Harrison County Utility Authority v. Crawford Directional Drilling, LLC et al
ORDER denying 92 Motion for Summary Judgment Signed by Chief District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr on 04/19/2017 (Guirola, Louis)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
HARRISON COUNTY UTILITY AUTHORITY
CAUSE NO. 1:15CV264-LG-RHW
CRAWFORD DIRECTIONAL DRILLING,
LLC; SOUTHERN LIGHT, LLC; J. CRUZ
UTILITY CONTRACTORS; JORGE CRUZ;
and JERONIMO CRUZ
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED BY J. CRUZ
UTILITY CONTRACTORS AND JERONIMO CRUZ
BEFORE THE COURT is the Motion for Summary Judgment  filed by
Defendants Jeronimo Cruz and J. Cruz Utility Contractors. The Motion has been
fully briefed by the parties. After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the
record in this matter, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Motion for
Summary Judgment should be denied.
Defendant Southern Light hired defendant Crawford Directional Drilling to
install fiber optic lines in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi. Crawford subcontracted
the work out to Defendant Jeronimo Cruz and his company J. Cruz Utility
Contractors (hereafter collectively referred to as “Cruz”). The project plans called
for Cruz to install the lines via directional boring on the eastern side of Debuys
Road from just north of Pass Road in Biloxi to approximately thirty-five feet north
of Eula Street. (Def.’s Mot., Ex. B, ECF No. 92-2). At that point, the plans called
for Cruz to bore west, underneath Debuys Road.1 (Id.)
In preparation for the project, Cruz submitted a locate request to Mississippi
811, so that the locations of underground utilities could be marked. The locate
request stated, “BEGIN LOC AT INT OF DEBUYS RD & SWITZER RD, LOC
ENTIRE INT & CONT SOUTH ON EAST SIDE OF DEBUYS RD APPX 3000 FT
CROSSING PASS RD.” The parties agree that the request stated, in plain
language: “Begin locate at intersection of Debuys Road and Switzer Road
approximately 3000 feet, crossing Pass Road.” Switzer Road becomes Eula Street
just after its intersection with Debuys Road. Therefore, Switzer Road and Debuys
Road meet just south and east of the directional boring that Cruz performed for the
project. Upon receipt of this request, HCUA responded, “clear, no conflict,” which
generally means that the utility does not expect excavation to interfere with
underground utility lines, based on the description of the site given by the
excavator. (See Def.’s Mot., Ex. E at 32, ECF No. 92-5).
When Cruz was boring underneath Debuys Road, he struck one of HCUA’s
sewer lines. HCUA filed this lawsuit against Cruz and others2 seeking
reimbursement of the damages caused by the breach of the sewer line. Cruz argues
that he is entitled to summary judgment, because HCUA failed to properly mark
the sewer line in compliance with his Mississippi 811 locate request. HCUA
The western half of Debuys Road is in Gulfport, Mississippi, and the eastern half
is in Biloxi, Mississippi.
HCUA also sued Crawford, Southern Light, and Jorge Cruz. Jorge Cruz has not
been served with process. HCUA has notified the Court that it has settled its
claims against Crawford and Southern Light.
counters that Cruz was boring in an area outside of his locate request when he
struck the sewer line and that Cruz should have known he was in danger of striking
a sewer line because he saw green paint and a sewage pump station near the boring
A motion for summary judgment may be filed by any party asserting that
there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to prevail
as a matter of law on any claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The movant bears the initial
burden of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery on file, together
with any affidavits, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the movant
carries its burden, the burden shifts to the non-movant to show that summary
judgment should not be granted. Id. at 324-25. The non-movant may not rest upon
mere allegations or denials in its pleadings but must set forth specific facts showing
the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 256-57 (1986).
Miss. Code Ann. § 77-13-5 requires persons engaging in any kind of
excavation to provide advance written notice of the excavation work to the
Mississippi 811 system so that underground utility lines can be marked.
Excavators are also required to “[i]nform [themselves] of the presence and location
of any underground utility lines and underground facilities in or near the area
where excavation is to be conducted” and to “[p]lan and conduct the excavation to
avoid or minimize interference with or damage to underground utility lines and
underground facilities . . . .” Miss. Code Ann. § 77-13-5. Excavators who see
evidence of unmarked underground utility lines at the excavation site must contact
Mississippi 811 immediately. Miss. Code Ann. § 77-13-9(3). Excavators who
damage underground lines are responsible for “any and all costs and expenses
incurred by the operator in restoring, correcting, repairing or replacing the
damaged line” unless they have fully complied with the provisions of Miss. Code
Ann. § 77-13-5. Miss. Code Ann. § 77-13-7(3).
The act of giving notice in accordance with Section 77-13-5 shall relieve
the notifying party of all liability to a utility should such notice be
ignored or the information provided by the utility subsequent to said
notice be materially inaccurate; provided, however, the act of giving
advance notice and/or obtaining information as required by this
chapter shall not relieve any person making excavations from doing so
in a careful and prudent manner, nor shall it relieve such person from
liability for any injury or damage proximately resulting from his/her
Miss. Code. Ann. § 77-13-13.
Miss. Code Ann. § 77-13-9 requires persons owning or operating underground
utility lines to locate and provide notice of any underground utility lines “in or near
the area of the excavation, so as to enable the person engaged in excavation work to
locate the lines and facilities in advance of and during the excavation work.” Miss.
Code Ann. § 77-13-9(1). Sewer lines must be marked with “safety green” paint.
Miss. Code Ann. § 77-13-9(4).
Cruz argues that the area where he struck the sewer line was included in his
locate request, while HCUA argues that the area was outside the request. Thus,
the parties disagree over what should be considered an “entire intersection” for
purposes of fulfilling a Mississippi 811 locate request. HCUA responded “clear, no
conflict” to Cruz’s locate request, because HCUA believed, based on Cruz’s
description of the project area, that all excavation would be performed on the east
side of Debuys Road, while the sewer line was under the west side of Debuys Road.
(Def.’s Mot., Ex. E at 33, ECF No. 92-5; Pl.’s Resp., Ex. 7 at 58, 63, 65, ECF No. 977). HCUA’s agent has testified that he marked the sewer line in the southbound
lane of Debuys Road, but some witnesses have testified that no green paint was in
the intersection. (Pl.’s Resp., Ex. 7 at 20-21, ECF No. 97-7; Def.’s Mot., Ex. G at 37,
ECF No. 92-7; Def.’s Mot., Ex. C at 84, ECF No. 92-3). Thus, Cruz claims that
HCUA’s response to the locate request was misleading. HCUA also argues that
Cruz saw evidence that there were unmarked utility lines in the area, because he
noticed green paint and a HCUA sewage pump station while at the project site.3
(Pl.’s Resp., Ex. 5 at 57, ECF No. 97-5).
HCUA was required to locate and provide notice of any underground utility
lines “in or near the area of the excavation, so as to enable the person engaged in
excavation work to locate the lines and facilities in advance of and during the
excavation work.” See Miss. Code Ann. § 77-13-9(1) (emphasis added). The
question of whether HCUA complied with this requirement must be resolved by a
jury. Furthermore, Cruz was required to immediately contact Mississippi 811 if he
“saw evidence of unmarked underground utilities” upon arriving at the excavation
site. See Miss. Code Ann. § 77-13-9(3). The question of whether Cruz’s observation
Cruz testified that the green paint was about twenty to thirty-five feet away from
the bore line and the pump station was about fifty feet away. (Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 5 at
62, ECF No. 97-5).
of green paint and a sewage pump site constituted evidence of unmarked utilities at
the excavation site is a genuine issue of material fact. Furthermore, the question of
whether Cruz’s locate request adequately described the area in which the
excavation would be performed should be presented to a jury. As a result, Cruz’s
Motion for Summary Judgment must be denied.
The record in this matter raises numerous questions of material fact that
cannot be adjudicated as a matter of law by this Court. Furthermore, this may be a
case where a jury could reasonably assign a percentage of fault to both parties.
Therefore, Cruz has not demonstrated that he is entitled to summary judgment.
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Motion for
Summary Judgment  filed by Defendants Jeronimo Cruz and J. Cruz Utility
Contractors is DENIED.
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED this the 19th day of April, 2017.
Louis Guirola, Jr.
LOUIS GUIROLA, JR.
CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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