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Wheeler v. Carlton

January 4, 2007

ANN MARIE WHEELER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF YOLANDA JO WHEELER, DECEASED PLAINTIFF
v.
JOSHUA CARLTON AND MARTEN TRANSPORT, LTD DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garnett Thomas Eisele United States District Judge

ORDER

Presently before the Court are Defendant Marten Transport Ltd.'s Motion for Summary Judgment on the punitive damages issue; Defendant Marten Transport Ltd's Motion to Dismiss the negligent hiring and retention claims; and Defendants' Motion in Limine to Exclude the Expert Testimony of William E. Hampton.

I. Background

The accident giving rise to this suit occurred on October 4, 2005 at the intersection of State Highway 118/North Airport Road and West Service Road in West Memphis, Arkansas. It is undisputed that Joshua R. Carlton was operating a tractor-trailer owned by Marten Transport, Ltd. ("Marten Transport"). It is also undisputed that Mr. Carlton was traveling north on State Highway 118/North Airport Road prior to the accident, and stopped at the intersection of State Highway 118/North Airport Road and West Service Road in order to make a left turn.

Plaintiff maintains that Yolanda Wheeler, Plaintiff's decedent, was traveling south on State Highway 118/North Airport Road prior to the collision, and that Mr. Carlton made a left turn into the path of the decedent's vehicle, thus causing the accident. Defendants maintain that Yolanda Wheeler was traveling south and then east on the West Service Road prior to the accident, and that as she approached the rear of the second of two vehicles stopped at the stop sign on the West Service Road, she veered across the double yellow line of the West Service Road in order to avoid striking the rear of the second vehicle and traveled forward in the oncoming or wrong lane of the West Service Road. Defendants state that as the decedent proceeded forward in the wrong lane of the West Service Road, Mr. Carlton was making his left-hand turn onto the West Service Road, and that just prior to impact, the decedent swerved back to her right and collided with the front of the tractor being operated by Mr. Carlton.

Plaintiff's action was originally filed in the Circuit Court of Crittenden County, Arkansas, but was subsequently removed to this Court. The original action brought by the Plaintiff alleged that the accident was caused by the negligence or fault of Joshua R. Carlton while operating a tractor-trailer owned by Marten Transport within the scope of his employment with Marten Transport. After removal, the Defendants answered the Complaint and denied that the accident was caused by any negligence or fault of Joshua R. Carlton. The Defendants admitted the tractor-trailer being operated by Mr. Carlton at the time of the accident was owned by Marten Transport and further admitted Mr. Carlton was an employee of Marten Transport at the time of the accident.

The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to amend her Complaint on September 11, 2006, which was identical to the original Complaint, except that it added one paragraph alleging that Defendant Marten Transport was liable to the Plaintiff on the theory of negligent hiring and retention. Defendant responded to Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend arguing that because no claim for punitive damages was being made, the proposed Amended Complaint added nothing to the case except the potential for confusion of the trier of fact and prejudice to the Defendant. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an Amended and Substituted Motion for Leave to Amend, which added a claim for punitive damages. The Court subsequently granted this Motion for Leave to Amend.

Plaintiff's First Amended and Substituted Complaint alleges that Defendant Marten Transport is not only vicariously liable, but is also independently liable to Plaintiff on the theory of negligent hiring and retention. It also alleges that the actions of Defendant Marten Transport in hiring and retaining Defendant Carlton "rise to the level of willful and wanton conduct and support a claim for punitive damages," that Defendant Marten Transport "knew or ought to have known, in light of the surrounding circumstances, that its hiring/retention of Defendant Carlton would naturally and probably result in injury to an individual, such as Yolanda Wheeler, who was a foreseeable plaintiff," and that Defendant Marten Transport's "hiring/retention of Defendant Carlton was in reckless disregard of the consequences."

Separate Defendant moves the Court for summary judgment as to the Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages based upon allegations of negligent hiring and retention. If the motion for summary judgment is granted, the said Defendant further moves the Court to dismiss the allegations of negligent hiring and retention as being duplicative of the respondeat superior claim.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only when, in reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial-- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit set out the burdens on the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the party moving for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., '[to] point[] out to the District Court,' that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339 (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-74 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted)(brackets in original)).

"A party seeking summary judgment always 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). However, the moving party is not required to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Id.

Once the moving party demonstrates that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact, the non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 56(e). The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment against a non-moving party which, after adequate time for discovery, fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to its case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

The district court must base its determination regarding the presence or absence of a material issue of fact on evidence that would be admissible at trial. Firemen's Fund Ins. Co. v. Thien, 8 F.3d 1307, 1310 (8th Cir. 1993). Because the Motion in Limine regarding Mr. Hampton concerns the admissibility of evidence presented in connection with the motion for summary judgment, the Court will first consider that pending motion in limine.

III. Motion in Limine - William E. Hampton (Docket No. 72)

Defendants move this Court for an Order prohibiting the Plaintiff from calling Mr. William E. Hampton as an expert witness in the field of hiring and retention of truck drivers. Defendants argue that Mr. Hampton does not have the qualifications, by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education, to testify as an expert in this area and his opinions are not based upon sufficient facts or data, nor is his anticipated testimony the product of reliable principles and methods. Defendants further argue that scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will not be of assistance to the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or in determining facts in issue. Plaintiff argues that Mr. Hampton's practical knowledge, skill, experience, and training qualifies him as an expert in the field of hiring practices of a motor carrier. Furthermore, Plaintiffs argue that Mr. Hampton's opinions are founded upon specialized knowledge and firm principles, not within the knowledge of a lay person. Plaintiffs contend that Mr. Hampton is qualified as an expert and will assist the trier of fact in determining a fact in issue.

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides:

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

Rule 702 was amended in 2000 in response the holdings in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmeceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 119 S.Ct. 1167 (1999). See Fed. R. Evid. 702 advisory committee's note. The 2000 Advisory Commmittee's note states that trial judges have the responsibility of acting as gatekeepers to exclude unreliable expert testimony. See Fed. R. Evid. 702 advisory committee's note. A trial court is to consider factors such as:

(1) whether the expert's technique or theory can be or has been tested---that is, whether the expert's theory can be challenged in some objective sense, or whether it is instead simply a subjective, conclusory approach that cannot reasonably be assessed for reliability;

(2) whether the technique or theory has been subject to peer review and publication;

(3) the known or potential rate of error of the technique or ...


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