Doc. 1 at 1.
it is undisputed that the subject truck, a 2014 Freightliner M2,
was owned by Penske and leased to Starr pursuant to a “Vehicle
Lease Service Agreement.” Rec. Docs. 16-2 at 1; 17-1 at 1. Finally,
it is further undisputed that Penske is in the business of renting,
leasing, and maintaining motor vehicles. Rec. Docs. 16-2 at 1; 171 at 1. Plaintiffs pled no other fact relevant to the present
THE PARTIES’ CONTENTIONS
Penske argues that the doctrine of repsondeat superior does
not apply to it because it is not Raymond’s employer. Rec. Doc.
Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 30106, as well as Louisiana law, bar a
company engaged in the business of leasing vehicles, such as
Penske, from liability arising out of the use of a leased vehicle
unless the lessor/owner has engaged in criminal wrongdoing or acted
negligently. Rec. Doc. 16-1 at 4-6. For these reasons, Penske urges
this Court to dismiss all of Plaintiffs' claims against it with
summarily assert that Penske negligently entrusted the vehicle to
uncertainty remains as to Penske’s knowledge of Raymond’s driving
abilities. Based on this single argument, Plaintiffs contend that
the Court should deny Penske’s motion.
III. LAW AND ANALYSIS
While styled as a motion for summary judgment, Penske’s motion
is substantively a motion to dismiss, because it argues that the
liability on Penske. Accordingly, the Court will construe the
motion as a motion to dismiss.1
When reviewing a motion to dismiss, courts must accept all
favorable to the non-moving party. See Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d
190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Gonzales v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting
However, even if this Court treated the motion as one for summary judgment,
the same result would ensue.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009))
(quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible “when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
The only allegation levied against Penske in the Plaintiff’s
complaint is that Penske is negligent under the doctrine of
respondeat superior. Rec. Doc. 1 at 3. In Louisiana, the doctrine
is codified in article 2320 of the Civil Code: “Masters and
servants and overseers, in the exercise of their functions in which
they are employed.” LA. CIV. CODE art. 2320. The Supreme Court of
Louisiana stated that, “[t]o come within the scope of art. 2320,
the plaintiff must show the existence of an employer-employee
relationship.” Roberts v. State, 404 So. 2d 1221, 1225 (La. 1981).
relationship exists is the level of control over the work of the
employee. Id. See also Mendoza v. Hicks, No. 15-1455, 2016 WL
915297, at *3 (E.D La. Mar. 10, 2016).
Here, Plaintiffs do not even allege the existence of an
employer-employee relationship between Penske and Raymond. Rec.
Doc. 1 at 1-5. Instead, they concede that Raymond was employed by
Starr. Rec. Doc. 1 at 2. Moreover, the contractual relationship
drawing Penske into this matter is with Starr, not Raymond, for
the lease of the vehicle. Rec. Docs. 1 at 2; 16-2 at 1; 17-1 at 1.
against Penske under a theory of respondeat superior.
Despite the fact that Plaintiffs pled no other grounds for
Penske’s liability, Penske points out in its motion that “the
Graves Amendment,” 49 U.S.C. § 30106, prevents a leased vehicle’s
owner from being held liable for the negligence of the lessee
absent negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner,
so long as the owner is “engaged in the trade or business of
renting or leasing motor vehicles.” 49 U.S.C. § 30106(a). Penske
correctly asserts, and Plaintiffs do not challenge, that the Graves
Amendment preempts contrary state law. See Carton v. Gen. Motor
Acceptance Corp., 611 F.3d 451, 456 (8th Cir. 2010); Reph v.
Hubbard, No. 07-7119, 2009 WL 649910, at *1 (E.D. La. Mar. 10,
Plaintiffs do not dispute that Penske is in the business of
application of the Graves Amendment. Despite not pleading anything
in regards to negligent entrustment, Plaintiffs raise for the first
time in their opposition the argument that Penske negligently
entrusted the vehicle to Starr. Rec. Doc. 17 at 4. However,
insinuating that it is possible that Penske might have known of
some reason to doubt Raymond’s driving abilities. This argument
cannot prevent dismissal of the claims against Penske.
negligently. Instead, they only speculate that Penkse might have
had information about Raymond that could have raised doubts about
his driving capabilities. This is insufficient to raise a facially
plausible claim of negligent entrustment under Twombly and Iqbal.2
See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (noting that a claim is facially
plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.”); Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (“Factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”).
Furthermore, Plaintiffs never pled such grounds for relief in
their complaint. Yet, when a plaintiff raises new claims in an
opposition to a motion for summary judgment, district courts should
construe it as a motion to amend the complaint, see Stover v.
Hattiesbrug Public Sch. Dist., 549 F.3d 985, 989 n.2 (5th Cir.
2008), and “[l]eave to amend pleadings shall be freely given when
justice requires.” Whitmire v. Victus, Ltd., 212 F.3d 885, 889
(5th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “the
decision to grant or deny a motion to amend is within the sound
This result would be the same even if state law had applied.
discretion of the trial court.” Guichard v. City of New Orleans,
No. 92-3328, 1993 WL 370618, at *1 (E.D. La. Sept. 10, 1993)
(citing Avatar Exploration, Inc. v. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc., 933
F.2d 314 (5th Cir. 1991)).
In this case, justice does not require the Court to provide
Plaintiffs with leave to amend. It is evident from the complaint
and Plaintiffs’ opposition that they have no factual basis for
claiming negligent entrustment by Penske, and it appears that
counsel has made little to no effort to investigate any potential
allegations. The “proposed” change is frivolous and only serves to
advance a claim that is insufficient on its face. See Panchal v.
PNC Bank, Nat. Ass’n, No. 14-0082, 2014 WL 6851947, at *2 (S.D.
Tex. Dec. 3, 2014) (citing 6 Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller
& Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1487 (2d ed.
1990)). As such, providing leave to amend would be futile, because
it would only result in further inadequate allegations as reflected
in the Plaintiffs’ opposition. See id. (citing Ayers v. Johnson,
247 Fed. App’x 534, 535 (5th Cir. 2007)).
For the reasons outlined above,
IT IS ORDERED that Penske’s motion is GRANTED and all of
Plaintiffs’ claims against Penske are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.3
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 26th day of April, 2016.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
While the above analysis reviews the motion under the Rule 12(b)(6) standard
and grants the motion as a motion to dismiss, it is alternatively granted as a
motion for summary judgment for the same reasons.
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