United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
LOLITA PENNINGTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE AND WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF ANDRIANA HALL, et al. PLAINTIFFS
UPS GROUND FREIGHT, INC., a/k/a UNITED PARCEL SERVICE DEFENDANT
B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause comes before the court upon the defendant's motion
for summary judgment. Upon due consideration of the motion,
response, exhibits, and supporting and opposing authority,
the court is ready to rule.
and Procedural Background
instant wrongful death case arises from a three-vehicle
collision sequence. On April 14, 2016, at around 10:30 at
night, the decedent, Andriana Hall, was driving westbound on
Interstate 78 near Olive Branch, Mississippi. The posted
speed limit was 70 mph, it was raining heavily, and the
roadway was unlit. Hall was travelling at a speed of 77 mph,
as shown by the black box in her car, before her car
hydroplaned, spun out of control and crashed into the steel
cable barrier in the median between the eastbound and
westbound travel lanes.
car then bounced off the cable barrier, crossed the left lane
and crashed into a tractor-trailer driven by Sharanjit Parmar
in the right lane. During this collision, Hall's car slid
under the back, left-side of Parmar's trailer.
Subsequently, Hall's car came to a complete rest in the
left lane, perpendicular to oncoming traffic. At this point,
none of the exterior or interior lights in Hall's car
this time, two tractor-trailers were travelling on I-78 in
the left lane. The first, a cattle truck, saw Hall's car
and, without signaling, swerved quickly into the right lane
to avoid collision. The second tractor-trailer was driven by
James Capwell, an employee of UPS Ground Freight, Inc.
(“UPS”). Capwell had been driving with his cruise
control set on 66 mph; but, once he was able to see
Hall's car resting in the roadway, he hit his brakes.
Capwell, however, was unable to avoid impact and he struck
the passenger's side of Hall's vehicle (hereinafter
was pronounced deceased at the scene of the accident. No.
autopsy was performed. The DeSoto County Coroner's report
states that Hall died in an “accident” and that
the Hall's probable cause of death was “multiple
trauma (driver) due to car/18 wheeler crash. Car lost
control.” Hall's wrongful death beneficiaries filed
the instant suit on October 28, 2016, and assert claims for
negligence and gross negligence against UPS for Capwell's
alleged actions. UPS now moves for summary judgment and
argues that no genuine issues of material fact remain and
that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant 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). Courts have placed the burden upon the
moving party to show an absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 325 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the
burden then shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the
pleadings and . . . designate specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex
at 324. A genuine issue exists “if the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Before finding that no
genuine issue for trial exists, the court must first be
satisfied that no rational trier of fact could find for the
non-movant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view
the underlying facts in the “light most favorable to
the party opposing the motion.” United States v.
Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). As such, all
reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the
non-movant. Id. The Supreme Court has made it clear
that “at the summary judgment stage, the trial
judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and
determine the truth of the matter.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249. Instead, the inquiry performed by the trial
judge is merely a “threshold inquiry” of whether
a trial is needed. Id. at 250.
judgment, although a useful device, must be employed
cautiously because it is a final adjudication on the
merits.” Jackson v. Cain, 864 F.2d 1235, 1241
(5th Cir. 1989). The court has discretion to allow a
plaintiff's claims to proceed to trial.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Further, when a case
presents a “close call, ” courts generally find
this to favor the non-moving party. E.E.O.C. v. West
Customer Management Group, LLC, 899 F.Supp.2d 1241, 1258
(N.D. Fl. 2012) (citing Russsaw v. Barbour Cnty. Bd. of
Educ., 891 F.Supp.2d 1281, 1295 (M.D. Ala. 2012)).
law requires plaintiffs in wrongful death actions to
“establish that the conduct of the defendant
proximately caused the injury and death in question.”
White v. Yellow Freight System, Inc., 905 So.2d 506,
511 (Miss. 2004) (citing Berryhill v. Nichols, 171
Miss. 769, 773, 158 So. 470, 471 (1935)). To sustain this
burden, a plaintiff must introduce evidence demonstrating
that “it is more likely than not that the conduct of
the defendant was a cause in fact of the result.”
Burnham v. Tabb, 508 So.2d 1072, 1074 (Miss. 1987)
(citing W. Keeton, Prosser & Keeton on Torts, §
41 (5th ed. 1984)).
other words, the plaintiff must merely establish “some
reasonable connection” between the defendant's
actions and the decedent's death. Id. Further,
“causation may be established by circumstantial
evidence” so long as “the circumstances shown . .
. take the case out of the realm of conjecture and place it
within the field of legitimate inference.” Estate
of Gibson ex rel. Gibson v. Magnolia Healthcare, Inc.,
91 So.3d 616, 625 (Miss. 2012) (citing Tombigbee Electric
Power Ass'n v. Gandy, 216 Miss. 444, 454, 52 So.2d
567 (1953). In Mississippi courts, “it is only in rare
and exceptional cases that a civil case depending upon
circumstantial evidence ...