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Allen v. Fletcher

June 2, 2009

ROBERT W. ALLEN, III, AND DONNIE W. ALLEN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT W. ALLEN, JR. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FREDERICK A. FLETCHER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS, AND FREDERICK A. FLETCHER AND COWAN SYSTEMS, LLC, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BYNUM TRANSPORT, INC. AND BRUCE SCHNELL, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Cowan Systems, LLC ("Cowan") and Frederick Fletcher ("Fletcher"). (Doc. 47.) Plaintiffs Robert Allen, III, and Donnie Allen, individually and in his capacity as administrator of the estate of Robert Allen, Jr., filed a two (2) count complaint raising wrongful death and survival actions against the moving defendants as well as Defendant Amanda Schnell ("Schnell"). (Doc. 1.) Defendants Cowan and Fletcher move for summary judgment as to both counts of Plaintiffs' complaint. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion. The Court will deny the motion as to Plaintiffs' claims based on negligence. The Court will grant the motion as to Plaintiffs' claims based on negligent hiring. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 ("diversity jurisdiction").

BACKGROUND

This action arises out of a motor vehicle accident that took place late at night on January 16, 2006 on Interstate 476 southbound, near Scranton, Pennsylvania. Schnell was traveling the highway when she hit a patch of ice and flipped her vehicle. The vehicle rolled several times and came to rest on its roof in the roadway. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ¶ 10, Doc. 50) (hereinafter "Defs.' Statement").*fn1 The parties dispute exactly where the car came to rest. (Id.; Pls.' Counterstatement of Material Facts ¶ 10, Doc. 57) (hereinafter "Pls.' Counterstatement"). They do not dispute that, at this part of the highway, the north and southbound lanes were divided by a concrete barrier and there was an embankment to the right-hand side of the road. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 4; Schnell Depo. 17, Defs.' App., Ex. B, Doc. 48.)

Schnell crawled out the window of her vehicle and ran up the embankment in order to get out of the roadway. (Id. at 20-21.) The parties dispute whether, at this point, there was an interior light illuminated inside her disabled vehicle. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 11; Pls.' Counterstatement ¶ 11.)

The Plaintiff decedent, Robert Allen, was operating a tractor-trailer southbound on the highway when he came upon Schnell's disabled vehicle. He passed the vehicle,*fn2 pulled over to the highway shoulder about two hundred (200) feet away, put on his four-way flashers, and exited the tractor-trailer. (Pls.' App., Ex. D1, Doc. 58.)

Fletcher was also operating a tractor-trailer southbound on the highway when he came upon the disabled vehicle. He struck the Schnell vehicle, struck the concrete barrier, and then struck the parked tractor-trailer, also striking the decedent, who was still outside his vehicle. (Pls.' App., Ex. D1.)

Fletcher was employed by Cowan and operating a Cowan tractor-trailer. The moving Defendants admit that Fletcher was operating the vehicle in the course and scope of his employment with Cowan at the time of the accident. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 8.)

On April 18, 2007, Plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of the decedent, filed survival and wrongful death actions against Schnell, Fletcher, and Cowan. (Doc. 1.) Count I raises a survival action; Count II raises a wrongful death action. Plaintiffs' claims against all defendants are based on negligence and, in addition, as against Cowan, on negligent hiring. Crossclaims, counterclaims, and third-party claims have also been filed in the suit. (Docs. 8, 10.) In the instant motion, Fletcher and Cowan move for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' negligence claims against them both and Cowan moves for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' claim against it for negligent hiring. (Doc. 47.) This motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate 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(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Id. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute ...


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