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Langille v. Transco, Inc.

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

November 26, 2013

CONNIE LANGILLE and PAUL E. LANGILLE, Plaintiffs,
v.
TRANSCO, INC.; KEITH PETER; and McLANE FOODSERVICE, INC., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT PETER'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS TRANSCO'S AND MCLANE'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ALAN B. JOHNSON, District Judge.

Plaintiffs sued defendant truck driver and his employers for personal injuries and damages resulting from a multivehicle accident. Defendant driver has moved for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim, and defendant employers have moved for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' direct negligence and punitive damages claims. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES driver's motion and GRANTS employers' motion.

BACKGROUND

On December 29, 2011, Connie Langille was driving a Ford Ranger pickup as a rear pilot vehicle. She was following her husband, Paul (collectively "Plaintiffs"), who was hauling an oversized load on a tractor-trailer. They were travelling westbound on U.S. 30, a two-lane highway, outside of Cokeville, Wyoming.

Defendant Keith Peter ("Peter") was driving a tractor-trailer eastbound on the same highway. At the time, he was employed by Defendant McLane Foodservices, Inc. ("McLane"), a food distribution company. He was leased to Defendant Transco, Inc. ("Transco"), a motor carrier licensed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Transco owns, or leases, the tractors and trailers used to haul McLane's goods and, as holder of the DOT authorization, has ultimate responsibility for a driver's compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

At the time of the accident, the road conditions were poor, and the road was slick with patches of ice. Connie Langille's pickup slid over the center line into Peter's lane. Peter, in a conscious effort to avoid colliding with Langille, steered left into the oncoming lane of traffic. Sometime prior to impact, Connie Langille regained control of her Ranger and steered back into her original lane. The resulting head-on collision injured Connie Langille and killed her passenger.

In the 1990s, Peter was involved in another head-on collision when he was driving a commercial vehicle. Peter Depo. at 22. In the 1990s accident, Peter swerved left to avoid an accident that was in his lane of travel. Id. at 30-31. The other motorist involved in Peter's 1990s accident was injured in the resulting collision. Id. at 30. Between the 1990s accident and the December 29, 2011 accident, Peter was trained, on several occasions, to never steer left to avoid a head-on collision. Id. at 34, 62-63.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute of fact is genuine if a reasonable juror could resolve the disputed fact in favor of either side. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of fact is material if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998). When the Court considers the evidence presented by the parties, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in the non-movant's favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of establishing the nonexistence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Lynch v. Barrett, 703 F.3d 1153, 1158 (10th Cir. 2013). The moving party can satisfy this burden by either (1) offering affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim, or (2) demonstrating that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B).

Once the moving party satisfies this initial burden, the nonmoving party must support its contention that a genuine dispute of material fact exists either by (1) citing to particular materials in the record, or (2) showing that the materials cited by the moving party do not establish the absence of a genuine dispute. See id. The nonmoving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, to survive a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party must "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Further, when opposing summary judgment, the nonmoving party cannot rest on allegations or denials in the pleadings but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. See Travis v. Park City Mun. Corp., 565 F.3d 1252, 1258 (10th Cir. 2009).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to weigh the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the fact-finder, not the court. Id. at 255.

DISCUSSION

I. Defendant Keith Peter's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Plaintiffs' Punitive ...


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