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Brill v. Lawrence Transportation Co.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 20, 2018

Jay Brill, Plaintiff,
Lawrence Transportation Company, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable John J. Tuchi United States District Judge

         At issue is Defendants William Smith and Lawrence Transportation Company's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 70, Mot.), to which Plaintiff Jay Brill filed a Response (Doc. 73, Resp.), and Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. 77, Reply). The Court resolves Defendants' Motion without oral argument. See LRCiv 7.2(f).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant William Smith was employed as a truck driver by Defendant Lawrence Transportation Company. In the three years prior to his employment with Lawrence, Smith committed three moving violations and had two preventable accidents. Despite these incidents, representatives of Lawrence deemed him qualified for the truck driver position during the hiring process.

         On February 21, 2017, Plaintiff and Smith were involved in a collision on Avenue 7E in Yuma County, Arizona. Avenue 7E is a roadway consisting of two lanes heading westbound and two lanes heading eastbound, separated by a center turn lane. At the time of the collision, Smith was operating a trailer and truck in the course and scope of his employment with Lawrence. While driving eastbound, Smith realized he was driving in the wrong direction, and he pulled onto the shoulder of the roadway. After speaking with his dispatcher and realizing he needed to drive westbound, he executed a U-turn across all five lanes of Avenue 7E. At the same time, Plaintiff was heading eastbound, and his motorcycle collided with Smith's trailer. According to Lawrence's company policy, Smith was required to maintain logs detailing the performance of his duties and submit them at the end of specified periods of time. However, the logs pertaining to this trip are unaccounted for.

         In his Complaint (Doc. 1-1 at 5-9, Compl.), Plaintiff seeks damages for injuries caused by the alleged negligence of Smith and Lawrence, as well as punitive damages. Lawrence now moves for partial summary judgment on Plaintiff's punitive damages claim and on any direct negligence claims against it.


         Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when: (1) the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact; and (2) after viewing the evidence most favorably to the non-moving party, the movant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Eisenberg v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 815 F.2d 1285, 1288-89 (9th Cir. 1987). Under this standard, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing [substantive] law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A “genuine issue” of material fact arises only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must regard as true the non-moving party's evidence, if it is supported by affidavits or other evidentiary material. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Eisenberg, 815 F.2d at 1289. However, the non-moving party may not merely rest on its pleadings; it must produce some significant probative evidence tending to contradict the moving party's allegations, thereby creating a material question of fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57 (holding that the plaintiff must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment); First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968).

         “A summary judgment motion cannot be defeated by relying solely on conclusory allegations unsupported by factual data.” Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). “Summary judgment must be entered ‘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.'” United States v. Carter, 906 F.2d 1375, 1376 (9th Cir. 1990) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Negligence Claim

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff raises multiple claims alleging negligence on the part of both Smith and Lawrence. Although the negligence claims do not include specific theories of negligence, direct liability theories such as negligent hiring, entrustment, retention, training, and supervision on the part of Lawrence may be inferred. As a result, Lawrence has moved for partial summary judgment as to any potential claims of negligent hiring, entrustment, retention, training, and supervision that Plaintiff is raising. Lawrence admits that, under the doctrine of respondeat superior, it is vicariously liable for Smith's actions because Smith was acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision. (Mot. at 1-2.) However, Lawrence argues that, because it has conceded vicarious liability, any direct liability claims are subsumed and rendered superfluous by the vicarious liability claims.

         Lawrence cites Lewis v. Southern Pacific Company, in which the Arizona Supreme Court stated that “failure of an employer to hire only competent and experienced employees does not itself constitute an independent ground of actionable negligence.” 425 P.2d 840, 841 (Ariz. 1967). However, since Lewis, Arizona has adopted new theories of joint and several liability and comparative negligence. See A.R.S. § 12-2501. Additionally, multiple subsequent cases decided by the Arizona Court of Appeals have held that the holding in Lewis-that negligent hiring and supervision is not an independent ground of actionable negligence against the employer-is limited. See Quinonez in re Quinonez v. Andersen, 696 P.2d 1342 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1984); Pruitt v. Pavelin, 685 ...

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