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Rodney Shafer, Individually and D/B/A Reno Transport, and Brenda v. Tnt Well Service

September 26, 2012

RODNEY SHAFER, INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A RENO TRANSPORT, AND BRENDA SHAFER, APPELLANTS (PLAINTIFFS),
v.
TNT WELL SERVICE, INC., APPELLEE (DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Weston County The Honorable Michael N. Deegan, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] Appellant, Rodney Shafer, was injured when his tractor-trailer collided with a pickup owned by Appellee, TNT Well Service, Inc. ("TNT"), and driven by Melvin Clyde. Mr. Shafer and his wife, Brenda, brought suit against TNT, asserting theories of negligence and vicarious liability for damages resulting from the accident. The district court granted summary judgment to TNT on all of the Shafers' claims. The Shafers challenge that decision in this appeal. We reverse.

ISSUES

[¶2] The parties raise the following issues:

1. Did the district court properly determine there was no genuine issue of material fact that Mr. Clyde's employment with TNT Well Service, Inc. was terminated prior to the accident?

2. Should this Court adopt the duty recognized in Restatement (Second) of Torts § 317 and, if so, whether a duty of reasonable care can be imposed on the Appellee under the facts of this case?

3. Did the district court properly determine that the entrustment of a vehicle to Mr. Clyde was terminated prior to the accident and, if not, is there a genuine issue as to whether the entrustment was negligent?

FACTS

[¶3] Mr. Clyde was hired as a rig operator by TNT in early 2008. In order to perform his duties, Mr. Clyde was required to travel to various well sites within approximately 100 miles of Gillette, Wyoming. He was provided with a TNT pickup, which he also used to travel to and from his home in Upton.

[¶4] On February 12, 2009, at approximately 5:30 p.m., Mr. Clyde was driving to Newcastle, Wyoming in the TNT pickup when it crossed the centerline of Highway 16 and collided head-on with Mr. Shafer's tractor-trailer. Mr. Clyde was pronounced dead at the scene. A post-accident blood test revealed the presence of controlled substances in his blood. Mr. Shafer was injured in the collision, and his tractor-trailer was damaged beyond repair.

[¶5] The Shafers brought suit against TNT claiming that (1) TNT was vicariously liable for Mr. Clyde's negligence under the doctrine of respondeat superior, (2) TNT was negligent in hiring and supervising Mr. Clyde, and (3) TNT was negligent in entrusting a company vehicle to Mr. Clyde. Following discovery, TNT filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that Mr. Clyde was not employed by TNT at the time of the accident. TNT asserted that Mr. Clyde's employment had been terminated "at least one hour before the subject collision occurred." TNT also claimed that it could not be vicariously liable for Mr. Shafer's damages because Mr. Clyde was not acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

[¶6] The district court granted TNT's motion for summary judgment on all of the Shafers' claims. With regard to the respondeat superior claim, the court concluded that there was no genuine issue as to whether Mr. Clyde's employment had been terminated prior to the accident. Additionally, after finding that "it is undisputed that Mr. Clyde was traveling in a direction in which his employer conducted no business, outside of working hours, on a day he had been absent from work and after he had been informed someone from the company was coming to collect the truck and he was to leave the truck in Upton," the court held that "even if an employer-employee relationship had existed between Mr. Clyde and TNT at the time of the accident, the undisputed facts would lead to only one reasonable inference -- Mr. Clyde had deviated from the course and scope of his employment and was upon a personal errand when the accident occurred."

[¶7] The district court also granted summary judgment on the Shafers' direct liability claims. With respect to the Shafers' claim of negligent supervision, the court concluded that summary judgment was appropriate because no employment relationship existed at the time of the accident. Similarly, the court concluded that summary judgment was appropriate on the Shafers' negligent entrustment claim because Mr. Clyde's authorization to use the TNT pickup terminated concurrently with the termination of his employment. The Shafers filed a timely appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶8] Motions for summary judgment are governed by W.R.C.P. 56(c), which provides that "The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith 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." We apply the following standard of review to the decision to grant summary judgment:

We treat the summary judgment movant's motion as though it has been presented originally to us. We use the same materials in the record that was before the district court. Using the materials in the record, we examine them from the vantage point most favorable to the nonmoving party opposing the motion, giving that party the benefit of all favorable inferences which may fairly be drawn from the materials. . . . If doubt exists about the ...


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