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Debruyn v. Hernandez

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 4, 2019

John W Debruyn, et al., Plaintiffs,
Juan Jose Hernandez, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable Diane J. Humetewa United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 50).[1]Plaintiffs filed a Response (Doc. 53) and Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. 55).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On the night of April 1, 2016, Plaintiff Beverly Debruyn (“Mrs. Debruyn”) was driving south on Mohave Road in Parker, Arizona, while her husband, Plaintiff John Debruyn (“Mr. Debruyn”), was in the front passenger seat. (Doc. 51 ¶ 1; Doc. 54 ¶ 1). Further south on Mohave Road, Defendant Juan Hernandez (“Mr. Hernandez”), operating a tractor with a baler in tow, [2] turned left from Burns Street onto Mohave Road. (Doc. 51 ¶¶ 7-8, 21; Doc. 54 ¶¶ 7-8, 21). Once on Mohave Road, Mr. Hernandez proceeded south accelerating to the tractor's top speed of eighteen miles per hour. (Doc. 51 ¶ 8; Doc. 54 ¶ 8). About half a mile south of Burns Road, at the intersection of Fisher Road and Mohave Road, [3] Plaintiffs' vehicle struck the tractor from behind with a pre-impact speed of approximately fifty to fifty-five miles per hour. (Doc. 51 ¶ 10; Doc. 54 ¶ 10). Plaintiffs did not see the tractor before they collided with it. (Doc. 51 ¶ 11; Doc. 54 ¶ 11). Plaintiffs and Mr. Hernandez were transported by ambulance to La Paz Regional Hospital. (Doc. 51-7 at 4).

         The tractor, owned by Defendant Miguel Torres (“Mr. Torres”) and Torres Farms II, LLC (“Torres Farms”), was operated by Mr. Hernandez on April 1, 2016, as part of his employment for Torres Farms. (Doc. 51 ¶¶ 7-8, 21; Doc. 54 ¶¶ 7-8, 21). Mr. Hernandez has been an employee of Torres Farms since 1997, but he learned to drive a tractor in 1994 while working for a different farm. (Doc. 51 ¶ 21; Doc. 54 ¶ 21). Since he was hired by Torres Farms, he has never been disciplined for any activity and prior to the subject collision, he had never been involved in any farm equipment collision. (Doc. 51 ¶¶ 23, 24; Doc. 54 ¶¶ 23, 24).

         On April 5, 2017, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in Arizona state court, naming Mr. Hernandez, Mr. Torres, Torres Farms, and several fictitious individuals and entities as Defendants (collectively “Defendants”). (Doc. 1-2 at 2-8). In their four-count Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that: (1) Mr. Hernandez negligently “failed to yield the right of way” to Plaintiffs, which caused Plaintiffs' vehicle to collide with the rear of the tractor operated by Mr. Hernandez; (2) Mr. Hernandez “failed to yield the right-of way [sic]” to Plaintiffs in violation of A.R.S. § 28-856 and, therefore, Mr. Hernandez was negligent per se; (3) Mr. Torres and Torres Farms are vicariously liable for Mr. Hernandez's negligence and negligence per se; and (4) Mr. Torres and Torres Farms were negligent for hiring and retaining Mr. Hernandez as an employee and for entrusting Mr. Hernandez with the tractor. (Id. at 4-6). Plaintiffs have since abandoned their negligent failure to yield theory and now assert that Mr. Hernandez was negligently operating the tractor on Mohave Road without lights on. (Doc. 55 at 6-7).


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 56, summary judgment is properly granted when: (1) 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 clearly entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); 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). A fact is “material” when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact arises 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, and “all inferences are to be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Eisenberg, 815 F.2d at 1289; see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. 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 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. Count One: Negligence

         In their Motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' negligence claim against Mr. Hernandez, Count One of the Complaint, is limited to his failure to yield the right-of-way to Plaintiffs. (Doc. 50 at 4). Plaintiffs, however, contend that the Complaint must only provide notice of the claims against Defendants and that their negligence claim against Mr. Hernandez is broad enough to cover all forms of negligently operating the tractor that resulted in the collision. (Doc. 53 at 2, 4-6). In Count One, Plaintiffs state that Mr. “Hernandez failed to yield the right of way of [sic] Plaintiffs. . . . As a result of Defendants' negligence, Plaintiff [sic] suffered injuries.” (Doc. 1-2 at 4-5).

         Under Rule 8(a), [4] a claimant need not “set out in detail the facts upon which he bases his claim.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). Rather the complaint need only provide the defendant “fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Id. However, in some cases it is possible for a plaintiff to plead too much. Castillo v. Norton, 219 F.R.D. 155, 162 (D. Ariz. 2003) (“While a plaintiff is entitled to go beyond the requirements of Rule 8 and plead additional facts, it is well-established that if the plaintiff chooses to provide additional facts, the plaintiff cannot prevent the defendant from suggesting those same facts demonstrate the plaintiff is not entitled to relief.”) (internal quotation and citation omitted)); see also Romine v. Acxiom Corp., 296 F.3d 701, 706 (8th Cir. 2002) (“While notice pleading does not demand that a complaint expound the facts, a plaintiff who does so is bound by such exposition.”) (quotation omitted); Northern Trust Co. v. Peters, 69 F.3d 123, 129 (7th Cir. 1995) (“More is not necessarily better under the Federal Rules; a party ‘can plead himself out of court by . . . alleging facts which . . . demonstrate that he has no legal claim.'”) (quoting Trevino v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 916 F.2d 1230, 1234 (7th Cir. 1990)).

         In Count One, Plaintiffs specifically plead that Mr. “Hernandez failed to yield the right of way of [sic] Plaintiffs.” (Doc. 1-2 at 4-5). Count One is devoid of any other facts or allegations to support a broad and general negligence claim. Thus, despite Plaintiffs' contention that Count One is broad enough to cover all forms of negligent operation of the tractor, the Court finds that Plaintiffs are bound to the specific theory of negligence that they plead. In other words, Plaintiffs limited their negligence claim by specifically pleading that it was Mr. Hernandez's failure to yield the right-of-way that caused Plaintiffs' injuries.

         Plaintiffs have failed to provide any evidence demonstrating that Mr. Hernandez failed to yield the right-of-way to Plaintiffs. In fact, Plaintiffs state that they are no longer “advancing a theory that [Mr.] Hernandez was leaving Fisher Road and therefore failed to yield to Plaintiffs traveling on Mohave Road.” (Doc. 53 at 5). Accordingly, Plaintiffs' negligence ...

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