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Pylant v. Peterson

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

February 8, 2018

JOHNNIE L. PYLANT, JR., Plaintiff,
LORENZO C. PETERSON, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Johnnie L. Pylant, Jr. (“Pylant”) initiated this action against Defendants Lorenzo C. Peterson (“Peterson”), Silverstone Corporation (“Silverstone”), Everlast US, Inc. (“Everlast”) and AllState Insurance Company (“AllState”) (collectively “Defendants”) alleging state law claims for (1) negligence, (2) wantonness, (3) negligent and wanton entrustment, (4) negligent hiring, training, and supervision, and (5) uninsured motorist arising out of a motor vehicle collision. (Doc. 1). Defendants Peterson, Silverstone, and Everlast (collectively “Moving Defendants”) have moved for summary judgment as to Pylant's claims for wantonness (count 2), negligent and wanton entrustment (count 3), negligent hiring, training, and supervision (count 4), and as to all claims against Defendant Silverstone. (Docs. 23). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. (See docs. 23, 25, 26, & 27). For the reasons stated below, the motion for partial summary judgment, (doc. 23), is GRANTED.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, the discovery, and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits “show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” “Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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 Corp. v. Catrett, 447 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to establish there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The Court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). Any factual disputes will be resolved in Plaintiff's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports Plaintiff's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276-78 (11th Cir. 2002) (a Court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of the events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mtn. Park, Ltd. V. Oliver, 836 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         II. Summary Judgment Facts[2]

A. The Collision

         On the morning of February 24, 2014, Peterson left in Norcross, Georgia at 7:00 AM driving a small Isuzu box truck. (Doc. 23-2 at 9, 11, 13 (18:8:20; 26:19-21; 35:4-7)). On that day, he was traveling to Fairfield, Alabama to deliver ten caskets to Serenity Funeral Home. (Id. at 10 (22:12-19)).

         Prior to reaching his destination, Peterson entered a stretch of bumper-to-bumper traffic just past the location of the I-20/59 junction where I-20 from Atlanta meets I-59. (Doc. 23-2 at 13-14 (36:15-37:21)). He was traveling in the lane directly next to the far-left lane. (Id. at 14 (39:13-40:2)). At some point after entering the heavy traffic, when traffic stopped, he was right behind Pylant's vehicle. (Id. (38:15-39:3)). Once traffic started moving again, Peterson deliberately stayed still to leave a gap between his truck and Pylant's vehicle so that he could get over into the far-left lane to take the 22nd Street exit on the left. (Id. at 14-15 (39:4-12; 4:5-15)). Once he began moving again, he looked into his driver's side mirror for a few seconds to check for traffic. (Id. at 15-16 (44:16-23; 47:14-17)). Just before making the decision to change lanes, Peterson looked forward and noticed that traffic had stopped in front of him. (Id. at 16 (46:13-20)). At this point, Peterson was about ten yards from Pylant's vehicle and traveling at a speed of fifteen to twenty miles per hour. (Id. (46:5-7; 47:18-21)). Peterson explained it as “coasting, ” with his foot on the brake. (Id. at 16 (46: 8-19). Because traffic had stopped, Peterson did not have enough room to change lanes. (Doc. 23-2 at 16 (48:2-11)). Peterson's foot hit the brakes, but it was too late. (Id. at 15 (44:5-15)). The front of Peterson's truck hit the rear end of Pylant's vehicle. ( 17 (49:4-6)). Prior to striking Pylant's vehicle, Peterson was looking to the left and not at the traffic ahead of him. (Id.).

         B. Everlast, Silverstone, and the Isuzu Box Truck

         At the time of the collision, Peterson was working in his capacity as a sales representative for Everlast. (Doc. 23-2 at 7, 9 (11:22-21:1; 19:4-6)). Everlast is a wholesale distributor of caskets headquartered in Norcross, Georgia. (Id. at 30, ¶ 2). Everlast owns a small Isuzu box truck that Peterson was driving at the time of the collision. (Id. at 9, 11 (18:8-19, 25:10-15)). The truck has only two axels and does not require any specific qualifications to drive. (Id. at 21 (66:1-3, 66:22-67:1)). Prior to driving the box truck, Peterson was not provided with any type of driver manual or specialized training. (Id. at 11 (25:16-23, 26:1-2)). Peterson did not know the weight of the truck or how long it would take for the truck to stop. (Id. at 16 (48:18-23, 49:1-3)).

         Several years prior to this collision and before Everlast was established, Everlast's two founders were co-owners of Silverstone with a third individual. (Doc. 23-2 at 30, ¶ 3). Like Everlast, Silverstone was a wholesale distributor of caskets organized under Georgia law. (Id.). Because of a disagreement between Silverstone's three co-owners, Everlast's founders left and formed Everlast to operate the same line of business and essentially serve as a replacement company for Silverstone. (Id.).

         Silverstone no longer exists. (Doc. 23-2 at 31, ¶ 4). Silverstone was last registered under Georgia law in 2012, and the company was administratively dissolved on December 31, 2015. (Id. at 31, ¶ 4 & 37).

         At the time of the automobile collision, the Isuzu box truck that Peterson was driving was owned by Everlast and insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, with ...

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