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Williams v. Hickox

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

May 31, 2019

JOHN WILLIAMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NICHOLAS HICKOX and ROW EQUIPMENT, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiffs John Williams, Terri Smith, and M.H. filed this suit against Defendants Nicholas Hickox and Row Equipment, Inc. (“Row”), asserting claims of negligence; wantonness; negligent/wanton hiring, training, supervising, and retention; negligent/wanton entrustment; and negligent/wanton maintenance, operation, service and/or repair. Doc. 14. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to have a magistrate judge conduct the proceedings in this case. Docs. 25 & 26. Pending before the court are Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 35) and Plaintiffs' Motions to Strike Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Wantonness Claims or to Consider Plaintiffs' Supplemental Evidence/Arguments. Doc. 47. After consideration of the parties' submissions, the applicable law, and the record as a whole, the court concludes that the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is due to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, that the Motion to Strike is due to be DENIED, and that the Motion to Consider New Evidence is due to be GRANTED.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds adequate allegations to support both.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “The purpose of summary judgement is to separate real, genuine issues from those which are formal or pretended.” Tippens v. Celotex Corp., 805 F.2d 949, 953 (11th Cir. 1986). “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 v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is genuine only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248.

         The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). In responding to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Indeed, the nonmovant must “go beyond the pleadings” and submit admissible evidence demonstrating “specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute] for trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). If the evidence is “merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted).

         When a district court considers a motion for summary judgment, it “must view all the evidence and all factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and must resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts in favor of the nonmovant.” Rioux v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 520 F.3d 1269, 1274 (11th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The court's role is not to “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “If a reasonable fact finder evaluating the evidence could draw more than one inference from the facts, and if that inference introduces a genuine issue of material fact, then the court should not grant summary judgment.” Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Ed. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1315 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Importantly, if the nonmovant “fails to adduce evidence which would be sufficient . . . to support a jury finding for [the nonmovant], summary judgment may be granted.” Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1370 (11th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Resolving all factual inferences in favor of Plaintiffs, the nonmovants, the facts are as follows.

         On February 28, 2017 around 5:30 a.m., Plaintiff John Williams was driving to work in Dothan, Alabama in his four-door Toyota Corolla sedan. Docs. 41-3 at 14 & 35-6. Family members Terri Smith and M.H. were riding in the car along with Williams. Doc. 41-3 at 14. The weather was clear and the road was dry. Doc. 35-4. Williams was driving about 65 miles per hour. Doc. 41-3 at 18.

         Earlier that morning around 2:00 a.m., commercial vehicle driver Hickox departed from Mississippi bound for Patterson, Georgia. Doc. 41-2 at 12-13. Driving a tractor-trailer rig consisting of a tractor and an empty lowboy trailer, Hickox eventually pulled behind Williams' Corolla. Doc. 35-5. Hickox's employer, Row, owned both the tractor and the trailer. Doc. 35-4 at 3. Hickox accelerated to within ten feet of the Corolla before swinging out into the left lane in order to pass Williams. Doc. 41-3 at 18. Hickox then activated his right turn signal as he moved back into the right lane. Doc. 41-2 at 14. As he did so, he struck the Corolla with his tractor (Doc. 41-2 at 14), forcing the Corolla onto the shoulder of the road. Doc. 41-3 at 18. Williams attempted to regain the highway, but was prevented from doing so when Hickox's trailer struck his car-the second impact between Hickox's tractor-trailer and Williams' Corolla. Doc. 41-3 at 18.

         Hickox did not stop after the collision, so Williams maneuvered back onto the road and followed Hickox for about a mile and a half before Hickox finally pulled over. Doc. 41-3 at 19. Hickox admitted to Williams that he knew that he struck his vehicle, but said that he could not stop because he needed to use the restroom. Doc. 41-3 at 19.

         Row had hired Hickox in 2017. Docs. 41-1 at 20 & 35-8. At the time he was hired, he had a valid Commercial Driver's License (“CDL”). Doc. 41-2 at 7. Though Hickox had not accumulated any driving violation points on his record at the time of the accident, he once had been charged with Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”), had received two tickets for traffic violations, and had been involved in one accident. Doc. 41-2. A few months after the collision with Williams, on July 16, 2017, Hickox was charged with a second DUI and a related speeding ticket. Doc. 41-2 at 7.

         Following the collision, Row completed an internal accident investigation report. Doc. 47-1. One question in the report asked, “What corrective actions can be taken to prevent recurrence?” In response, Hickox's supervisor indicated that Hickox “will ensure he makes necessary stops instead of trying to get to a specific stop and make sure he gets enough rest regardless if his body naturally wakes him.” Doc. 47-1 at 3. Another question asked, “What corrective actions have been taken to prevent recurrence?” Here, the report reveals that Hickox was reprimanded for not using extreme caution and for not getting enough rest. Doc. 47-1 at 3.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Before the court can evaluate the merits of the pending Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, the court addresses Plaintiffs' challenge to the argument and evidence ...


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