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McAfee v. Howard Baer, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

January 12, 2018

MERCEDES KAMARIA POWELL McAFEE, Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD BAER, INC. and KEITH LOVELL CAMPBELL, Defendants.

          ORDER

          DENNIS L. HOWELL, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment (# 84) filed by Defendant Howard Baer, Inc. (“Defendant Baer”). The issues have been fully briefed, and the matter is now ripe for ruling. For the reasons addressed below, Defendant Baer's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Procedural Background

         On July 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed her Complaint (# 1-1) in the North Carolina General Court of Justice, Superior Court Division of Buncombe County, alleging negligence by Defendant Keith Lovell Campbell (“Defendant Campbell”), and further alleging that Defendant Baer was jointly and severally liable as Defendant Campbell's employer at the time of the collision.

         On August 24, 2015, Defendants removed this case to the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division. There is complete diversity of citizenship between Plaintiff and Defendants.[1] The amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of costs and interests.[2]

         On August 26, 2015, Defendants filed their Answer (# 3), in which they admitted that the April 1, 2013 accident occurred, Defendant Campbell was the operator of Defendant Baer's truck that struck Plaintiff, and Defendant Campbell was an employee of Defendant Baer who was acting in the course and scope of his employment. Defendants denied that Defendant Campbell was negligent, and they affirmatively alleged contributory negligence.

         On September 15, 2015, the parties consented to jurisdiction by the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge. After obtaining leave of court, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (# 41) on November 8, 2016, in which she added a claim that Defendant Campbell was incompetent as a truck driver, Defendant Campbell's incompetence was the proximate cause of Plaintiff's injury, Defendant Baer knew or should have known that Defendant Campbell was incompetent, and Defendant Baer committed negligence in the hiring, training, and retention of Defendant Campbell as a truck driver.

         In their November 17, 2016, Answer (# 45), Defendants denied that Defendant Campbell was negligent in the operation of a motor vehicle, denied that Defendant Campbell was incompetent, denied that Plaintiff was injured by Defendant Campbell's negligence or incompetence, denied that Defendant Baer was negligent in the hiring, training, or retention of defendant Campbell, and affirmatively asserted the defenses of sudden emergency and Plaintiff's contributory negligence in causing any injury.

         On May 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint (# 75), in which she added the following allegations: Defendant Baer was negligent as owner by entrusting possession and operation of its vehicle to Defendant Campbell when Defendant Baer knew or should have known that Defendant Campbell was incompetent in the operation of such a vehicle, such conduct by Defendant Baer was willful and wanton, and Plaintiff sought recovery of punitive damages.

         In their June 6, 2017, Answer (# 77), Defendants admitted that Defendant Baer owned and entrusted the commercial vehicle to Defendant Campbell on April 1, 2013, but they denied that Defendant Baer was negligent and willful and wanton in the entrustment of a commercial motor vehicle to Defendant Campbell to operate that day. Defendants affirmatively alleged the defenses of sudden emergency and Plaintiff's contributory negligence.

         On October 1, 2017, Defendant Baer filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment (# 84) and Memorandum in Support (# 86-1, 86-2). On October 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition (# 88). Defendant Baer filed a Reply (# 89) on October 23, 2017.

         II. Factual Background

         The facts, viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, [3] are as follows: On April 1, 2013, around 9:07 a.m., in Asheville, North Carolina, Plaintiff was operating a 2012 Chevrolet traveling south on I-26 at or near mile marker 33. As Plaintiff slowed down for the traffic ahead, Defendant Campbell hit Plaintiff's rear end. The crash occurred with Campbell's truck going approximately ten miles per hour. Plaintiff's vehicle was pushed into the back of the vehicle directly in front of her.

         Following the accident, Officer P.J. Morgan, an officer with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, issued Defendant Campbell a citation for failing to reduce speed. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Campbell was negligent and caused the accident. Plaintiff further alleges that the accident caused her to suffer personal injuries.

         Plaintiff argues Defendant Campbell was an employee of Defendant Baer and acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Plaintiff further argues that Defendant Baer's internal personnel file reflects a pattern and practice of violating traffic and safety laws in a manner that endangers the public and led to the accident on April 1, 2013. Plaintiff seeks punitive damages, on the basis that Defendant Baer's actions were malicious, willful, and wanton and done with reckless and wanton disregard for Plaintiff's rights.

         III. Legal Standard[4]

         Summary judgment should be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 “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). A factual dispute is deemed genuine when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id.

         The party moving for 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). If the moving party has met that burden, the nonmoving party then must persuade the court that a genuine issue remains for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986). Disposition by summary judgment is only appropriate when the record could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the nonmoving party. Monahan v. Cty. of Chesterfield, 95 F.3d 1263, 1265 (4th Cir. 1996).

         IV. Discussion

         A. There are no genuine issues of material fact on Plaintiff's claim againstDefendant Baer for ...


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