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Gibson v. AMGUARD Ins. Co.

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United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division

March 14, 2022, Decided; March 14, 2022, Filed

CASE NO. 3:21-CV-03248 (LEAD); CASE NO. 3:21-CV-03249 (MEMBER)

Reporter

2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45747 *

ACKEA GIBSON VERSUS AMGUARD INSURANCE CO ET AL

Core Terms

summary judgment, fault, material fact, supervision, nonmoving, training, genuine, hiring, vicarious liability, courts

Counsel:  [*1] For Renatta Phillips, Plaintiff (3:21cv3249): Earl Ross Downs, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Earl Ross Downs, III, Hayden Sierra Downs, Downs Law Firm (BASTROP), Bastrop, LA USA; Emily Wynn Downs, Downs Law Firm (MON), Monroe, LA USA.

For AmGuard Insurance Co, L L C Trucking Inc, Aliesky Diaz Perez, Defendants (3:21cv3249): Curt Lucien Rome, LEAD ATTORNEY, Perrier & Lacoste, New Orleans, LA USA; Cory Thomas Stuart, Larzelere Picou et al (MAN), Mandeville, LA USA.

For Ackea Gibson, Plaintiff (3:21-cv-03248-TAD-KDM): Daniel Randolph Street, LEAD ATTORNEY, Street & Street, Monroe, LA.

For Renatta Phillips, Consol Plaintiff (3:21-cv-03248-TAD-KDM): Earl Ross Downs, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Earl Ross Downs, III, Hayden Sierra Downs, Downs Law Firm (BASTROP), Bastrop, LA; Emily Wynn Downs, Downs Law Firm (MON), Monroe, LA.

For AmGuard Insurance Co, L L C Trucking Inc, Aliesky Diaz Perez, Defendants (3:21-cv-03248-TAD-KDM): Curt Lucien Rome, LEAD ATTORNEY, Perrier & Lacoste, New Orleans, LA; Cory Thomas Stuart, Larzelere Picou et al (MAN), Mandeville, LA.

For Louisiana Construction & Industry Assn, Burris Installation Services L L C, Intervenor Plaintiffs (3:21-cv-03248-TAD-KDM): Benjamin David Jones, LEAD ATTORNEY, [*2]  Anzelmo & Creighton, Monroe, LA; Donald J Anzelmo, Anzelmo Law, Monroe, LA.

Judges: TERRY A. DOUGHTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE. MAG JUDGE KAYLA D. MCCLUSKY.

Opinion by: TERRY A. DOUGHTY

Opinion


MEMORANDUM RULING

Before the Court is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 24] filed by Defendants AmGUARD Insurance Co. (“AmGUARD”), LLC Trucking Inc. (“LLC”), and Aliesky Diaz Perez (“Perez”). An Opposition [Doc. No. 26] was filed by Plaintiff, Renatta Phillips (“Phillips”) and a Reply [Doc. No. 28] was filed by AmGUARD, LLC, and Perez.

For the reasons set forth herein, the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 24] filed by AmGUARD, LLC, and Perez is GRANTED.


I. BACKGROUND

At issue herein is whether Phillips can simultaneously pursue both a negligence cause of action against Perez and a direct negligence claim for LLC’s alleged negligence in hiring, training, supervision, retention, and entrustment of Perez when LLC stipulated that Perez was, at the time of the accident, in the course and scope of his employment with LLC.

This lawsuit arises from a two-vehicle collision on I-20 West near La. 583 in Richland Parish, Louisiana, on August 31, 2020. The accident involved a 2006 Hyundai Tiburon owned and operated [*3]  by plaintiff Phillips, in which Ackea Gibson (“Gibson”) was a passenger, and a 2005 Volvo tractor-trailer rig owned by LLC and operated by Perez.

Phillips asserts negligence claims on the part of Perez for his operation of the vehicle, the liability of LLC under the theory of respondeat superior and the direct negligence of LLC in the hiring, training, retention, and supervision of Perez and/or negligent maintenance of the Volvo tractor-trailer.

In their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, AmGUARD, LLC, and Perez maintain Phillips cannot simultaneously maintain both respondeat superior claims and claims of direct negligence against LLC.


II. LAW AND ANALYSIS


A. Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence before a court 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). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

“[A] party seeking summary [*4]  judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those 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, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247). “The moving party may meet its burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact by pointing out that the record contains no support for the non-moving party’s claim.” Stahl v. Novartis Pharms. Corp., 283 F.3d 254, 263 (5th Cir. 2002). Thereafter, if the non-movant is unable to identify anything in the record to support its claim, summary judgment is appropriate. Id. “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3).

In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, courts “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence” and “must resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the non-moving party.” Total E & P USA Inc. v. Kerr—McGee Oil and Gas Corp., 719 F.3d 424, 434 (5th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). While courts will “resolve factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party,” an actual controversy exists only “when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory [*5]  facts.” Little v. Liquid Air. Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). To rebut a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must show, with “significant probative evidence,” that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Hamilton v. Segue Software, Inc., 232 F.3d 473, 477 (5th Cir. 2000) (emphasis added). “‘If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,’ summary judgment is appropriate.” Cutting Underwater Tech. USA, Inc. v. Eni U.S. Operating Co., 671 F.3d 512, 517 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

Relatedly, there can be no genuine dispute as to a material fact when a 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 Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. This is true “since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323.


B. Simultaneously Independent Causes of Action

In diversity cases such as this, federal courts must apply state substantive law. Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 79, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed 1188 (1938). In Louisiana, the principle of vicarious liability provides employers are “answerable for the damage occasioned” by their employees when the employees are exercising the functions of their employment. La. Civ. Code art. 2320. Vicarious liability in the employment context imposes liability upon the employer without regard to the employer’s negligence or [*6]  fault. Sampay v. Morton Salt Co., 395 So. 2d 326 (La. 1981). In such cases, the liability of the employer is derivate of the liability of the employee. Narcise v. Illinois Cent. Gulf Rail Co., 427 So. 2d 1192 (La. 1983).

AmGUARD, LLC, and Perez argue that three Louisiana appellate courts1 and all three Louisiana federal courts2 have applied Louisiana state law to bar these claims once the defendant-employer admits that its employer was in the course and scope of his employment at the time the employee’s alleged negligence occurred.

In opposition, Phillips argues specific language of Louisiana Civil Code Article 2323, governing comparative fault, warrants a different result. Phillips also argues that since the Louisiana Supreme Court has recognized claims of negligent hiring, training, and supervision as stand-alone causes of action distinct from the theory of vicarious liability,3 she should be allowed to pursue both claims simultaneously.

Phillips also cites two cases4 which held that a plaintiff could simultaneously pursue both actions.

This Court has addressed this issue on four prior occasions,5 all resulting in the dismissal of the negligent entrustment claims against the employer.

The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals also recently ruled that a plaintiff could not sustain an independent negligence claim against an employer [*7]  after the employer judicially admitted that its driver was an employee acting in the course and scope of the employer’s employment. The Supreme Court of Louisiana granted a writ application in this case on December 21, 2021. Martin v. Thomas, 328 So. 3d 1164 (La. 2021). Therefore, controlling authority on this issue forthcoming. Until that time, this Court will decide this issue on the basis of Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins.

In addressing Phillips’ arguments, although Phillips is correct that claims of negligent hiring, training, and supervision are stand-alone claims, these claims must be the proximate cause of injuries to the plaintiff. The fault of the employee that the employer allegedly negligently hired, trained, or supervised is necessary. When the employer stipulates that the employee is in the course and scope of employment with the employer at the time of the accident, the employer becomes vicariously liable for the employee’s fault6, and the allocation of fault to the employer no longer matters. The employer will be made to pay for plaintiff’s damages regardless of whether it is found liable vicariously or directly. No matter how much the employer is at fault in hiring, training, or supervising an employee, the employer does not proximately cause [*8]  damage to plaintiff unless the employee is at fault.

As noted by the Court in Coffey v. Knight Refrigerated, LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 189873, 2019 WL 5684258 (E.D. La., November 1, 2019), “this argument does not follow, because there is no need to allocate

fault between the parties when plaintiff’s vicarious liability claims make (the employer) entirely liable for (the employee’s) alleged negligence.”


III. CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth herein,

The Court finds the reasoning of AmGUARD, LLC, and Perez convincing, and therefore GRANTS their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 24]. LLC will remain a defendant to this proceeding due to the principal of vicarious liability.

MONROE, LOUISIANA, this 14th day of March 2022.

/s/ Terry A. Doughty

TERRY A. DOUGHTY

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE


JUDGMENT

For the reasons set forth in this Court’s Memorandum Ruling,

IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 24], filed by AmGUARD, LLC, and Perez is GRANTED, and Phillips’ direct negligence claims against LLC are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

MONROE, LOUISIANA, this 14th day of March 2022.

/s/ Terry A. Doughty

TERRY A. DOUGHTY

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COUR


End of Document


Wheeler v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 2019 La. App. LEXIS 1131, 2019 WL 2612903 (La. App. 1st Cir. 2019); Landry v. National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburg, 289 So. 3d 177 (La. App. 5th Cir. 2019); and Libersat v. J&K Trucking, Inc. 772 So.2d 173, La. App. 3rd. Cir. 2001) writ denied 789 So. 2d 598 (La. 2001).

Dennis v. Collins, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155724, 2016 WL 6637973 (W.D. La. November 9, 2016); Wilcox v. Harco International Insurance, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97950, 2017 WL 2772088 (M.D. La., June 26, 2017); and Wright v. Nat’l Interstate Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184182, 2017 WL 5157537, (E.D. La. November 7, 2017).

Harris v. Pizza Hut of Louisiana, Inc., 455 So. 2d 1364 (La. 1984).

Gordon v. Great West Cas. Co., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112281, 2020 WL 3472634 (W.D. La., June 25, 2020); and Roe v. Safety Nat’l Cas. Corp. 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112156, 2020 WL 3477071 (W.D. La. June 25, 2020).

Franco V. Mabe Trucking Co., Inc., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 198263, 2018 WL 6072016 (W.D. La. November 20, 2018); Vaughn v. Taylor, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5251, 2019 WL 171697 (W.D. La. January 10, 2019); Spiker v. Salter, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 235420, 2021 WL 5828031 (W.D. La., December 8, 2021); and Litt v. Berkshire Hathaway Homestate Ins., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23262, 2022 WL 391496 (W.D. La., February 8, 2022).

La. Civ. Code article 2320.

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