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Manion v. Ameri-Can Freight Systems Incorporated

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 20, 2019

Zandra Manion, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Ameri-Can Freight Systems Incorporated, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          DOMINIC W. LANZA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case arises from a March 12, 2016 traffic accident that resulted in the instantaneous death of Johnathan Blyler (“the Decedent”). The vehicle that struck the Decedent's vehicle was a tractor-trailer being driven by Steven Robertson, an employee of Ameri-Can Freight Systems, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”). The plaintiffs in this lawsuit are (1) the Decedent's mother, Zandra Manion (“Mother”), who asserts a wrongful death claim under A.R.S. § 12-611 as a statutory beneficiary of the Decedent, and (2) the Decedent's wife, Lisa Blyler (“Wife”), who asserts both a wrongful death claim under A.R.S. § 12-611 in her capacity as a statutory beneficiary and a survival claim under A.R.S. § 13-1440 on behalf of the Decedent's estate (“the Estate”) (together, “Plaintiffs”).

         Now pending before the Court is a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Defendants. (Doc. 73.)[1] In Section A of their motion, Defendants seek summary judgment on five causes of action (negligent supervision, negligent retention, negligent maintenance, negligent hiring, and negligent training). (Id. at 3-9.) In Section B of their motion, Defendants seek summary judgment on the following four damage claims: (1) any claim for the Decedent's future wages asserted by the Estate as part of the survival action, (2) any claim related to the Decedent's pain and suffering, (3) any claim for the Decedent's future wages asserted by Mother or Wife as part of their respective wrongful death actions; and (4) any claim for punitive damages. (Id. at 9-16.)

         In response, Plaintiffs clarified that “[m]ost of the Motion is not opposed.” (Doc. 84 at 1.) Specifically, Plaintiffs stipulated to the dismissal and/or non-existence of all five of the causes of action specified in Part A of Defendants' motion. (Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiffs further stated that “Plaintiffs Manion and Blyler are not making claims for economic losses as part of their action for wrongful death” and that “Plaintiffs stipulate to the dismissal of their claim for punitive damages.” (Id. at 2.) Finally, in a separate response, the Estate stated that “no Plaintiff has made a claim for pain and suffering.” (Doc. 82 at 6.)

         Given these concessions and clarifications, the only disputed issue for the Court to resolve is the challenge to the Estate's ability to recover future wages as part of the survival action. In a nutshell, Defendants argue that such damages are unavailable for two reasons: (1) an estate cannot, as a matter of law, recover future economic losses in a survival action where the decedent died immediately, and (2) alternatively, the Estate's claim for future loss of income is too speculative. (Doc. 73 at 9-12; Doc. 87 at 2-7.) For the following reasons, the Court disagrees and denies the motion.[2]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A party moving for summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “In order to carry its burden of production, the moving party must either produce evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or defense or show that the nonmoving party does not have enough evidence of an essential element to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial.” Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). “If . . . [the] moving party carries its burden of production, the nonmoving party must produce evidence to support its claim or defense.” Id. at 1103.

         “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.'” Rookaird v. BNSF Ry. Co., 908 F.3d 451, 459 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “A genuine dispute of material fact exists if ‘there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.'” United States v. JP Morgan Chase Bank Account No. Ending 8215 in Name of Ladislao V. Samaniego, VL: $446, 377.36, 835 F.3d 1159, 1162 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986)). The court “must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inference in the nonmoving party's favor.” Rookaird, 908 F.3d at 459. Summary judgment is also appropriate 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, 477 U.S. at 322.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Whether The Estate Can Recover Future Loss Of Income In The Survival Action

         “A wrongful death claim and a survival claim are separate claims arising from the same incident.” Gandy v. United States, 437 F.Supp.2d 1085, 1086 (D. Ariz. 2006). Both types of claims are being asserted in this case: Wife and Mother have each asserted a wrongful death claim under A.R.S. § 12-611 and the Estate (acting through Wife) has separately asserted a survival claim under A.R.S. § 14-3110. In their motion, Defendants don't dispute the Estate's ability to assert a survival claim but argue the Estate should be barred from seeking one particular category of damages as part of that claim-economic damages arising from the loss of Decedent's future wages.

         Before addressing Defendants' argument, it is helpful to provide some background concerning the nature of survival and wrongful death actions under Arizona law. Both are creatures of statute. First, the Arizona survival statute provides:

Every cause of action, except a cause of action for damages for breach of promise to marry, seduction, libel, slander, separate maintenance, alimony, loss of consortium or invasion of the right of privacy, shall survive the death of the person entitled thereto or liable therefor, and may be asserted by or against the personal representative of such person, provided that upon the death of the person injured, damages for pain and suffering of such injured person shall not be allowed.

A.R.S. § 14-3110. “Under Arizona law, a claim under the survival statute may be brought only by a decedent's estate.” Gotbaum v. City of Phoenix, 617 F.Supp.2d 878, 883 (D. Ariz. 2008). The enactment of the survival statute “extended the right of a decedent's personal representative to pursue the decedent's personal injury claim ...


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