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Hume v. Hughes

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

October 28, 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. Defendants William Hughes and Kerry Loveless worked for the University of Montevallo at the time of Mr. Hume's accident. Mr. Hughes and Mr. Loveless ask the Court to enter judgment in their favor on Mr. Hume's negligence and wantonness claims against them. (Doc. 80). For the reasons explained below, disputed questions of fact preclude 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).


         The factual record in this case is extensive. The facts relevant to Mr. Loveless's and Mr. Hughes'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 in 2015, 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 to alert people that it contained dangerous high voltage equipment. (Doc. 26, ¶ 16). It is undisputed that years before Mr. Hume's accident, Mr. Loveless secured a warning sign to the enclosure.

         The University of Montevallo has owned and operated the Farmer Hall transformer since it was installed in the early 1960s. (Doc. 57-2, pp. 298, 483; Doc. 76-16, p. 93; Doc. 76-1, p. 3). William Hughes is the director of the physical plant for the University. (Doc. 78-12, pp. 110-11). Mr. Hughes supervises Kerry Loveless, the University's electrical supervisor. (Doc. 51-1, p. 182; Doc. 78-19, pp. 33-34). Mr. Hughes has no background as an electrician and assigned Mr. Loveless responsibility for electrical maintenance and safety on campus. (Doc. 78-13, pp. 16, 45-46).

         Mr. Hughes's responsibilities as “Director of Physical Plant” are detailed in the University's written position description for that job. (Doc. 78-17, p. 37). Item number 4 in the section titled “Essential Job Duties” states that the plant director:

Implement[s] program for continuous and reliable operation of facilities, including routine and preventative maintenance for all campus buildings, (including real property) and grounds including landscape maintenance, custodial services, plumbing, painting, carpentry, heating and cooling and electrical.

(Doc. 78-17, p. 37). Item 6 states that the plant director “[o]versees utility services for steam, chill water, drinking water, sewer, natural gas and electricity.” (Doc. 78-17, p. 38). And item 8 states that the plant director “[e]nsures organizational compliance with applicable codes, rules and regulations.” (Doc. 78-17, p. 38).

         Mr. Loveless's responsibilities as “Supervisor-Electrical Shop” are detailed in the University's written position description for that job. (Doc. 78-17, p. 45). The general description details the broad purpose of the job as follows: “to plan, develop, organize, direct and evaluate all aspects of the Electrical Department and provide supervision of department personnel.” (Doc. 78-17, p. 45). Mr. Loveless was, among other things, required to “[s]upervise and perform work on high and low voltage electrical systems”; “[p]articipate in the planning, layout and estimating of new or modified electrical systems and upgrades”; “[p]rovide technical guidance on jobs performed”; and “[e]nsure training of staff is consistent with the skill levels and requirements within the department.” (Doc. 78-17, pp. 45-46). Mr. Loveless had the ultimate responsibility for the electrical equipment and the enclosure involved in Mr. Hume's accident. (Doc. 78-20, p. 87).

         In 2002, Mills-Conoly, an engineering firm that the university retained to survey the campus's existing electric system and prepare recommendations for corrective action, (Doc. 55-6, p. 3; Doc. 51-1, pp. 32-33), advised the university that various transformer configurations on ...

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