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Knoch v. J.B. Hunt Transport

November 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge




Presently before the Court are the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of U.S. Magistrate Judge Blewit (Doc. 63), and the Defendants' Objections to the R&R (Doc. 64). The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 38) be denied. The R&R will be adopted, and the motion for summary judgment will be denied.


The parties do not dispute that a motor vehicle accident occurred on June 28, 2006, when Plaintiff Christopher Knoch's ("Knoch") tractor trailer struck the tractor trailer of Defendant Michael Gunter ("Gunter") from behind. (Police Report, Doc. 38, Ex. B.) At the time of the accident, Gunter was an employee of Defendant J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. (Answer ¶ 5.) The accident occurred in the right most of the three northbound lanes of Interstate 81, near mile marker 152.4. (State Trooper Mrochko Dep. 14:1-8, May 4, 2009.)

A mile and a half before the scene of the accident, there is an on ramp where Interstate 80 merges into Interstate 81. (Id. 14: 17-22.) Gunter had merged from Interstate 80 onto Interstate 81 one to three minutes before the accident. (Gunter Dep. 61:15-24.) At the location of the accident, however, the ramp had ended leaving only three travel lanes. (Mrochko Dep. 14:23-15:6.) The roadway is straight and travels uphill at the location of the accident. (Id. 15:11-12, 16-17.) The speed limit in that area was sixty-five (65) miles per hour. (Id. 15:7-8.)

The Defendants assert that the negligence of Knoch caused the action. The investigating officers, State Trooper Mrochko, found that Knoch was the driver responsible for the accident. (Mrochko Dep. 25:20-26:2.) Knoch was cited for driving at an unsafe speed. (Id. 21:12-18.) Knoch took Prozac and Adderall on the date of the accident. (Knoch Dep. 35:10-14, 35:22-36:1.) Knoch woke somewhere between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning. (Id. 38:19-22.) The accident occurred at approximately 5:00pm. (Police Report, Doc. 38, Ex. B.) Knoch later told his boss, James O'Malley, that he was at fault for the accident. (James O'Malley Dep. 39:3-4.) Knoch also told O'Malley that he had been on the cell phone at the time of the accident. (Id. 39:5-7.)

Knoch failed to submit a statement of facts pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, permitting this Court to adopt the Defendants' statement of facts. U.S. ex rel. Paranich v. Sorgnard, 286 F. Supp.2d 445, 447 n.3 (M.D. Pa. 2003). Knoch's version of events, however, is relayed through the portions of his deposition attached by the Defendants. (Doc. 38, Ex. D.) Knoch first saw the Defendants' truck as he got close to it, perhaps from fifty (50) to seventy-five (75) yards away. (Knoch Dep. 50:9-12.) After seeing Gunter's truck moving on the side of the road or on-ramp, Knoch looked back to see if it would be possible to move from the right lane into the middle lane to allow Gunter's truck to enter the roadway. (Id. 50:13-17; 54:4-8.) Knoch testified that "by the time I looked back, [Gunter's truck] was already in front of me and I tried to swerve." (Id. 50:19-21.) Knoch also testified that Gunter's truck was completely in his lane by the time he looked back. (Id. 57:16-20.) Gunter's truck slowed at the time of the accident due to traffic in front of him. (Gunter Dep. 60:7-61:6.) Knoch also alleges that Gunter failed to have his hazard lights on as he should have when traveling at a slower speed.*fn1

The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on June 30, 2009. (Doc. 38.) In his R&R, Magistrate Judge Blewitt recommended that the Defendants motion for summary judgment be denied. (Doc. 63.) The Defendants objected to entirety of the R&R on October 26, 2009. (Doc. 64.) The motion for summary judgment has been fully briefed, and is now ripe for disposition.


I. Review of Report and Recommendation

Where objections to a magistrate judge's report are filed, the Court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the report, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989), provided the objections are both timely and specific, Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). In its de novo review, the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Owens v. Beard, 829 F. Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993) (McClure, J.). Although the review is de novo, the statute permits the Court to rely on the recommendations of the Magistrate Judge to the extent it deems proper. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76, 100 S.Ct. 2406, 65 L.Ed. 2d 424 (1980) ("Congress intended to permit whatever reliance a district judge, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, chose to place on a magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations"); Goney, 749 F.2d at 6-7; Ball v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 849 F. Supp. 328, 330 (M.D. Pa. 1994) (Kosik, J.). Uncontested portions of the report may be reviewed at a standard determined by the district court. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed. 2d 435 (1985) (the statute neither prevents nor requires a particular ...

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