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Laney v. Malone

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama

September 19, 2019

BENJAMIN BRADFORD LANEY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBERT K. MALONE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER[1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a personal injury action arising out of a motor vehicle accident. The operative pleading is the third amended complaint filed by Benjamin Bradford Laney (“Benjamin Laney”); Dax Jonathan Stiefel (“Stiefel”); and Gerald Don Laney, d/b/a Laney Electric, Limited Liability Company (“Laney Electric”), naming as defendants Robert K. Malone (“Malone”); The Cincinnati Insurance Company (“Cincinnati”); Mid-Century Insurance Company (“Mid-Century”); State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”); and Greenwood Motor Lines, Inc., d/b/a R Carriers (“Greenwood”). (Doc. 31). Before the undersigned is a motion filed by defendants Malone and Greenwood. (Doc. 36). The moving defendants request (1) dismissal of the plaintiffs’ wantonness claim; negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision claim; and negligent entrustment claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; (2) a more definite statement with respect to the plaintiffs’ other claims pursuant to Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; and (3) an allegation related to Greenwood’s accident history be stricken pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Id.). For the reasons discussed below, the motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Facts

         In relevant part, the plaintiffs allege that on or about May 17, 2018, Benjamin Laney and Stiefel were travelling north on Gault Avenue in a 2001 Chevrolet C34 pickup truck titled to Laney Electric (the “pickup truck”). (Doc. 31 at ¶ 9).[2] While acting as an agent of and in the line and scope of his employment with Greenwood, Malone was driving behind them in a 2015 Peterbilt 18-wheel truck (the “tractor-trailer”). (Id. at ¶¶ 9, 33, 37). When the plaintiffs slowed to allow a vehicle in front of them to make a right turn off Gault Avenue, Malone failed to slow, and the tractor-trailer collided with the rear end of the pickup truck. (Id. at ¶ 9).[3] Preceding impact, Malone was not maintaining a safe distance, was not looking ahead, was driving at a dangerous speed, was distracted by electronic devices, and was fatigued from working more hours than permitted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 15). Based on these allegations, the plaintiffs assert claims for negligence and wantonness against Malone. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-16). They seek to hold Greenwood liable for Malone’s negligence and/or wantonness on theories of agency and respondeat superior. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-39).

         The plaintiffs further allege Greenwood failed to use reasonable care in hiring, training, and/or supervising Malone. (Id. at ¶ 43). According to the plaintiffs, Greenwood knew or should have known Malone was incompetent and posed an undue risk of harm to others. (Id. at ¶¶ 44, 51). The plaintiffs claim that records maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that within the past 24 months, drivers employed by Greenwood have been involved in 461 accidents, including 12 accidents involves fatalities and 137 accidents involving injuries. (Id. at ¶ 45). Based on these allegations, the plaintiffs assert a claim for negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision against Greenwood. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-48).

         Finally, the plaintiffs allege Greenwood know or should have known Malone was a dangerous, reckless, heedless, indifferent, and/or incompetent driver. (Id. at ¶ 51). Based on this allegation, the plaintiffs assert a negligent entrustment claim against Greenwood. (Id. at ¶¶49-52).

         II. Discussion

         A. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Rule 12(b)(6) must be considered against the backdrop of Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8(a)(2) “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ’ in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ’ but it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[L]abels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” and “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement” are insufficient. Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         1. Wantonness

         “To hold a defendant liable for wanton conduct in Alabama, a plaintiff must establish a high degree of culpability.” Craft v. Triumph Logistics, Inc., 107 F.Supp. 3d 1218, 1220 (M.D. Ala. 2015). “While negligent conduct is characterized by inattention, thoughtlessness, or heedlessness and a lack of due care, wantonness is characterized by a conscious act.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Wantonness requires proof of “the conscious doing of some act or the omission of some duty while knowing of the existing conditions and being conscious that, from doing or omitting to do an act, injury will likely or probably result.” Ex parte Essary, 992 So.2d 5, 9 (Ala. 2007) (citing Bozeman v. Central Bank of the South, 646 So.2d 601, 603 (Ala. 1994)). “Knowledge need not be proven directly but may be inferred from the facts of the case.” Klaber v. Elliott, 533 So.2d 576, 579 (Ala. 1988).

         Alabama courts presume a defendant did not consciously engage in self-destructive behavior, that is behavior that would likely or probably cause harm not only to others but also to the defendant. See Ex parte Essary, 992 So.2d at 12. This presumption may be overcome by a showing the defendant’s judgment was impaired (e.g., by the consumption of alcohol) or that the conduct at issue was “so inherently reckless that [a court] might otherwise impute to [the defendant] a depravity consistent with disregard of instincts of safety and self-preservation.” Id. “ ‘Inherently reckless’ behavior, for example, might be driving in reverse on a major interstate, driving through an intersection at a very fast speed after ignoring a stop sign, or abruptly moving from the right lane into the left lane after seeing a video store on the left and deciding to stop and get a movie.” Craft, 107 F.Supp. 3d at 1222 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “In each of these instances, something more than mere inattention, that is, an exacerbating circumstance, contributed to the accident.” Id.

         The plaintiffs allege Malone was not maintaining a safe distance, was not looking ahead, was distracted by electronic devices, was fatigued from overwork, was driving at a dangerous speed, and failed to reduce that speed before making impact with their pickup truck. While the allegations, standing alone, demonstrate inattention or a lack of due care, taken together, they permit the inference Malone knew the way in which he was operating the tractor-trailer was likely or probable to cause injury. See Hicks v. Dunn, 819 So.2d 22, 24 (Ala. 2001) (“This Court has held that while speed alone does not amount to wantonness, speed, coupled with other circumstances, may amount to wantonness.”); Hornady Truck Line, Inc. v. Meadows, 847 So.2d 908, 916 (Ala. 2002) (holding speed at which driver was operating tractor-trailer, coupled with weather conditions and driver’s inattention, was sufficient to permit submission of wantonness claim to jury). Moreover, driving a tractor-trailer at a dangerous speed and unsafe proximity to another vehicle without looking ahead, while fatigued from overwork and distracted by electronic devices, suggests the kind of disregard for self-preservation necessary to rebut the presumption discussed ...


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