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Zawicki v. Armstrong

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 1, 2017

LEONARD ZAWICKI, Plaintiff
v.
MERWIN ARMSTRONG, JOEL THOMAS BARNEY, individually and d/b/a BARNEY TRUCKING and BARNEY TRUCKING, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES M. MUNLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the court for disposition is the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. The parties have briefed their respective positions, and the matter is ripe for disposition.

         Background [1]

         On October 15, 2014, Plaintiff Leonard Zawicki suffered personal injuries in an automobile accident. The accident occurred on Interstate 81 in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. A commercial tractor trailer operated by Defendant Merwin Armstrong struck plaintiff's vehicle from behind. Defendant Merwin worked for Defendant Barney Trucking, which is owned and operated by Defendant Joel Thomas Barney. The company is headquartered in Tully, New York.

         Plaintiff filed a two-count complaint to recover damages from the accident. The complaint includes the following two causes of action: Count I, a negligence claim against Merwin Armstrong; and Count II, a negligence claim against Joel Thomas Barney, individually and d/b/a Barney Trucking and Barney Trucking. (Doc. 1, Compl.). Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages as well as punitive damages. (Id.)

         At the conclusion of discovery, defendants moved for partial summary judgment. The parties have briefed their respective positions, bringing the case to its present posture.

         Jurisdiction

         The court has jurisdiction pursuant to the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff Leonard Zawicki is a citizen of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, Notice of Removal ¶ 5), and defendants are citizens of New Jersey and New York . (Id. ¶¶ 6-8). Additionally, the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Id. ¶ 10). Because complete diversity of citizenship exists among the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, the court has jurisdiction over this case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (“[D]istrict courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different states[.]”); 28 U.S.C. § 1441 (A defendant can generally move a state court civil action to federal court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction to address the matter pursuant to the diversity jurisdiction statute). As a federal court sitting in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania shall apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tomkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).

         Standard of review

         Granting summary judgment is proper “‘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 judgment as a matter of law.'” See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

         Discussion

         Defendants' motion raises several issues, including: 1) whether evidence supports a claim for punitive damages as to Defendant Merwin Armstrong; 2) whether evidence supports a claim against Joel Thomas Barney individually; and 3) whether evidence supports a claim for punitive damages as to defendants Joel Thomas Barney or Barney Trucking. We will address these issues separately.

         1. Punitive damages claim against Defendant ...


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