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Neal v. Paradise

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

March 15, 2017

WESLEY T. NEAL, Plaintiff,
v.
WAYNE CURTIS PARADISE and UFP TRANSPORTATION INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on defendant UFP Transportation Inc.’s (“UFP Transportation”) motion for summary judgment. (DE 18). The motion has been fully briefed, and, in this posture, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 8, 2013, plaintiff and defendant Wayne Curtis Paradise (“Paradise”), each working as a commercial truck driver, were involved in a traffic accident in Pender County, North Carolina. Defendant UFP Transportation owned the truck that Paradise was driving but contends that, at all times, Paradise was not its employee. UFP Transportation maintains that Paradise’s employer was non-party UPF Mid-Atlantic, which is a separate corporate affiliate.

         Plaintiff initiated this action October 27, 2015, in the General Court of Justice Superior Court Division for Robeson County, North Carolina, seeking compensatory and punitive damages from both defendants arising out of Paradise’s alleged negligence, which plaintiff claims “is imputed to defendant UFP Transportation . . .” (Compl. ¶ 10, DE 1-1, at 7). Thereafter, defendants removed the case to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.

         Following a period of discovery, UFP Transportation filed the instant motion October 3, 2016, seeking summary judgment on the ground that, where Paradise was not UFP Transportation’s employee, UFP Transportation is not liable for Paradise’s negligence. In support of the motion, UFP Transportation relies on Paradise’s statements at deposition to the effect that UFP Mid-Atlantic was, in fact, his employer. Additionally, UFP Transportation relies on the affidavit of Larry Ogg (“Ogg”), director of logistics for UFP Transportation, in which Ogg states that “UFP Mid-Atlantic, LLC is a separate and independent corporate entity from UFP Transportation, Inc.” (Ogg Aff. ¶ 7, DE 20-2, 2). Additionally, Ogg states that, UFP Transportation never employed Paradise and UFP Mid-Atlantic was Paradise’s employer when the accident occurred. (Id. ¶¶ 4 & 6).

         Plaintiff opposes the motion arguing that, under North Carolina law, proof of ownership of a motor vehicle constitutes prima facie evidence that the owner may be held responsible for a driver’s negligence. Additionally, plaintiff directs the court’s attention to defendants’ answer in which UFP Transportation admits that it owned the truck Paradise was driving at the time of the accident. (Defs.’ Answer ¶ 6, DE 5, 2) Accordingly, plaintiff maintains he is entitled to submit to a jury the question whether UFP Transportation was Paradise’s employer at the relevant time.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The facts viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff may be summarized as follows. On February 8, 2013, plaintiff and defendant Paradise each worked as a commercial truck driver. At approximately 1:06 P.M., plaintiff was driving a truck southward along US 421. At the same time, Paradise was driving east along NC 53 in a truck owned by UFP Transportation. In Pender County, North Carolina, US 421 and NC 53 intersect, and, at that intersection, drivers traveling along NC 53 encounter stop signs, but drivers traveling along US 421 do not. Paradise brought his truck to a stop at the intersection, and, shortly thereafter, he attempted to cross the intersection to continue traveling east along NC 53. As Paradise’s truck was crossing the intersection, plaintiff approached in his truck at a high rate of speed and the two trucks collided. Before plaintiff’s truck came to a stop, it rolled over on its side and stuck a telephone pole. As a result of the crash, plaintiff suffered severe injuries. This action followed.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that 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); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of coming forward and demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has met its burden, the non-movant then affirmatively must demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact requiring trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-movant for a jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court construes evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant party and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-movant’s favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has met its burden, the non-movant must then “set ...


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