Pennington v. Parmar et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 113 Order on Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings. Signed by Senior Judge Neal B. Biggers on 02/12/2018. (bds) Modified on 2/13/2018 (jla).
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
LOLITA PENNINGTON, INDIVIDUALLY and
AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE and
WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF
ANDRIANA HALL, et al.
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:16-CV-00248-NBB-JMV
UPS GROUND FREIGHT, INC. a/k/a
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE
This cause comes before the court upon the defendant’s motion for partial judgment on
the pleadings. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, pleadings and applicable
authority, the court is ready to rule.
Factual and Procedural Background
On April 14, 2016, Andriana Hall, the decedent, was driving on US Highway 78 near
Olive Branch when her vehicle was clipped by Sharanjit Parmar, who was driving a tractortrailer for Parmar Trucklines. The contact caused Hall to lose control of her vehicle, spin, and
then come to a complete stop in the highway. Soon after, James Capwell, a tractor-trailer driver
for Defendant UPS Ground Freight, Inc. (“UPS”), broadsided Hall’s vehicle. Hall suffered fatal
injuries as a result of these collisions.
As Hall’s wrongful death beneficiaries, Plaintiffs filed the instant suit on October 28,
2016, and assert various claims against UPS including negligence for Capwell’s actions;
negligent hiring, supervision and retention; and gross negligence for Capwell’s actions. In its
answer, UPS admitted that Capwell was acting within the course and scope of his employment at
the time of the incident in question. UPS has further conceded that it is vicariously liable for
Capwell’s negligence, if any. UPS now moves for partial judgment on the pleadings.
Standard of Review
Pursuant to Rule 12(c), “[a]fter the pleadings are closed—but early enough not to delay
trial—a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). In considering a
12(c) motion to dismiss, courts employ the same standard as that of deciding a motion under rule
12(b)(6). Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.2d 305, 313 (5th
Cir. 2002). Accordingly, “[t]he central issue is whether, in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, the complaint states a valid claim for relief.” Hughes v. Tobacco Institute, Inc., 278
F.3d 417, 420 (5th Cir. 2001). Pleadings, therefore, are to be construed liberally, and “judgment
on the pleadings is appropriate only if there are no disputed issues of fact and only questions of
law remain.” Id. (citing Voest-Alpine Trading USA Corp. v. Bank of China, 142 F.3d 887, 891
(5th Cir. 1998)).
In moving for partial judgment on the pleadings, UPS argues that Plaintiffs’ direct
liability claims fail as a matter of law because it has admitted that Capwell was acting within the
course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident in question. District courts in
this state have routinely dismissed direct liability claims when an employer admits vicarious
liability, as UPS has done in the instant case. See Dinger v. American Zurich Ins. Co., 2014 WL
580889 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 13, 2014); Roberts v. Ecuanic Exp., Inc., 2012 WL 3052838 (S.D.
Miss. July 25, 2012); Welch v. Loftus, 776 F. Supp. 2d 222 (S.D. Miss. 2011); Chapman Lee v.
Harold David Story, Inc., 2011 WL 3047500 (S.D. Miss. July 25, 2011); Curd v. Western
Express, Inc., 2010 WL 4537936 (S.D. Miss. Nov. 2, 2010); Booker v. Hadley, 2009 WL
2225411 (S.D. Miss. July 23, 2009); Walker v. Smitty’s Supply, Inc., 2008 WL 2487793 (S.D.
Miss. May 8, 2008); Cole v. Alton, 567 F. Supp. 1084, 1087 (N.D. Miss. 1983).
These courts have reasoned that “once an employer admits it is liable for their
employee’s actions, evidence that pertains to the issues of the employer’s own negligence in
hiring or supervision becomes redundant and possibly unfairly prejudicial.” Dinger, 2014 WL
580889 at *2 (citations omitted). Further, because “it is the driver’s conduct that the causes the
accident . . . and not the negligence of the employer,” then “[p]roof of [negligent hiring,
supervision and retention] . . . is unnecessary and duplicitous at best, and at worst could provide
unduly prejudicial evidence that is ultimately irrelevant.” Id.
Although the Mississippi Supreme Court has not spoken directly on the issue, it has held
it to be error to admit testimony relevant to a direct liability claim when an employer has
admitted vicarious liability. Nehi Bottling Co. of Ellisville v. Jefferson, 84 So. 2d 684, 686
(Miss. 1956). Moreover, the Mississippi Court of Appeals has unequivocally held that dismissal
of direct liability claims is warranted when the employer concedes vicarious liability. Carothers
v. City of Water Valley, 2017 WL 2129701, at *5 (Miss. Ct. App. 2017).
It bears repeating that UPS has admitted that Capwell was acting within the course and
scope of his employment, and that, consequently, it is vicariously liable for his negligence, if
any. Thus, based on the undisputed above-cited authority, the court finds that Plaintiffs’ direct
liability claims asserted against UPS fail as a matter of law.
Based on the foregoing discussion, the court finds that the defendant’s motion for partial
judgment on the pleadings is well-taken and should be granted. A separate order in accord with
this opinion shall issue this day.
This, the 12th day of February, 2018.
/s/ Neal Biggers
NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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