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Littlejohn v. Werner Enterprises, Inc.

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

June 23, 2015

GARY and PATRICIA LITTLEJOHN, as Co-Administrators of the ESTATE of CHRISTOPHER LITTLEJOHN, deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
WERNER ENTERPRISES, INC., and CLIVE CARVEY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Gary Littlejohn and Patricia Littlejohn, acting as co-administrators of the Estate of Christopher Littlejohn, commenced this personal injury action to recover compensatory and punitive damages from Clive Carvey and Werner Enterprises, Inc. ("Werner"). Presently pending before the Court are two motions for partial summary judgment [96, 100]. Upon consideration of the motions, responses, rules, and authorities, the Court finds as follows:

Factual and Procedural Background

In January 2014, Defendant Clive Carvey was operating a Freightliner truck owned by Werner while on U.S. Highway 72 in Tishomingo County, Mississippi. Carvey drove the truck past the weigh station at Iuka, Mississippi. He then stopped in the middle of the four lane highway and reversed in regular lanes of traffic to go back to the weigh station. As Carvey was backing his vehicle up, Christopher Littlejohn's vehicle collided with the rear of Carvey's vehicle, fatally injuring Littlejohn.

Plaintiffs brought suit in this Court, pursuing theories of negligence, gross negligence, and wantonness against both Carvey and Werner, as well as negligent hiring, negligent training, and negligent supervision against Werner. Plaintiffs have also alleged that, "[a]s principal of Defendant Carvey, " Werner is responsible for Carvey's conduct arising "within the scope of his agency...."

By previous memorandum opinion and order, the Court dismissed any punitive damages claims against Werner arising solely through vicarious liability for the conduct of Carvey. Defendants have since conceded that Carvey was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and that he was acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision.

In the motions now before the Court, Defendants seek dismissal of the direct negligence and punitive damage claims against Werner based on the company's alleged conduct, as well as any claim against either Defendant for lost earnings based on Littlejohn's prospective ownership of a Subway franchise.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and 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). A party may seek summary judgment on an entire claim or part of a claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a).

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." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). 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). However, 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); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

Analysis and Discussion

Direct Negligence Claims against Werner

Mississippi's federal courts have held direct negligence claims against an employer to be redundant and due to be dismissed where the employer has admitted vicarious liability for the injury caused by the actions of its employee. See, e.g., Dinger v. Am. Zurich Ins. Co., 2014 WL 580889, at *3 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 13, 2014); Welch v. Loftus, 776 F.Supp.2d 222, 225 (S.D.Miss. 2011). As stated above, Defendants have stipulated that Carvey was negligent and that he was within the course and scope of his employment with Werner at the time of the accident. Thus, Plaintiffs concede that their direct claims of negligent hiring, negligent training, and negligent ...


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