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Hume v. Hughes

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

October 16, 2019




         This action arises from injuries plaintiff Joseph Michael Hume suffered after he entered an enclosure containing high voltage electrical equipment on the University of Montevallo campus in 2015.

         In 2002, defendant Mills-Conoly Engineering assessed the University of Montevallo's existing electrical-distribution system and prepared recommendations for corrective action to the system. (Doc. 76-5, p. 13). According to Mr. Hume, Mills-Conoly failed to identify deficiencies in the system, including safety code violations relating to the enclosure he entered. (Doc. 86, p. 4). Before the close of discovery, Mills-Conoly moved for summary judgment, arguing that Alabama's statute of repose bars Mr. Hume's claims. (Doc. 33). The Court permitted the parties to continue discovery and reset the dispositive motion deadline. (Doc. 69). Mills- Conoly then filed an amended motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 77). For the reasons explained below, the Court grants Mills-Conoly's motion for summary judgment.


         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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). To demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment motion, a district court must view the evidence in the record and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Asalde v. First Class Parking Sys., 898 F.3d 1136, 1138 (11th Cir. 2018). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).


         A. Mr. Hume's Injury

         The factual record in this case is extensive. The facts relevant to Mills-Conoly's motion for summary judgment are these: at the time of his accident, Mr. Hume was a sophomore at the University of Montevallo. (Doc. 76-68, p. 12). One summer evening, he and two friends began playing frisbee golf on the campus's “makeshift course.” (Doc. 76-68, pp. 19, 182). While playing, one of the frisbees fell into an unmarked enclosure connected to Farmer Hall, the University's Student Center. (Doc. 76-68, pp. 16, 36). One side of the enclosure is a chain-link locked fence; the other two accessible sides are brick. (Doc. 76-70; see also Doc. 76-68, pp. 42-43). From where Mr. Hume was standing, he faced a brick wall; Mr. Hume did not approach the enclosure from the chain-link side. (Doc. 76-68, pp. 42-43; see also Doc. 76-76 (photograph where Mr. Hume marks where he climbed onto the wall)). Mr. Hume asked his friends if they could retrieve the frisbee. (Doc. 76-68, p. 55). When his friends said that they could not get the frisbee from their side, Mr. Hume “hopped up on top of the wall and hopped in[to the enclosure] to recover the frisbee.” (Doc. 76-68, pp. 55-56). At the time of Mr. Hume's accident, there were no warning signs on the enclosure indicating that it was a high-voltage area. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 276, 298; Doc. 78-12, pp. 75-76).

         Mr. Hume swung into the enclosure, grabbed the frisbee, and moved to leave the enclosure. (Doc. 76-68, pp. 74, 79; see Doc. 76-79 (noting where the frisbee was inside the enclosure)). As he left the enclosure, Mr. Hume contacted a transformer and suffered a severe shock. (Doc. 26, ¶ 15; Doc. 76-68, pp. 89-90).

         Mr. Hume asserts that the enclosure should have had warning signs warning and a protective cover. (Doc. 26, ¶ 16). Mr. Hume contends that Mills-Conoly should have alerted the University to the enclosure's deficiencies and recommended installing warning signs and a protective cover. (Doc. 26, ¶¶ 138, 142).

         B. Mills-Conoly's Work for the University of Montevallo

         The University first hired Mills-Conoly in 1999 to replace its fire alarm system. (See Doc. 54-11, p. 1). By September 2001, Mills-Conoly had fully completed the fire alarm replacement project for the University. (Doc. 51-1, p. 30; Doc. 55-4).

         On October 26, 2001, the University and Mills-Conoly amended the 1999 agreement for the fire alarm replacement project. (Doc. 55-6, p. 3). According to the October 26, 2001 amendment, the University hired Mills-Conoly to look at Montevallo's existing electric system, verify what was there, and prepare recommendations for corrective action based on Mills-Conoly's engineering judgment about “what needed to be done.” (Doc. 55-6, p. 3; Doc. 51-1, pp. 32-33).

         In connection with Mills-Conoly's work under the 2001 amendment, Craig Mills, the President of Mills-Conoly, visited the University's campus several times to investigate and survey the University's existing electrical system. (Doc. 33-4, p. 3; Doc. 51-1, pp. 46-47). Mr. Mills testified that “[a] site visit would consist of taking any existing documents that we had that the [U]niversity provided to us, and creating a schematic and a site plan of the equipment that we surveyed . . . .” (Doc. 51-1, p. 46). According to Mr. Mills, the documents he received were not “very good, ” and the University “wanted [] [him] to prepare the as-built documents” because the University “didn't have anything up-to-date.” (Doc. 51-1, p. 47). During the site visits, Mr. Mills and University plant personnel looked at the University's electrical installations, “and if [they] saw anything that [they] felt like was a code issue, [they] would make a note of it and include it in [their] [] inspection report.” (Doc. 51-1, pp. 46, 48).

         Mills-Conoly's work under the 2001 amendment culminated in a “Primary Electrical Distribution Study for the University of Montevallo” dated October 24, 2002. (Doc. 33-4). The study identifies the scope of Mills-Conoly's work as follows:

The scope of this project involves investigating the existing campus primary electrical distribution system for deficiencies, determining the most feasible solution to alleviate deficiencies and estimating the cost to repair/replace system(s) as required. The existing primary distribution system(s) will be evaluated for code compliance/deficiencies based on applicable Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers ...

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