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Pickens v. Guy's Logging Co.

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

August 6, 2018




         On October 25, 2016, Defendant Guy Enterprises, LLC (incorrectly identified in the complaint as Guy's Logging Company) (“Guy Enterprises”) removed this action from the Circuit Court of Sumter County, Alabama pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441(a)-(b), and 1446. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff Theodore Pickens (“Pickens”) alleges he was injured when he was struck by equipment being hauled on a Guy Enterprises' commercial 18-wheeler while he was a pedestrian standing on the shoulder of County Road 34 in Sumter County, Alabama. (See doc. 1-1). He asserts the following state law claims: (1) negligence, (2) recklessness/wantonness, (3) negligent and wanton entrustment, (4) negligent training, retention, and supervision, (5) respondent superior, and (6) fictitious defendants. (Id.). Guy Enterprises denies it's employee truck driver caused an accident or Pickens' injuries. (Doc. 10 at 1).

         Guy Enterprises moves for summary judgment as to all of Pickens' claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.[2] (Doc. 24). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 25, 27, and 28). As explained below, having considered the motion, briefs, and accompanying evidence, Guy Enterprises' motion for summary judgment (doc. 24) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and 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

         Pickens contends that on October 16, 2015, he was a pedestrian on the shoulder of County Road 34 in Sumter County and his left elbow was struck by a piece of oversized equipment on a tractor trailer owned and operated by Guy Enterprises. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 8; doc. 25-2 at 20-21 (72:8-74:2)).

         Beginning in 2007, Pickens and his wife, Sernaylia Pickens, (“Mrs. Pickens”) would make an annual trip from Birmingham to Panola, Alabama to operate Mrs. Pickens' food catering business for the Panola Day parade. (Doc. 25-2 at 13 (42:2-43:12); doc. 25-3 at 5 (11:3-16)). On October 16, 2015, Pickens, Mrs. Pickens, and Randy Clegg (“Clegg”) traveled to Panola, Alabama to set up for the parade that would take place the following day. (Doc. 25-2 at 13-14 (45:2-47:17)).

         Upon arrival in Panola, the Pickens parked their van and the trailer adjacent to the road on the shoulder. (Doc. 52-2 at 16, 23 (57:2-8, 83:21-23); doc. 25-3 at 11 (37:2-19)). A photograph depicting the approximate location of the area where the Pickens parked their vehicles and trailer is provided at document 25-4 at 2. Although Pickens brought lights with him to set up at the location, he did not have any lights operating at the time of the accident. (Doc. 25-2 at 18 (63:17-23)).

         At approximately 7:15 p.m., Pickens and Clegg began unloading equipment off the trailer. (Doc. 25-2 at 18-19 (65:2-7, 67:18-20)). After the equipment had been unloaded, Pickens and Clegg intended to close the trailer gate. (Id. at 19 (69:3-21)). Pickens was standing on the side of the trailer closest to the roadway, with his back to oncoming traffic, and he bent down to lift the trailer gate. Id. Pickens was on the shoulder of the road, but he does not know the distance he was standing away from the road. (Id. at 18 (63:7-11)). Pickens was then struck on the left elbow/arm by an object being hauled on a tractor trailer. (Id. at 19-20 (69:3-14, 73:20-21)).

         Pickens did not see or hear any vehicles approaching before the accident. (Doc. 52-2 at 20 (70:18-71:3)). Pickens first observed the tractor trailer after the accident. (Id. at 17, 20 (58:5-22, 72:1-14)). Pickens does not know the speed of the tractor trailer before the accident. (Id. at 21 (77:13-21)). After the accident, Pickens recalled the tractor trailer “not going that fast.” (Id.). Mrs. Pickens testifies she heard the tractor trailer approaching before the accident, but she did not observe the tractor trailer until after the accident. (Doc. 25-3 at 11 (34:4-5)).

         On the same day, Ronnie Gray was hauling equipment from a job site in his capacity as an employee for Guy Enterprises on County Road 34 in Panola, Alabama. (Doc. 25-5 at 14-15, 17 (52:16-54:7, 63:5-7)). Gray reduced his speed and activated his flashers while traveling through Panola, due to the people setting up on the side of the road in preparation for the parade. (Id. at 14-15 (52:16-53:3)). Gray testified he has no knowledge of making contact with any pedestrian that day. (Id. at 18 (66:21-67:6)).

         Following the accident. Mrs. Pickens identified the Guy Enterprises logo on the side of the tractor trailer as it continued down County Road 34. (Doc. 25-3 at 11, 16 (34:8-19; 54:1-4)). Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Pickens observed the same tractor trailer that was involved in the accident come traveling back through Panola and was able to obtain the license plate number of the escort vehicle accompanying the tractor trailer. (Id. at 16 (54:1-4)).

         On the date in question. Gray held a valid commercial driver's license (“CDL”). (Doc. 25-5 at 7 (21:9-22)). Gray obtained his CDL in 1993 and it has never been revoked or suspended. (Id.). Notwithstanding the events at issue in this case, Gray has never been involved in a vehicle accident while driving a commercial vehicle. (Id. at 8 (26:7-14)). Brad Guy (“Guy”), the owner of Guy Enterprises, had observed Gray drive before he was hired, and Guy obtained a reference from Gray's former employer when he was investigating Gray's driving history. (Doc. 25-6 at 7, 10-11 (22:2-16; 35:12-36:5; 38:9-39:20)).

         Although Pickens asserts that “Gray testified at his deposition that [Guy Enterprises] never offered any type of training regarding the operation of tractor-trailers and handling of large loads during his employment at [Guy Enterprises], ” (doc. 27 at 2 (citing doc. 27-7 at 14, 17 (52, 63)), Gray's testimony indicates he had already received training at a truck driving school in Vernon, Alabama and from prior employers where he drove commercial trucks and that Guy Enterprises hired him because he already had experience driving trucks, (doc. 25-5 at 8-9 (28:1-30:23)). Pickens also attempts to highlight Guy's testimony that Guy Enterprises did not provide any type of orientation or training to any of its employees, including Gray. (Doc. 27 at 2 (citing doc. 27-5 at 4-5 (11-12)). The cited deposition testimony does not support Pickens' assertion. However, Guy does later testify that, at the relevant time, Guy Enterprises “didn't per se back then have a safety program” (doc. 25-6 at 5 (16:12-14)), and explained that Guy Enterprises hires experienced drivers, like Gray, that have already been trained and who have a good driving record. (Doc. 25-6 at 7 (21:22-22:16)).

         Without citation, Pickens also asserts that “Gray testified that he was completely unfamiliar with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations that governed his conduct while operating a tractor- trailer.” (Doc. 27 at 2). Gray testified that he had read the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, but did not remember all of the regulations at the time of his deposition. (Doc. 25-5 at 8 (27:3-28:13)). Gray also testified that he received training on the Federal ...

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