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Billingsley v. Mike Schmitz Automotive Group, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 26, 2014

JIMMY D. BILLINGSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MIKE SCHMITZ AUTOMOTIVE GROUP, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

W. KEITH WATKINS, Chief District Judge.

Before the court is Defendant Mike Schmitz Automotive Group, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 69), which has been fully briefed (Docs. # 70, 78, 79). The court construes Defendant's motion for summary judgment as including a Daubert motion to exclude the opinion testimony of Plaintiff's expert, Dr. Raymond Thompson. Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, the evidence, and the relevant law, the court finds that the motion for summary judgment is due to be granted, and the Daubert motion is due to be denied as moot.

I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

This court exercises diversity subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332(a).[1] Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To succeed on summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate "that 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). The court must view the evidence and the inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).

The party moving for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This responsibility includes identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. Or a movant who does not have a trial burden of production can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party "cannot produce admissible evidence to support" a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, advisory committee's note ("Subdivision (c)(1)(B) recognizes that a party need not always point to specific record materials.... [A] party who does not have the trial burden of production may rely on a showing that a party who does have the trial burden cannot produce admissible evidence to carry its burden as to the fact."). If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish - with evidence beyond the pleadings - that a genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence allowing a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in its favor. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

III. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jimmy Billingsley is a truck driver who transports cars between dealerships to facilitate trades. On June 17, 2011, he was in Dothan, Alabama, preparing to transfer a car from Defendant's business to another dealer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Plaintiff loaded a then-new 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL550 onto his tow truck and then prepared to enter the car to secure the emergency brake. When Plaintiff tried to open the driver's door, the door handle separated from the car, causing Plaintiff to fall backward from his truck bed onto concrete. Plaintiff and another witness, Linda Haden, [2] claim that the door handle simply fell off in his hand without any resistance. In other words, Plaintiff did not exert an extraordinary amount of force on the handle to cause it to break.

Plaintiff's account is disputed as some witnesses say that he pulled himself up onto the truck bed while grasping the car door handle. Plaintiff says that he weighed about 195 pounds in June 2011. Dr. Thompson performed tests and concluded that a person applies only 37.5% of his body weight against a car door handle in order to pull himself onto the bed of a tow truck. ( See Dr. Thompson's Report, at 4-5 (Doc. # 70-5, at 7-8).) Dr. Thompson opines that Plaintiff pulled on a defective door handle and that the handle's separation from the car door would have resulted regardless of the amount of pressure applied to the handle. ( See Dr. Thompson's Report, at 5.)

As a result of his fall, Plaintiff broke his tailbone and fractured his wrist, incurred medical costs, suffered lost wages, and continues to endure permanent injuries that require medical attention. On June 14, 2013, Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence and wantonness (Count One), negligent and wanton supervision or training (Count Two), negligent and wanton retention (Count Three), negligent and wanton hiring (Count Four), breach of implied warranty of merchantability (Count Six), breach of implied warranty for a particular purpose (Count Seven), breach of express warranty (Count Eight), breach of warranty (Count Nine), negligent and wanton inspection and failure to warn (Count Ten). ( See Compl.)[3] In May 2014, Plaintiff sought to amend his complaint to add Daimler North America Corporation, Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc., as defendants on the breach of warranty claims, but Plaintiff's motion was denied because he failed to show good cause for his failure to comply with the court's uniform scheduling order's deadline for motions to amend the pleadings. ( See Doc. # 66.)

IV. DISCUSSION

Defendant requests summary judgment as to "all the claims asserted by Plaintiff, " (Doc. # 70, at 1), but confronts only its alleged liability for negligence, ( See Doc. # 70, at 7 ("Plaintiff's claims are based exclusively in negligence....").) Plaintiff's responsive arguments likewise focus only upon a claim of negligence. ( See Doc. # 78, at 5-12.) Thus, Defendant's motion is actually one for partial summary judgment, and this opinion only addresses Plaintiff's negligence-based claims. The elements of negligence are a duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages. Prill v. Marrone, 23 So.3d 1, 6 (Ala. 2009). Defendant contests Plaintiff's ability to prove the first three elements.

Defendant asserts that Plaintiff must show that it owed him a duty of care. See DiBiasi v. Joe Wheeler Elec. Membership Corp., 988 So.2d 454, 460 (Ala. 2008) ("It is settled that for one to maintain a negligence action[, ] the defendant must have been subject to a legal duty.") (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff asserts that Defendant had a duty "to discover and warn" him about the "door handle's dangerous condition." (Doc. # 78, at 2.) Defendant contends that it had no knowledge of the defective or damaged door handle and thus had no ...


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