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J.D. & Billy Hines Trucking, Inc. v. Hale Land & Cattle Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

December 27, 2016

J.D. & BILLY HINES TRUCKING, INC. PLAINTIFF
v.
HALE LAND & CATTLE COMPANY DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Defendant, Hale Land & Cattle Company ("HLC"), filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. ECF No. 19.[1] Plaintiff J.D. & Billy Hines Trucking, Inc. ("HTI") filed their response. ECF No. 28. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 17. The Court having reviewed the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's response, hereby finds as follows:

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff's Complaint alleges breach of contract and conversion related to a hauling contract entered into by the parties. Plaintiff seeks contract damages and damages for conversion for the unauthorized use of its trailers by Defendant.

         With this current Motion, Defendant asserts there are no issues of fact in support of Plaintiff's attempt to recover lost profits damages, consequential damages, incidental damages, special damages, or punitive damages. ECF No. 19. Defendant argues the hauling agreement (ECF No. 20- 1), specifically included a limitation of liability provision which stated in no event shall either party be liable to the other party for incidental, special, consequential, punitive, or lost profit damages.

         In response, Plaintiff argues Defendant's (1) interpretation of the hauling agreement language renders the contract meaningless, (2) even if Defendant's interpretation is reasonable, the jury should decided the ambiguity of the possible interpretations of the contract language, and (3) Defendant should be precluded from proffering before the jury its unreasonable interpretation of the contract provision regarding limitations on certain damages.

         2. Applicable Law:

         The standard of review for summary judgment is well established. Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper “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 judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must consider all the evidence and all reasonable inferences that arise from the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Nitsche v. CEO of Osage Valley Elec. Co-Op., 446 F.3d 841 (8th Cir. 2006).

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Enterprise Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). Genuine issues of material fact exist when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. A party opposing a motion for summary judgment “may not rest upon mere allegations or denials . . . but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.

         3. Discussion:

         In June of 2013, the parties entered into a "Hauling Agreement" wherein Plaintiff agreed to transport certain residual and finished wood products for Defendant. ECF No. 20-1. Plaintiff agreed to provide trailers and licensed drivers. Id. The agreement contained the following language in paragraph 19:

LIMITATION OF LIABILITY: In the event of a breach of this Agreement, in no event shall either party hereto be liable to the other party hereto for incidental, special, consequential, punitive or lost profits damages.

         During the term of the agreement, Plaintiff alleges Defendant began to use the Plaintiff's trailers without their authorization and in violation of the terms of the agreement. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleges this unauthorized use of their trailers constituted the tort of conversion and resulted in a breach of the agreement. Based on this unauthorized use of their trailers, Plaintiff seeks damages for past and future lost profits, lost rental value, and punitive damages. Id.

         In relying on paragraph 19 of the Hauling Agreement, Defendant seeks Summary Judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims for breach of contract wherein claimed recoverable damages would be for incidental, special, consequential, punitive, or lost profit damages. Plaintiff argues there may or may not be more than one reasonable interpretation for any one or more provisions of the contract. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts it would be unreasonable to interpret paragraph 19 to preclude recovery for unauthorized use of the trailers as this was the ...


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