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Hill v. Tran

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

March 24, 2017

ASHLEY HILL, etc., Plaintiff,
TAI NHU TRAN, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docs. 166, 167). The parties have submitted briefs and evidentiary materials in support of their respective positions, (Docs. 166, 168-69, 171-75), and the motions are ripe for resolution. After careful consideration, the Court concludes that both motions are due to be denied.


         According to the amended complaint, (Doc. 56), the plaintiff's decedent (“Weaver”), while executing a left-hand turn from Highway 98 to First Street in Wilmer, Alabama, was struck by an 18-wheeler that was traveling the opposite way on Highway 98. The 18-wheeler was driven by the individual defendant (“Tran”), who was acting in the line and scope of his employment by the corporate defendant (“Enterprises”). Weaver experienced significant injuries, from which he expired.

         The amended complaint alleges three claims against both defendants: negligence, recklessness/wantonness, and wrongful death. The amended complaint alleges two additional claims against Enterprises: negligent/wanton entrustment and negligent/wanton hiring, training, retention and supervision. The defendants seek summary judgment as to all claims. The plaintiff seeks partial summary judgment only with respect to whether Tran was negligent.


         Summary judgment should be granted only if “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 party seeking summary judgment bears “the initial burden to show the district court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). The moving party may meet its burden in either of two ways: (1) by “negating an element of the non-moving party's claim”; or (2) by “point[ing] to materials on file that demonstrate that the party bearing the burden of proof at trial will not be able to meet that burden.” Id. “Even after Celotex it is never enough simply to state that the non-moving party cannot meet its burden at trial.” Id.; accord Mullins v. Crowell, 228 F.3d 1305, 1313 (11th Cir. 2000); Sammons v. Taylor, 967 F.2d 1533, 1538 (11th Cir. 1992).

         “When the moving party has the burden of proof at trial, that party must show affirmatively the absence of a genuine issue of material fact: it must support its motion with credible evidence ... that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial. [citation omitted] In other words, the moving party must show that, on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof, no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.” United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (emphasis in original); accord Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993).

         “If the party moving for summary judgment fails to discharge the initial burden, then the motion must be denied and the court need not consider what, if any, showing the non-movant has made.” Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116; accord Imaging Business Machines, LLC v. BancTec, Inc., 459 F.3d 1186, 1190 (11th Cir. 2006); Mullins, 228 F.3d at 1313; Clark, 929 F.2d at 608.

         “If, however, the movant carries the initial summary judgment burden ..., the responsibility then devolves upon the non-movant to show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. “If the nonmoving party fails to make ‘a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof, ' the moving party is entitled to summary judgment.” Clark, 929 F.2d at 608 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986)) (footnote omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (“If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may … consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion ….”).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence, and all reasonable inferences, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant ….” McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003).

         There is no burden on the Court to identify unreferenced evidence supporting a party's position.[1] Accordingly, the Court limits its review to the exhibits, and to the specific portions of the exhibits, to which the parties have expressly cited. Likewise, “[t]here is no burden upon the district court to distill every potential argument that could be made based upon the materials before it on summary judgment, ” Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995), and the Court accordingly limits its review to those arguments the parties have expressly advanced.

         I. Negligence.

         The subject accident occurred at approximately 5:48 p.m., or thirteen minutes after sunset. The plaintiff argues that Tran was both negligent and negligent per se because his vehicle's headlights were not turned on at the time of the accident.

         A. Negligence Per Se.

         “The doctrine of negligence per se or negligence as a matter of law arises from the premise that the legislature may enact a statute that replaces the common-law standard of the reasonably prudent person with an absolute, required standard of care.” Parker Building Services Co. v. Lightsey ex rel. Lightsey, 925 So.2d 927, 930-31 (Ala. 2005). There is no Alabama statute that directly requires a motorist to use headlights thirteen minutes after sunset. Instead, “[e]very vehicle upon a highway within this state … shall display lighted lamps and illuminating devices … [f]rom a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise.” Ala. Code § 32-5-240(a)(1)a. Tran was not in violation of this provision, and the plaintiff does not rely on it.

         Instead, the plaintiff points to a provision that “no person may operate a commercial motor vehicle in this state … in violation of the federal motor carrier safety regulations as prescribed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, 49 C.F.R. Part 107, Parts 171-180, Parts 382-384, and Parts 390-399 and as they may be amended in the future.” Ala. Code § 32-9A-2(a)(1). The Court assumes without deciding that, if any of the cited regulations require commercial vehicles to employ headlights thirteen minutes after sunset, Tran “violated the statute [Section 32-9A-2(a)(1)], ” Parker Building Services, 925 So.2d at 931, for purposes of negligence per se analysis. The plaintiff, however, identifies no such requirement in any of the cited regulations; the sole regulation she cites stands only for the unremarkable proposition that, if a regulation imposes a higher standard of care than does state law, the regulation must be complied with. 49 C.F.R. § 392.2.

         Rather than cite a federal regulation the violation of which would violate Section 32-9A-2(a)(1), the plaintiff relies on the Alabama Commercial Driver's ...

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