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Levesque v. Oktan Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

February 6, 2018

AUDREY M. LEVESQUE, Plaintiff,
v.
OKTAN TRANSPORT, INC. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a civil action filed by the Plaintiff, Audrey Levesque, against the Defendant, Oktan Transport, Inc. (“Oktan”). (Doc. 1). The Complaint sets out counts for: negligence (Count One); wantonness (Count Two); negligent and wanton entrustment (Count Three); and negligent hiring, training & supervision (Count Four). All counts arise out of an automobile accident between the Plaintiff and Ramunas Blazys, who was driving on behalf of Oktan.[1]

         The case comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment against Oktan. (Doc. 35). As stated in the Motion, the Plaintiff moves for judgment on the negligence claim alone, and “[s]pecifically . . . requests this Court enter summary judgment in her favor as to the elements of duty, breach, causation, and the existence of damages (not the amount of damages).”) (Doc. 35 at 1). The Plaintiff “also requests summary judgment in her favor as to the affirmative defense of contributory negligence.” (Doc. 35 at 1).

         I. STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 2265 (1986) (“[S]ummary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). The party requesting summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings in answering the movant.[2] Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. By its own affidavits - or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file - it must designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         The underlying substantive law identifies which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d. 202 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. If the evidence presented by the non-movant to rebut the moving party's evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may still be granted. Id. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511.

         How the movant may satisfy its initial evidentiary burden depends on whether that party bears the burden of proof on the given legal issues at trial. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). If the movant bears the burden of proof on the given issue or issues at trial, then it can only meet its burden on summary judgment by presenting affirmative evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact - that is, facts that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial. Id. (citing United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991)). Once the moving party makes such an affirmative showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce “significant, probative evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable issue of fact.” Id. (emphasis added).

         For issues on which the movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it can satisfy its initial burden on summary judgment in either of two ways. Id. at 1115-16. First, the movant may simply show that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-movant's case on the particular issue at hand. Id. at 1116. In such an instance, the non-movant must rebut by either (1) showing that the record in fact contains supporting evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion, or (2) proffering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency. Id. at 1116-17. When responding, the non-movant may no longer rest on mere allegations; instead, it must set forth evidence of specific facts. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 358, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 2183, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996). The second method a movant in this position may use to discharge its burden is to provide affirmative evidence demonstrating that the non-moving party will be unable to prove its case at trial. Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. When this occurs, the non-movant must rebut by offering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict at trial on the material fact sought to be negated. Id.

         II. FACTS[3]

         A. The Accident

         On March 4, 2014, Levesque was the driver/operator of a Greyhound bus and was returning to Birmingham, Alabama after driving to Atlanta. She was driving her bus along Interstate 20 when she was involved in an accident with an eighteen wheeler driven by Blazys, on behalf of Oktan.[4] The Plaintiff testified in her deposition as follows:

Q. This truck that was involved in the accident with you, do you ever recall seeing that truck on the road prior to the accident?
A. Yes.
Q. Tell me about that, please.
A. He was behind me driving [erratically][5]. And I felt -- I came around and I passed him and went on down the road. He was crossing the line like in and out.

(Doc. 36-2 at 19(72)). The Plaintiff also testified that the bus she was driving had a speed governor on it which prevented the bus from exceeding 70 miles per hour. (Doc. 36-2 at 12(41)). The testimony continues:

Q. You were traveling faster than he was when you passed him?
A. Yes, sir. I had to pass him.
Q. But you couldn't have gone more than seventy to pass him, right?
A. That's right.
Q. Why did you pass him?
A. Because he was going in and out of the lane, crossing the line, coming -- I felt unsafe.
Q. After you passed him, do you recall ...

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