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Contreras v. Brown

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 3, 2019

Arturo Contreras, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Chester David Brown, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          James A. Teilborg, Senior United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs Arturo Contreras and Jose Torres's (“Plaintiffs”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 69) and Defendants Chester Brown (“Defendant Brown”) and Legacy, Inc.'s (“Defendant Legacy;” collectively “Defendants”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 121). The Court now rules on the motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 16, 2018, Plaintiffs filed their pending Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 69). Defendants filed a timely Response (Doc. 82) on November 15, 2018, and Plaintiffs then filed a timely Reply (Doc. 96) on November 30, 2018.

         On February 20, 2019, Defendants filed their pending Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 121). Plaintiffs failed a timely Response (Doc. 127) on March 21, 2019, and Defendants then filed a timely Reply (Doc. 133) on April 5, 2019.

         The operative Complaint (Doc. 1-1) alleges the following causes of action: (i) negligence, (ii) negligent entrustment, and (iii) negligent hiring, training, and supervision. (Doc. 1-1 at 29-35).

         A. Facts

         The following facts are either undisputed or presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. On December 10, 2014, Defendant Brown was involved in a rear-end collision with Plaintiffs near Kingman, Arizona. (Doc. 69 at 2; Doc. 121-1 at 2). Defendant Brown was driving a loaded tractor-trailer directly behind Plaintiffs' vehicle. (Doc. 69 at 2; Doc. 121 at 2).[1] Plaintiff Torres was driving a 1994 Chevrolet Astro, in which Plaintiff Contreras was a passenger. (Doc. 69 at 2; Doc. 121 at 2). As the parties traveled on Interstate 40, two vehicles in front of the parties stopped suddenly. (Doc. 69 at 2; Doc. 121 at 2). Plaintiffs significantly slowed or stopped without impacting the vehicles in front of them, but Defendant Brown was unable to stop before colliding with the rear of Plaintiffs' vehicle. (Doc. 69 at 2; Doc. 121 at 2). Both parties pulled to the side of the road after the collision and later drove away from the scene without further incident. (Doc. 121-3 at 12; Doc. 121-4 at 23). The Court will discuss other relevant facts as necessary in the body of this Order.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support that assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits, or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” or by “showing that materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Id. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). Thus, summary judgment is mandated “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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         Initially, the movant bears the burden of demonstrating to the Court the basis for the motion and the elements of the cause of action upon which the non-movant will be unable to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to establish the existence of material fact. Id. A material fact is any factual issue that may affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The non-movant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts” by “com[ing] forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). A dispute about a fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. The non-movant's bare assertions, standing alone, are insufficient to create a material issue of fact and defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 247-48. However, in the summary judgment context, the Court construes all disputed facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Ellison v. Robertson, 357 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2004).

         At the summary judgment stage, the Court's role is to determine whether there is a genuine issue available for trial. There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence in favor of the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50. “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Id. (citations omitted).

         III. DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         The Court will first address Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 121). Defendants move for partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' direct negligence claims against Defendant Legacy.

         A. Vicarious Liability

         Defendant Legacy admits that, under the doctrine of respondeat superior, it is vicariously liable for Defendant Brown's actions because Defendant Brown was “acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision.” (Doc. 121 at 1). Defendants' argument follows that, because Defendant Legacy concedes vicarious liability, any direct liability claims against Defendant Legacy are “subsumed” and rendered superfluous by the vicarious liability claims. (Id. at 3-4). Recently, the District of Arizona addressed this argument-raised by the same Counsel, in a strikingly similar context-and this Court need not reinvent that analysis:

[Defendants] cite[] 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 P.2d 1347 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1984); Kassman v. Busfield Enterprises, Inc., 639 P.2d 353 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1981) (recognizing negligent hiring, training, and supervision as a separate cause of action against an employer).

Brill v. Lawrence Transp. Co., No. CV-17-01766-PHX-JJT, 2018 WL 6696815, at *2 (D. Ariz. Dec. 20, 2018); see also Salazar v. Flores, No. CV-16-08201-PCT-SPL, 2019 WL 1254661, at *2 (D. Ariz. Mar. 18, 2019) (holding-consistent with Brill-that “[b]ecause the Court finds that Quinonez applies, Plaintiff is permitted to bring both vicarious liability and direct negligence claims under Arizona law”).

         “As a result, the Court finds that Lewis is not controlling in this matter and Arizona law allows Plaintiff[s] to allege direct liability claims in addition to claims of vicarious liability.” See Brill, 2018 WL 6696815, at *2. Accordingly, Defendants are not entitled to partial summary judgment on this theory.

         B. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Alternatively, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' direct negligence claims against Defendant Legacy lack sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment. (Doc. 121 at 7).

         1. Negligent Entrustment

         To establish a negligent entrustment claim under Arizona law, Plaintiffs must prove the following elements:

(1) that Defendant[s] owned or controlled a vehicle; (2) Defendant[s] gave the driver permission to operate a vehicle; (3) the driver, by virtue of his physical or mental condition, was incompetent to drive safely; (4) the Defendant[s] knew or should have known that the driver, by virtue of his physical or mental condition, was incompetent to drive safely; (5) causation; and (6) damages.

Acuna v. Kroack, 128 P.3d 221, 227 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         In this matter, the undisputed fact that “[Defendant] Brown was operating his tractor-trailer under the motor carrier authority of [Defendant] Legacy” at the time of the accident satisfies the first two elements of negligent entrustment. (See Doc. 121 at 11). Defendants argue that Plaintiffs cannot satisfy the next three elements of negligent entrustment. (Id. at 10-11). Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiffs have not set forth evidence that: (1) “[Defendant] Brown was incompetent either physically or mentally to operate a tractor-trailer;” (2) “[Defendant] Legacy had reason to believe that [Defendant] Brown was incompetent;” or (3) that there is a “causal connection” between Defendant Legacy's alleged negligence and Plaintiffs' injuries. (Id. at 11; Doc. 133 at 5).

         Plaintiffs counter that, “[a]t the time of the crash, [Defendant] Brown was diabetic” and “also suffered from high blood sugar;” taking daily medication to control both conditions. (Doc. 127 at 4). Even so, Plaintiffs do not cite any regulation or other authority that demonstrates these conditions render Defendant Brown incompetent to operate a tractor-trailer or otherwise disqualify Defendant Brown from holding a commercial driver's license. (See Doc. 133 at 2). Conversely, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) provide that “an individual with diabetes mellitus treated with insulin for control must be medically examined and certified by a medical examiner as physically qualified;” and “a person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person . . . [h]as no current clinical diagnosis of high blood pressure likely to interfere with ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely.” 49 C.F.R. § 391.46 (regarding diabetes); 49 C.F.R. § 391.41 (regarding high blood pressure).

         Here, Defendant Brown held a valid Department of Transportation medical certificate at the time of the collision. (See Doc. 133-1). Defendant Brown's “Medical Examination Report” notes that his diabetes was controlled by pills-not insulin-and his blood pressure also met the required standards to maintain his certification. (Id. at 2-3). Thus, the Court finds that Defendant Brown was physically qualified and properly licensed to operate a commercial motor vehicle at the time of the collision. Moreover, Plaintiffs do not argue that Defendant Brown suffered from any mental condition that would render him incompetent to drive safely. (See generally Doc. 127). Accordingly, Plaintiffs cannot satisfy the third element of a negligent entrustment claim (or the subsequent elements, which are based on Defendant Brown's competency).[2] Thus, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claim for negligent entrustment.

         2. Negligent Hiring, Training, and Supervision

         Next, Defendants move for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' remaining direct negligence claim for negligent hiring, ...


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