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Braho v. Liquid Transport Corp.

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

June 25, 2019




         Before the Court is the motion of defendant Liquid Transport Corporation and defendant Isaias Castellanos for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 31 [“Mot.”]). Plaintiffs filed their opposition (Doc. No. 38 [“Opp'n”]) and defendants filed a reply (Doc. No. 39 [“Reply”]). For the reasons discussed herein, defendants' motion for partial summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case stems from a motor vehicle accident between plaintiff Tracy Braho (“Braho”) and defendant Isaias Castellanos, Jr. (“Castellanos”). On November 18, 2014, Braho was driving eastbound, from Akron to Pennsylvania, on Interstate 76. (Doc. 35, Deposition of Tracy Braho [“Braho Dep.”] at 332-35.[1]) On that night, heavy snowing negatively affected driving conditions. (Id. at 335.) Drivers had slowed down on the interstate because of the weather conditions. (Id. at 335-36)

         Around 7:15 P.M., Braho was driving in the left lane, closest to the median, around mile marker forty-eight. (Id. at 336.) Around that same time, Castellanos was driving next to her in the right lane, pulling a liquid tanker for defendant Liquid Transport Corporation [“LTC”]. (Id. at 339.) At that point, Castellanos moved over into the left lane. (Id. at 339-40) The back-left side of Castellanos's tanker made contact with the right side of Braho's car. (Id. at 340.)

         After the accident, both drivers stopped at the next exit. (Id. at 343.) A police officer arrived on the scene and cited Castellanos for a lane violation. (Id. 352; Doc. No. 39-2, Castellanos Accident Report.) Braho was able to driver her car home after the accident and did not seek medical attention. (Id. at 351-53, 355.) Braho testified that she began to suffer adverse physical symptoms the next day, November 19, 2014. (Id. at 365.) On that day, while at work, Braho started experiencing headaches and a stiff neck and back. The next day, November 20, 2014, Braho went to the hospital for her symptoms. (Id.) At the hospital, Braho was diagnosed with a “cervical strain.” (Id. at 367.) On a second trip to the emergency room on November 30, 2014, Braho was diagnosed with “post-concussion syndrome.” (Id. at 369-70.) Despite treatments and surgeries, Braho has continued to experience body stiffness and headaches since the accident. (Id. at 392.)

         Braho and her husband, plaintiff Ronald Braho (“Ronald”), filed the instant case against LTC and Castellanos.[2] Braho alleges negligence against Castellanos, and vicarious liability, strict liability, and negligence against LTC. Further, Ronald alleges a loss of consortium claim against both defendants. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.

         The defendants moved for partial summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages against both defendants, and on plaintiffs' negligent hiring claim against LTC. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for the Court's review.


         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), when a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, it shall be granted “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.”

         An opposing party may not rely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, by affidavits or by materials in the record, the opposing party must set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Affidavits or declarations filed in support of, or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment “must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). A movant is not required to file affidavits or other similar materials negating a claim on which its opponent bears the burden of proof, so long as the movant relies upon the absence of the essential element in the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         In reviewing summary judgment motions, the Court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party to determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); White v. Turfway Park Racing Ass'n, 909 F.2d 941, 943-44 (6th Cir. 1990), impliedly overruled on other grounds by Salve Regina Coll. v. Russell, 499 U.S. 225, 111 S.Ct. 1217, 113 L.Ed.2d 190 (1991). A fact is “material” only if its resolution will affect the outcome of the lawsuit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Determination of whether a factual issue is “genuine” requires consideration of the applicable evidentiary standards. Thus, in most civil cases the Court must decide “whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the [nonmoving party] is entitled to a verdict[.]” Id. at 252.

         Summary judgment is appropriate whenever the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Moreover, “[t]he trial court no longer has the duty to search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479-80 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing Frito-Lay, Inc. v. Willoughby, 863 F.2d 1029, 1034 (D.C. Cir. 1988)). The nonmoving party is under an affirmative duty to point out specific facts in the record as it has been established that create a genuine issue of material fact. Fulson v. City of Columbus, 801 F.Supp. 1, 4 (S.D. Ohio 1992). The nonmoving party must show “more than a scintilla of evidence” to overcome summary judgment; it is not enough for the nonmoving party to show that there is some “metaphysical doubt” as to material facts. Id.


         In their motion, defendants seek summary judgment as to plaintiffs' claims for (1) negligent hiring, training, and retention, and (2) punitive damages. (Mot. at 230-31.)

         1. Negligent Hiring[3]

         Ohio law recognizes the tort of negligent hiring.[4] Byrd v. Faber, 565 N.E.2d 584, 589-90 (Ohio 1991). To establish a negligent hiring claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) the existence of an employment relationship; (2) the employee's incompetence; (3) the employer's actual or constructive knowledge of such incompetence; (4) the employee's act or omission causing the plaintiff's injuries; and (5) the employer's negligence in hiring or retaining the employee as the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. Plotner v. Swanton Local. Bd. of Educ., 85 F.Supp.2d 747, 755 (N.D. Ohio 2000) (citing Staten v. Ohio Exterminating Co., Inc., 704 N.E.2d 621, 623 (Ohio 1997)).

         The primary issue in a negligent hiring case is whether the employer knew, or should have known, of the employee's criminal or tortious propensities. Stephens v. A-Able Rents Co., 654 N.E.2d 1315, 1319 (Ohio Ct. App. 1995) (citing Byrd, 565 N.E.2d at 590). The plaintiff must focus on what the employer knew, not just what the employee did. Id. (citing Byrd). “If the plaintiff shows facts indicating the employee had a past history of criminal or tortious conduct about which the employer knew or should have known, summary judgment is improper and a question of fact is raised.” Id. Further, “[w]hen determining the foreseeability of a criminal act, a court must look at the totality of the circumstances, and only when the circumstances are somewhat overwhelming can an ...

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