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Peter W. Keifer and Ruth C. Keifer, Husband and Wife v. Reinhart Foodservices

February 1, 2012

PETER W. KEIFER AND RUTH C. KEIFER, HUSBAND AND WIFE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
REINHART FOODSERVICES, LLC, REINHART TRANSPORTATION, LLC, SCOTT MATHENEY, WERNER ENTERPRISES, INC. A/K/A & D/B/A WERNER TRUCKING, AND JOEL BALTHAZAR, DEFENDANTS.
SCOTT E. MATHENEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOEL BALTHAZAR AND WERNER ENTERPRISES, INC. T/D/B/A WERNER TRUCKING, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.

CASE NO.: 2:09-CV-01558-JFC

CONSOLIDATED AT:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

This is a diversity action arising out of a motor vehicle accident occurring in the early morning hours of April 23, 2008, along the Pennsylvania Turnpike ("Turnpike"). Pending before the court are three separate motions for summary judgment filed by the parties pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. ECF Nos. 65, 88 & 91.

II. Background

A. The Parties

At all times relevant to this action, Joel Balthazar ("Balthazar") was an adult individual residing in Opa-Locka, Florida. ECF No. 1 ¶ 2. He was employed by Werner Enterprises, Inc. ("Werner"), which maintains its principal place of business in Omaha, Nebraska. Id. ¶¶ 3, 10. Scott E. Matheney ("Matheney") was an adult individual residing in Kent, Ohio. Id. ¶ 1. He was employed by Reinhart Foodservices, LLC ("Reinhart"), which maintains its principal place of business in Wisconsin. 09-CV-1187, ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 2-4. Reinhart has an office located in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Id. ¶ 2. Peter W. Keifer ("Keifer") and Ruth C. Keifer ("Ruth") are married to each other and are residents of Cumberland, Maryland. Id. ¶ 1. At all relevant times, Keifer was employed by Roadway Express, Inc. ("Roadway Express"), which maintained its principal place of business in Overland Park, Kansas. ECF No. 1 ¶ 5. Roadway Express later merged with Yellow Transportation, Inc., to form YRC Worldwide Enterprise Services ("YRC"). 09-CV-1187, ECF No. 31 ¶ 8.

B. The Accident

On the morning of April 23, 2008, Balthazar was hauling a cargo carrier on a flat-bed trailer attached to a tractor owned by Werner. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 1; 106 ¶ 1. Balthazar, who was a new driver at the time, was accompanied by his trainer, Michael Warnick ("Warnick"). ECF No. 97 ¶ 14. Balthazar was driving the tractor-trailer westward on the Turnpike near Cranberry Township, which is located in Butler County, Pennsylvania.*fn1 Id. ¶ 1. Balthazar briefly pulled the tractor-trailer onto a pull-off area along the road in order to defrost his windshield. ECF Nos. 67 ¶ 5; 73 ¶ 5. After clearing the windshield, he drove the tractor-trailer back onto the Turnpike and proceeded to drive down the right westbound lane. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 3; 106 ¶ 3.

As Balthazar was driving the tractor-trailer back onto the Turnpike, Matheney was operating a tractor-trailer owned by Reinhart in the right westbound land. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 4; 106 ¶ 4. The tractor driven by Matheney was pulling two fully-loaded tandem trailers at the rate of 65 miles per hour ("mph"). Id. Shortly before 4:30 A.M. on April 23, 2008, the front of Matheney's tractor collided with the rear end of the trailer being pulled by Balthazar. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 5; 106 ¶ 5. The trailers attached to Matheney's tractor rolled onto their left sides. ECF No. 90 ¶ 8; 106 ¶ 8. The second trailer slid into the left lane of the Turnpike, causing both westbound lanes to be blocked. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 9; 106 ¶ 9. Warnick was asleep inside of Werner's tractor at the time of the accident. ECF No. 97 ¶ 16.

When the collision occurred, Keifer was traveling westward on the Turnpike in a tractor owned by Roadway Express. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 13; 106 ¶ 13. His tractor was pulling a fully-loaded trailer weighing between 25,000 and 30,000 pounds at the approximate rate of 62 mph. ECF Nos. 90 ¶¶ 13-14; 106 ¶¶ 13-14. The tractor driven by Keifer crashed into the second trailer owned by Reinhart, which was blocking both westbound lanes of the Turnpike. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 17; 106 ¶ 17. Balthazar, Warnick and Matheney did not observe this second collision. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 20; 106 ¶ 20. Matheney and Keifer both sustained physical injuries. ECF Nos. 90 ¶¶ 19, 21; 106 ¶¶ 19, 21. Keifer was trapped inside of his vehicle until he was freed by emergency medical personnel and transported to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center ("UPMC") for treatment. ECF Nos. 90 ¶ 19; 106 ¶ 19.

C. Procedural History

Keifer and Ruth commenced an action against Matheney, Reinhart, Balthazar and Werner on September 1, 2009, alleging that Keifer's injuries was caused by the negligent driving of Matheney and Balthazar. 09-CV-1187, ECF No. 1. The claims asserted against Reinhart and Werner were premised not only on a theory of vicarious liability, but also on the idea that they negligently failed to train, monitor and supervise Matheney and Balthazar. Id. ¶ 12. The Keifers sought compensatory and punitive damages.

On October 9, 2009, Balthazar and Werner filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending that the allegations set forth by the Keifers were insufficient to justify an award of punitive damages. 09-CV-1187, ECF Nos. 6; 7. Balthazar and Werner filed an answer that same day. 09-CV-1187, ECF No. 8. Included within their answer were cross-claims against Matheney and Reinhart for indemnity, contribution and negligence.

Id. ¶¶ 28-37. Matheney and Reinhart filed their own motion to dismiss on November 2, 2009, arguing that an award of punitive damages could not be based on the allegations made by the Keifers. 09-CV-1187, ECF Nos. 18; 19.

Matheney commenced a separate action against Balthazar, Werner, Keifer and YRC on November 24, 2009, alleging that his injuries were attributable to the negligent driving of Balthazar and Keifer. ECF No. 1. He averred that Werner and YRC were vicariously liable for the actions of Balthazar and Keifer, and that Werner was directly liable for permitting Balthazar to operate a tractor-trailer without appropriate training, monitoring or supervision. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. The motions to dismiss pending in the other action were denied without prejudice on December 11, 2009. On December 14, 2009, Balthazar and Werner filed a motion to consolidate the two cases pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a)(2). 09-CV-1187, ECF No. 27. The motion was filed in the action that had been commenced by the Keifers. Eight days later, Matheney and Reinhart filed answers to the complaint filed by the Keifers and the cross-claims filed by Balthazar and Werner. 09-CV-1187, ECF Nos. 28 & 29. Their answer to the original complaint included cross-claims against Balthazar and Werner for contribution, indemnity and negligence. 09-CV-1187, ECF No. 29 ¶¶ 33-39. On January 12, 2010, Keifer and YRC filed an answer to Matheney's complaint and asserted cross-claims against Balthazar and Werner for contribution and indemnity. ECF No. 7. Balthazar and Werner similarly answered Matheney's complaint on January 25, 2010, and asserted cross-claims against Keifer and YRC for indemnity and contribution. ECF No. 8. Balthazar and Werner filed a motion to consolidate in Matheney's action on February 2, 2010, contending that the pending cases would be more efficiently managed as a single action. ECF No. 14.

On February 26, 2010, YRC sought leave to intervene pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24, averring that, as the successor to Roadway Express, it was entitled under Maryland law to recover the costs incurred by Roadway Express in connection with the accident. 09-CV-1187, ECF No. 31. YRC sought compensation for the property damage incurred by Roadway Express and the amount of workers' compensation benefits that Roadway Express paid to Keifer. Id. ¶¶ 4-8. The motion to intervene was granted on March 24, 2010, and YRC filed intervenor complaints in both actions one day later. ECF No. 28; 09-CV-1187, ECF Nos. 33 & 34. The motions to consolidate filed by Balthazar and Werner were granted in an order dated April 8, 2010, and the original action commenced by the Keifers was closed. ECF No. 19; 09-CV-1187, ECF No. 35. Balthazar and Werner answered YRC's intervenor complaint on April 22, 2010, and asserted cross-claims against Matheney and Reinhart for indemnity and contribution. ECF No. 26 ¶¶ 19-20. On April 27, 2010, Matheney and Reinhart filed a separate answer to YRC's intervenor complaint and asserted cross-claims against Balthazar and Werner for indemnity and contribution. ECF No. 30 ¶¶ 25-26.

Matheney and Reinhart filed a motion for partial summary judgment on May 11, 2011, contending that Balthazar was negligent per se in driving his tractor-trailer below the minimum speed of 50 mph at the time of the first collision. ECF No. 65. On August 17, 2011, Keifer and YRC moved for summary judgment with respect to all the claims asserted against them, arguing that there was no evidence suggesting that Keifer was negligent, or that Matheney's injuries were caused by the second collision. ECF No. 88. Reinhart filed a motion for partial summary judgment on August 22, 2011, contending that Keifer and YRC could not show that it was negligent in its training, monitoring and supervision of Matheney. ECF No. 91. That same day, Balthazar and Werner moved for partial summary judgment with respect to the Keifers' claims for punitive damages and all claims pertaining to Werner's training, monitoring and supervision of Balthazar. ECF No. 95.

In a stipulation filed on September 6, 2011, the Keifers withdrew their claims for punitive damages against Balthazar and Werner and all claims relating to Werner's training, monitoring and supervision of Balthazar. ECF No. 101 ¶ 2. Balthazar and Werner withdrew their motion for partial summary judgment concerning the claims asserted by the Keifers. Id. ¶ 1. The parties stipulated that Balthazar was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, and that Werner was vicariously liable for any torts committed by Balthazar in connection with the accident. Id. ¶ 3.

On September 12, 2011, Matheney filed a motion for voluntary dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2), seeking to withdraw his claims against Keifer and YRC. ECF No. 102. In a stipulation filed on September 14, 2011, Matheney withdrew his claims against Werner relating to the training, monitoring and supervision of Balthazar. ECF No. 103 ¶¶ 2-3. Balthazar and Werner withdrew their motion for partial summary judgment concerning the claims asserted by Matheney. Id. ¶ 1. It was agreed that Balthazar was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, and that Werner was vicariously liable for Balthazar's negligent conduct in the event that liability for negligence could be established. Id. ¶ 4. The court granted Matheney's motion for voluntary dismissal on September 16, 2011, and dismissed his claims against Keifer and YRC. ECF No. 108.

The motions for summary judgment filed by Matheney, Reinhart, Keifer and YRC remain before the court and are the subject of this memorandum opinion. ECF Nos. 65; 88; 91. The stipulations do not preclude these parties from arguing that Balthazar was negligent in failing to awaken Warnick before pulling Werner's tractor-trailer back onto the Turnpike. ECF No. 101 ¶ 4; ECF No. 103 ¶ 3.

III. Standard of Review

Summary judgment may only be granted where the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and that a judgment as a matter of law is warranted. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the court must enter summary judgment against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to his or her case, and on which he or she will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In evaluating the evidence, the court must interpret the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 147 (3d Cir. 2007). The burden is initially on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence contained in the record does not create a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable trier of fact could render a finding in favor of the nonmoving party. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). Where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may meet its burden by showing that the admissible evidence contained in the record would be insufficient to carry the nonmoving party's burden of proof. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond his or her pleadings and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id. at 324. The nonmoving party cannot defeat a well-supported motion for summary judgment by simply reasserting unsupported factual allegations contained in his or her pleadings. Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989).

IV. Discussion

Subject-matter jurisdiction in this case is predicated on the diverse citizenship of the parties. A federal court sitting in diversity must apply the choice of law rules applicable in the forum state. Klaxon v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., Inc., 313 U.S. 487, 496-497 (1941). In Griffith v. United Air Lines, Inc., 203 A.2d 796, 805 (Pa. 1964), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court abandoned the traditional lex loci delicti rule "in favor of a more flexible rule which permits analysis of the policies and interests underlying the particular issue before the court." The fact that the accident at issue occurred in Pennsylvania does not automatically mean that this case is controlled by Pennsylvania law. Budget Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc. v. Chappell, 407 F.3d 166, 177 n.9 (3d Cir. 2005)(explaining that the "chance occurrence" of an accident in Pennsylvania involving only domiciliaries of other states did not provide Pennsylvania with "an interest in applying its law"). Nevertheless, the lex loci delicti rule still "supplies the substantive law" governing a case in which no other jurisdiction's interests would be impaired by the failure to apply its law. Garcia v. Plaza Oldsmobile, Ltd., 421 F.3d 216, 220 (3d Cir. 2005). The parties briefed the substantive issues in this case in accordance with Pennsylvania law without relying on legal precepts applicable in the six interested jurisdictions. The court is aware of no state interests that would be impaired by its failure to apply the law of Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, Maryland or Kansas.*fn2 Therefore, the lex loci delicti rule applies, and the legal issues disputed in this case will be considered under Pennsylvania law. Budget Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc., 407 F.3d at 170; Miller v. Gay, 470 A.2d 1353, 1355-56 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1983).

A. Negligence Per Se "Negligence" is generally defined as "the failure to observe, for the protection of another's interest, such care and precaution as the circumstances demand, or the failure to do what a reasonable and prudent person would ordinarily have done under the circumstances." Howard v. Blalock Elec. Serv., Inc., 742 F.Supp.2d 681, 695 n.6 (W.D.Pa. 2010); Witt v. Norfe, Inc., 725 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1984); Seaboard Coast R.R. Co. v. Griffis, 381 So.2d 1063, 1065 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App. 1979). In order to recover damages from a defendant on a theory of negligence, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the defendant was under a "legally recognized duty or obligation" to act in a certain manner; (2) the defendant breached that "duty or obligation" by failing to act in accordance with that manner; (3) there was a "causal connection" between the defendant's breach and the invasion of an interest enjoyed by the plaintiff; and (4) the plaintiff was actually harmed or injured by the invasion of that interest. Eckroth v. Pa. Elec., Inc., 12 A.3d 422, 427 (Pa.Super.Ct. 2010). The motion for partial summary judgment filed by Matheney and Reinhart concerns only the first and second of these four elements. ECF No. 65.

Matheney and Reinhart contend that Balthazar was negligent per se in operating his tractor-trailer below the minimum speed permitted on the Turnpike. Id. ¶¶ 4-7.

The law concerning negligence per se "is so well established as to be beyond cavil."

C.C.H. v. Phila. Phillies, Inc., 940 A.2d 336, 347 n.17 (Pa. 2008). Pennsylvania courts have consistently held that an individual's violation of the motor vehicle code constitutes negligence per se. Gaskill v. Mellela, 18 A.2d 455, 457 (Pa. 1941); Jinks v. Currie, 188 A. 356, 358 (Pa. 1936); Behney v. Bolich, 986 A.2d 944, 946 n.1 (Pa.Commw.Ct. 2009); Lahr v. City of York, 972 A.2d 41, 49-53 (Pa.Commw.Ct. 2009). In this context, the statutory provision at issue establishes the applicable "duty" owed by the defendant, and the violation of that provision constitutes a breach of the defendant's "duty" of care. Cabiroy v. Scipione, 767 A.2d 1078, 1079 (Pa.Super.Ct. 2001). Although a finding of negligence per se satisfies the first two elements of a plaintiff's cause of action, it does not encompass the third and fourth elements. A plaintiff proceeding on a theory of negligence per se must further demonstrate that his or her injuries were caused by the defendant's violation of a statutory mandate. Lux v. Gerald E. Ort Trucking, Inc., 887 ...

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