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Patton v. Nissan North America, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

February 27, 2015


          For Kenyatta I. Patton, Plaintiff: Aafram Y. Sellers, LEAD ATTORNEY, SELLERS & ASSOCIATES, PLLC, Jackson, MS; Brice R. White, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE LAW OFFICE OF BRICE R. WHITE, PLLC, North Little Rock, AR; Reginald Paul Harrion, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE HARRION LAW FIRM, PLLC, Jackson, MS.

         For Hartford Casualty Insurance Company, Plaintiff: Peter L. Corson, UPSHAW, WILLIAMS, BIGGERS & BECKHAM, LLP, Ridgeland, MS.

         For Nissan North America, Inc., Defendant: James M. Tyrone, LEAD ATTORNEY, Caroline K. Ivanov, WATKINS & EAGER, PLLC, Jackson, MS; Mark D. Jicka, LEAD ATTORNEY, WATKINS & EAGER, Jackson, MS.

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         This personal-injury action is before the Court on Nissan North America, Inc.'s (" Nissan" ) Motion for Summary Judgment [37], pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. After considering the parties' submissions and hearing oral argument, the Court concludes that Plaintiff Kenyatta I. Patton has failed to establish that Nissan owed him a duty of care or that Nissan's alleged conduct proximately caused his injuries. Nissan's Motion for Summary Judgment [37] is therefore granted, and this action is due to be dismissed.[1]

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Kenyatta I. Patton is a former commercial truck driver for Specialized Transportation Services (" STS" ). On November 13, 2011, Patton picked up a trailer at Nissan's Canton, Mississippi plant that Nissan had already loaded. Though Patton was concerned that Nissan had not properly loaded and secured the cargo, he drove off without taking any corrective action. Two turns later, Patton heard a " pop," looked in his mirrors, and saw the trailer tip over and pull the tractor and Patton into a ditch. Patton was allegedly injured in the accident. Patton claims that the unsecured cargo caused the accident and sues Nissan for negligence and negligence per se. Compl. [1-1]. Following

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discovery, Nissan moved [37] for summary judgment. The Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction and is prepared to rule.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule " mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who 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. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment " bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then " go beyond the pleadings" and " designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324. In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, " but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam). When such contradictory facts exist, the court may " not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993) (per curiam).

         III. Analysis

         A. Negligence

         Patton contends that Nissan was negligent in the way it loaded and secured the cargo. To establish negligence, he must show duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Duckworth v. Warren, 10 So.3d 433, 440 (Miss. 2009). Nissan challenges Patton's proof on the duty and causation elements.

         1. Breach of Duty

         Whether Nissan owed Patton a duty is a question of law decided by the Court. See Rein v. Benchmark Constr. Co., 865 So.2d 1134, 1143 (Miss. 2004) (en banc). And in a majority of jurisdictions, the duties a shipper owes a carrier are established by the policy enunciated in United States v. Savage Truck Line, Inc., where the Fourth Circuit held that

[t]he primary duty as to safe loading of property is . . . upon the carrier. When the shipper assumes the responsibility of loading, the general rule is that he becomes liable for the defects which are latent and concealed and cannot be discerned by ordinary observation by the agents of the carrier; but if the improper loading is apparent, the carrier will be liable notwithstanding the negligence of the shipper.

209 F.2d 442, 445 (4th Cir. 1953); see also Whiteside v. United States, No. 1:11-CV-154, 2013 WL 2355522, at *6 (E.D. Tex. May 28, 2013) (" [T]he rationale embodied in the Savage rule is followed by a majority of jurisdictions." (collecting cases)). The parties dispute whether Mississippi would likewise adopt this rule. But as

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explained below, the specific facts of this case allow a decision based on existing Mississippi law that is in ways similar to Savage. There is no need to make an Erie guess whether ...

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