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Johnson v. McElroy Truck Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

January 20, 2015

YOLANDA JOHNSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND YOLANDA JOHNSON COURT APPOINTED CONSERVATOR, FOR AND ON BEHALF OF THE ESTATE OF RODNEY JOHNSON, ADULT WARD, Plaintiffs,
v.
MCELROY TRUCK LINES, INC., AND ROY MERRITT, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DAVID A. SANDERS, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. 48]. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part. This is a negligence action arising out of an automobile accident that occurred in West Point, Mississippi.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS

On December 4, 2015, the plaintiff, Rodney Johnson, sustained severe injuries in a twovehicle collision at the intersection of U.S. Highway 45 Alternate and Industrial Road. The accident occurred while plaintiff was making a left turn off of Highway 45 onto Industrial Road. At the same time, defendant Roy Merritt was travelling northbound on Highway 45 in a tractortrailer rig owned and operated by defendant McElroy Truck Lines, Inc. As plaintiff was completing his turn onto Industrial Road, Merritt's tractor-trailer collided into the passenger side of plaintiff's vehicle. Plaintiff's injuries required extensive care and a long hospital stay; therefore, his mother, Yolanda Johnson, was appointed conservator of his estate. On plaintiff's behalf and in her personal capacity, Yolanda Johnson filed suit in the Circuit Court for Clay County, Mississippi, but the suit was removed to this Court on February 13, 2014. This much is undisputed.

The plaintiff alleges that the accident and resulting injuries and damages were a direct and proximate result of both defendants' negligence. As to Merritt, the plaintiff claims that he was negligent per se in failing to obey a traffic control device, or in the alternative, that he was negligent in failing to yield the right of way to him. As to McElroy Truck Lines, the plaintiff claims it was negligent in hiring, training and retaining Merritt as an employee, and he claims that McElroy Truck Lines was negligent in failing to inspect, repair and maintain the tractortrailer rig involved in the collision. Moreover, the complaint provides that, as Merritt's employer, McElroy Truck Lines is vicariously liable for Merritt's alleged negligence.

The defendants have filed the present motion for summary judgment, arguing that: 1) the plaintiff has failed to offer any proof in support of his negligent hiring, training and retention claims; 2) the plaintiff has failed to offer any proof in support of his negligent inspection, repair and maintenance claims; and 3) in light of recent recantations of eyewitness testimony, the plaintiff has failed to create a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Merritt was at fault for the accident, thereby leaving necessary elements of his claims wanting and the defendants' offers of proof uncontroverted.

II. DISCUSSION

A. SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment must be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 requires that materials supporting or opposing the motion be admissible at trial.

Summary judgment is proper "where a party fails to establish the existence of an element essential to his case and on which he bears the burden of proof. A complete failure of proof on an essential element renders all other facts immaterial because there is no longer a genuine issue of material fact." Washington v. Armstrong World Indus., 839 F.2d 1121, 1122 (5th Cir. 1988) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). If the party with the burden of proof cannot produce any summary judgment evidence on an essential element of his claim, summary judgment is required. Geiserman v. MacDonald, 893 F.2d 787, 793 (5th Cir. 1990). The moving party must make an initial showing that there is no dispute of material fact or that there is a failure of proof of an element of the claim. If this showing is made, the nonmoving party must go beyond pleadings and submit specific evidence showing that there are one or more genuine issues of fact to be resolved by trial. In the absence of proof, the court does not "assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (emphasis omitted). While all facts are considered in favor of the nonmoving party, including all reasonable inferences therefrom, Banc One Capital Partners Corp. v. Kneipper, 67 F.3d 1187, 1198 (5th Cir. 1995), the nonmovant has the burden in responding to summary judgment to designate sufficient facts to show a material dispute to be resolved by trial.

This burden is not satisfied with "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. at 1356, by "conclusory allegations, " Lujan, 497 U.S. at 871-73, 110 S.Ct. at 3180, by "unsubstantiated assertions, " Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92 (5th Cir.1994), or by only a "scintilla' of evidence, " Davis v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 14 F.3d 1082 (5th Cir. 1994). Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.[1]

A dispute regarding a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if "critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant." Armstrong v. City of Dallas, 997 F.2d 62 (5th Cir. 1993). If the nonmoving party fails to meet this burden, the motion for summary judgment must be granted.

B. SUMMARY JUDGMENT GRANTED IN PART

1. Negligent Hiring, Retention, ...


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