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Rice v. A&S Transportation, Inc.

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

February 23, 2017




         Charlene Rice originally filed this case in the Circuit Court of Lee County, Mississippi. A&S Transportation, Inc. removed the case to this Court on October 23, 2015, invoking diversity jurisdiction. A&S Transportation filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [8] requesting summary judgment in its favor on several issues. Rice responded [61], and A&S Transportation replied [68] making this motion ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The claims in this case arise from an automobile accident that occurred on June 4, 2012. The Plaintiff's automobile collided with a tractor-trailer driven by an employee of the Defendant after the driver of the tractor-trailer failed to stop at a stop sign, and failed to yield when merging into the lanes of oncoming traffic in which the Plaintiff was traveling. The Plaintiff sustained injuries in the accident and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Defendant A&S Transportation now requests summary judgment in its favor on all claims for damages related to the Plaintiff's right arm, including carpal tunnel, ulnar nerve, her middle finger, and disfigurement, and on the issue of punitive damages.[1]

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). 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 moving party “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, 106 S.Ct. 2548. 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. 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).

         Damages Related to the Plaintiff's Right Arm

         Sometime after the accident, the Plaintiff underwent surgeries for carpal tunnel, to her ulnar nerve, and to her middle finger. The Plaintiff alleges that she has scarring and disfigurement because of these surgeries and that these surgeries were necessary to treat injuries sustained in the accident. The Defendant argues that the Plaintiff cannot demonstrate, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the injuries to her right arm were caused by the accident. In support of its argument the Defendant points to particular portions of the deposition testimony of the Plaintiff's treating physician Dr. Alan Pritchard.[2] The Plaintiff responds by arguing that she can prove that her injuries were caused by the accident and that when Pritchard's testimony is considered in its totality, the requisite causal link is established.

         The Court has reviewed the record in this case and finds that the Parties' opposing arguments as to the causal link between the Plaintiff's injuries and the accident are the result of conflicting testimony, and specifically, differing interpretations of the physician's testimony. This is precisely the type of factual controversy inappropriate for weighing and credibility determination in the summary judgment context. See Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097. For this reason, the Defendant failed to demonstrate that the Plaintiff cannot establish the existence of an element essential to her case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Summary judgment is denied on the Plaintiff's claims for damages related to her right arm.

         Punitive Damages

         The Mississippi Code authorizes punitive damages if a claimant can “prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant against whom punitive damages are sought acted with actual malice, gross negligence which evidences a willful, wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of others . . . .” Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-65(1)(a). “Mississippi law does not favor punitive damages; they are considered an extraordinary remedy and are allowed ‘with caution and within narrow limits.'” Warren v. Derivaux, 996 So.2d 729, 738 (Miss. 2008) (citing Life & Cas. Ins. Co. of Tenn. v. Bristow, 529 So.2d 620, 622 (Miss. 1988); Standard Life Ins. Co. v. Veal, 354 So.2d 239, 247 (Miss. 1978)).

Punitive damages should be awarded in addition to actual or compensatory damages where “the violation of a right or the actual damages sustained, import insult, fraud, or oppression and not merely injuries, but injuries inflicted in the spirit of wanton disregard for the rights of others.... [In other words, there must be] some element of aggression or some coloring of insult, malice or gross negligence, ...

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