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Parker v. Miller

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

February 15, 2018

ERIC M. MILLER, et al., Defendants.

          Deavers Magistrate Judge.



         This matter is before the Court upon the Motion of Defendants Eric Miller, Dakotaland Transportation, Inc., and Fowlds Brothers Trucking, Inc. for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's Claims against Fowlds Brothers, and Motion for Partial Summary Judgment with Respect to Plaintiff's Punitive Damages Claim (“Defendants' Motion”) (Doc. 21). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Shanice Parker was involved in a single-car accident on April 12, 2016, while traveling eastbound on I-70 in Licking County, Ohio due to a malfunctioning tie rod in her vehicle. (Doc. 8, Am. Compl. ¶ 14). Parker's vehicle was disabled in the right-most lane of eastbound travel on I-70. (Id. ¶ 15). Shortly after, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Rodney Hart arrived in his patrol car and parked it in the right-most lane directly behind Parker's disabled vehicle. (Id. ¶ 16). Hart activated the emergency lights on his patrol car and placed road flares to indicate that oncoming traffic should move over into the middle or left-most lanes. (Id. ¶ 17). Hart also asked Parker to be seated in the front passenger seat of the patrol car so he could interview her regarding her single-car accident. (Id. ¶ 18). Within minutes, Parker was seriously injured when a tractor trailer driven by Defendant Eric Miller crashed into the parked patrol car in which Parker was seated. (Id. ¶¶ 19-28).

         At the time of the accident, Miller was a truck driver employed by Defendant Dakotaland Transportation, Inc. (“Dakotaland”) and was driving the truck as part of his job duties. (Id. ¶ 31). The truck involved in the accident was leased by Dakotaland from Defendant Fowlds Brothers Trucking, Inc. (“Fowlds”). (Id. ¶¶ 7-8; Doc. 21-1, PAGEID #309, Aff. of Jerald Fowlds, ¶ 5). Miller, Dakotaland, and Fowlds are all citizens of South Dakota, whereas Parker is a citizen of Ohio and/or Washington, D.C. (Doc. 8, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 3-5).

         In her Amended Complaint, Parker asserts claims for (1) negligence in operating a motor vehicle (against Miller); (2) statutory traffic violations establishing negligence per se (against Miller); (3) vicarious liability for Miller's negligence (against Dakotaland and Fowlds); (4) strict liability for Miller's negligence (against Dakotaland); (5) negligence in hiring, training, supervising, and retaining Miller (against Dakotaland and Fowlds); (6) statutory violations establishing negligence per se in the hiring, training, supervising, and retaining Miller (against Dakotaland and Fowlds); and (7) negligent entrustment of the tractor trailer to Miller (against Dakotaland and Fowlds). (Doc. 8, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 42-68).

         Defendants previously moved to dismiss Parker's claims for punitive damages against all three defendants. (Doc. 10). The Court granted that motion as to the claims for punitive damages against Dakotaland and Fowlds, but denied the motion as to the punitive damages sought from Miller. (Doc. 26).

         Defendants have now moved for summary judgment on all claims against Fowlds as well as partial summary judgment on Parker's claims for punitive damages against Miller. (Doc. 21). Defendants do not at this time seek judgment on any claims against Dakotaland.


         Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Summary judgment is appropriate when “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); Berryman v. SuperValu Holdings, Inc., 669 F.3d 714, 716-17 (6th Cir. 2012). The Court's purpose in considering a summary judgment motion 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 v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). A genuine issue for trial exists if the Court finds a jury could return a verdict, based on “sufficient evidence, ” in favor of the nonmoving party; evidence that is “merely colorable” or “not significantly probative, ” however, is not enough to defeat summary judgment. Id. at 249-50.

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of presenting the court with law and argument in support of its motion as well as identifying the relevant 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 issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). If this initial burden is satisfied, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see also Cox v. Kentucky Dep't of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 150 (6th Cir. 1995) (after burden shifts, nonmovant must “produce evidence that results in a conflict of material fact to be resolved by a jury”).

         In considering the factual allegations and evidence presented in a motion for summary judgment, the Court “views factual evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Barrett v. Whirlpool Corp., 556 F.3d 502, 511 (6th Cir. 2009). But self-serving affidavits alone are not enough to create an issue of fact sufficient to survive summary judgment. Johnson v. Washington Cty. Career Ctr., 982 F.Supp.2d 779, 788 (S.D. Ohio 2013) (Marbley, J.). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence to support [the non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 479 (6th Cir. 1995); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251.


         Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims against Fowlds as well as on the punitive damages claims against Miller. The Court will discuss each of these claims in turn.

         A. Claims against Fowlds

         Defendants argue that Fowlds cannot be vicariously liable for Miller's negligence in operating the truck, nor liable for its own negligence in hiring Miller or entrusting him with the truck, because Fowlds was merely the owner of the truck and not Miller's employer. Defendants are correct that each of the negligence claims against Fowlds require an employment relationship between Miller and Fowlds or that Fowlds itself entrusted the truck to Miller. Osborne v. Lyles, 63 Ohio St.3d 326, 329, 587 N.E.2d 825, 828 (1992) (vicarious liability); Peterson v. Buckeye Steel Casings, 133 Ohio App.3d 715, 729, 729 N.E.2d 813, 823 (10th Dist. 1999) (negligent hiring, supervision, training, and retention); Gulla v. Straus, 154 Ohio St. 193, 198, 93 N.E.2d 662, 665 (1950).[1]

         Parker counters that Dakotaland (whom the parties agree was Miller's employer at the time of the accident) is so related to Fowlds that they are essentially the same entity, and therefore Miller was also employed by Fowlds and Fowlds also entrusted the truck to Miller. Defendants do not challenge the claims of vicarious or direct negligence against Dakotaland in this motion; therefore, the only question before the Court is whether there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the identity of Fowlds and Dakotaland.

         1. The Graves Amendment

         Both parties argue for and against the close relationship between Dakotaland and Fowlds with reference to whether the two companies are “affiliates” as defined by the Graves Amendment. 49 U.S.C. § 30106. The Graves Amendment was enacted to limit vicarious liability for companies in the business of renting or leasing vehicles and who could not prevent a lessee from driving a vehicle to a state which might hold a vehicle owner strictly liable for the negligence of the driver. S ...

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