Dallas v. Premier Vehicle Transport, Inc. et al
ORDER granting 47 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 49 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Signed by Chief District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr on 08/07/2017 (Guirola, Louis)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
KAREN DALLAS, as Personal Representative
of the Estate of Melvin Dallas, III, deceased
CAUSE NO. 1:16CV358-LG-RHW
PREMIER VEHICLE TRANSPORT, INC.,
and CHRISTOPHER BROUS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING
PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT
AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
BEFORE THE COURT are the  Motion for Summary Judgment as to
Plaintiff’s Claim for Punitive Damages filed by the defendants, and the  Motion
for Partial Summary Judgment filed by the plaintiff, in which Plaintiff requests
judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability in this fatal vehicle accident
case. The motions have been fully briefed. After due consideration of the
submissions and the relevant law, it is the opinion of the Court that there remain
questions of material fact for the jury on the issue of liability. Accordingly, the
plaintiff’s Motion will be denied. The Court further finds that the facts of this case
do not merit punitive damages. Accordingly, the defendants’ Motion will be granted
and the punitive damages claim dismissed.
Plaintiff Karen Dallas is the mother and personal representative of Melvin
Dallas, III, who was killed in a motor vehicle accident in February 2015. At
approximately ten o’clock in the evening, Melvin was driving westbound on
Interstate 10 in Jackson County, Mississippi. Dense fog prevented Defendant
Christopher Brous, driving a Freightliner semi-truck, from seeing Dallas in time to
avoid striking him in a rear-end collision. Karen Dallas filed a complaint against
Brous and his employer, Premier Vehicle Transport, Inc., in Jackson County Circuit
Court under the Mississippi Wrongful Death Act, Miss. Code § 11-7-13. She seeks
compensatory damages against both defendants and punitive damages against
After the defendants removed the case to this Court, they moved for summary
judgment in regard to the demand for punitive damages against Premier, and the
plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment is granted when “there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Kemp v.
Holder, 610 F.3d 231, 234 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)). The “burden
of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant” and the movant must
merely show an “absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant’s
case.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010). The
nonmoving party must then come forward with specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Id. The Court must draw justifiable inferences in favor of
the nonmovant, provided there is sufficient evidence to draw the inference. State
Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman, 896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th Cir. 1990). There is “no
issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a
jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 249 (1986).
The plaintiff argues that the collision at issue here occurred because,
1. Brous was following too closely behind Dallas,
2. Brous was exceeding the posted speed limit of seventy miles per hour,
3. Brous failed to slow to forty-five miles per hour when he encountered the
fog conditions, and
4. that at the time of the collision Brous had been driving longer than
allowed by state and federal regulations.
FOLLOWING TOO CLOSELY
The general rule in Mississippi is that “when two vehicles are traveling in the
same direction, the duty of avoiding collision generally rests with the driver of the
following vehicle, and that driver is per se negligent if he runs into the leading
vehicle absent any emergency or unusual conditions.” Reese v. Summers, 792 So. 2d
992, 996 (Miss. 2001). “However, where there is evidence of an emergency or
unusual condition, this operates as a ‘non-rule’ that presents a jury question as to
whether the circumstances rise to the level of emergency or abnormal condition.”
Jamison v. Barnes, 8 So. 3d 238, 243 (Miss. Ct. App. 2008) (citation omitted); see
also White v. Miller, 513 So. 2d 600, 601 (Miss. 1987) (“[Mississippi] has never
adopted a per se rule that the driver of the following car is negligent if he collides
with the rear of a preceding vehicle.”). Here, the added factual element of fog
presents questions of fact on the issues of negligence and causation that preclude
judgment as a matter of law.
EXCEEDING THE SPEED LIMIT, FAILING TO SLOW DOWN, AND DRIVING LONGER
THAN ALLOWED BY STATE AND FEDERAL REGULATIONS.
It is significant to note that plaintiff seeks judgment as a matter of law on the
question of liability based on the claim of negligence per se on the part of Brous
because he exceeded the posted speed limit1, failed to slow down to forty-five miles
per hour when he encountered the fog2, and had been driving longer that permitted
by federal law3. There remains however the question of whether one, or any of
these alleged breaches of duty are casually related to the collision.
Mississippi recognizes the doctrine of negligence per se, which essentially
provides that breach of a statute or ordinance may render the offender liable in tort
without proof of lack of due care. Violation of a statute or ordinance constitutes
negligence per se and will support a cause of action in tort where (1) the plaintiff is
within the class protected by the statute, and (2) the harm sustained is the type
sought to be prevented by the statute. Even if a defendant breaches a statutory
duty and is within the class protected by the violation, the plaintiff must still show
that the violation proximately caused the injury. Simpson v. Boyd, 880 So. 2d 1047,
1052–53 (Miss. 2004); See also Boyer v. Tenn. Tom Constructors, 702 F.2d 609, 611
See Miss. Code Ann. § 63-3-501.
See Miss. Code Ann. § 63-3-505.
See 49 C.F.R. § 395.3 (a)(3).
[T]he negligence per se doctrine does not create a new cause of action. Rather,
it is a form of ordinary negligence, that enables the courts to use a penal
statute to define a reasonably prudent person's standard of care . . . The
effect of declaring conduct negligent per se is to render the conduct negligent
as a matter of law. Thus, a person whose conduct is negligent per se cannot
escape liability by attempting to prove that he or she acted reasonably under
the circumstances. However, a finding of negligence per se is not equivalent to
a finding of liability per se. Plaintiffs in negligence per se cases must still
establish causation in fact, legal cause, and damages.
Williams ex rel. Raymond v. Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P., 99 So. 3d 112, 116-17 (Miss.
2012) (citing Rains v. Bend of the River, 124 S.W. 3d 580, 589-90 (Tenn. App. 2003)
(internal citations omitted) (emphasis added).
Even assuming that Brous’ conduct was, in one or more regards, tantamount
to negligence per se, the plaintiff is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
the question of liability absent additional undisputed proof of causation.4 See Ill.
Cent. R. Co. v. Cryogenic Transp., Inc., 901 F. Supp. 2d 790, 809 (S.D. Miss. 2012)
(“Finding negligence per se applicable to a party’s actions, however, does not end
the inquiry.” ); Dooley v. Byrd, 64 So. 3d 951, 960 (Miss. 2011) (“When the statute
applies, the court may instruct the jury that the defendant is negligent for violating
the statute, but the jury must find that the violation caused or contributed to the
The Court expresses no opinion at this time as to whether one or all of these
alleged violations constitute negligence per se and whether plaintiff will be entitled
to a negligence per se instruction as trial.
B. Punitive Damages
Defendants argue that the facts of this case are not sufficiently egregious to
merit punitive damages. In response, Plaintiff argues that Brous’ failure to reduce
his speed when he encountered the fog and to follow drive time regulations
demonstrate a reckless disregard for the safety of others.5
Under Mississippi law, the recovery of punitive damages is disfavored and
permitted only in extreme cases. See Life & Cas. Ins. Co. of Tenn. v. Bristow, 529
So. 2d 620, 622 (Miss. 1988) (“Mississippi law does not favor punitive damages; they
are considered an extraordinary remedy and allowed with caution and within
narrow limits.”). “[S]imple negligence is not of itself evidence sufficient to support
punitive damages, but accompanying facts and circumstances may be used to show
that portion of defendant’s conduct which constituted proximate cause of the
accident was willful and wanton or grossly negligent.” Choctaw Maid Farms, Inc. v.
Hailey, 822 So. 2d 911, 924 (Miss. 2002) (citations omitted).
This Complaint demands punitive damages only from Premier. (Compare,
Compl. 3 ad damnum clause with Compl. 4-5 ad damnum clause, ECF No. 1-2). The
plaintiff alleges that Premier is vicariously liable for Brous’ negligence, but does not
allege that Premier itself acted with malice or gross negligence. (See Compl. 4-5,
ECF No. 1-2). Under Mississippi law, Brous’ conduct cannot be imputed to his
The plaintiff also makes an unsupported argument that Defendants’ failure
to produce the relevant portion of Brous’ log book should result in an award of
punitive damages. The Court is unaware of any authority allowing the imposition
of punitive damages as a sanction for a discovery violation.
employer for the purpose of awarding punitive damages. See, e.g., Doe v. Salvation
Army, 835 So. 2d 76, 82 (Miss. 2003); Dawson v. Burnette, 650 F. Supp. 2d 583, 586,
n.1 (S.D. Miss. 2009). The statute requires Plaintiff to “prove by clear and
convincing evidence that the defendant against whom punitive damages are sought
acted with actual malice, gross negligence. . . .” Miss Code Ann. § 11-1-65(1)(a)
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the defendants’
 Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s Claim for Punitive Damages is
GRANTED. Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages is dismissed.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the plaintiff’s 
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED.
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED this the 7th day of August, 2017.
Louis Guirola, Jr.
LOUIS GUIROLA, JR.
CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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