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Jordan v. Central Transport, LLC

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

February 22, 2019

MARQCHELLO JORDAN PLAINTIFF
v.
CENTRAL TRANSPORT, LLC; ELMER ENRIQUE VENTURA; and JOHN DOE 1, JOHN DOE 2, and JOHN DOE 3 DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Susan O. Hickey, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Marqchello Jordan's (“Plaintiff”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 69). Separate Defendant Central Transport, LLC, (“Central Transport”) has filed a response in opposition. (ECF No. 76). Plaintiff has filed a reply. (ECF No. 79).

         Also pending before the Court is Central Transport's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 81). Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition. (ECF No. 91). Central Transport has filed a reply. (ECF No. 96).

         The Court finds these matters fully briefed and ripe for consideration. For the reasons set out below, Central Transport's motion is granted. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and his claims against Central Transport are dismissed with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         This is a negligence action arising out of a May 6, 2015, automobile accident involving three tractor-trailers on Interstate 30. (ECF No. 1, p. 3). Plaintiff has alleged claims of ordinary negligence against both Separate Defendant Elmer Enrique Ventura (“Ventura”) and Separate Defendant Central Transport under theories of respondeat superior and agency. Id. at 5. Further, Plaintiff has alleged negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, and negligent retention claims against Separate Defendant Central Transport. Id. at 6-8.

         Central Transport is an international long-haul trucking company with customer service centers and facilities in forty-five states and in Canada. Id. at 3. Ventura is a truck driver who was operating under an “Independent Contractor Agreement” for Central Transport at the time of the accident giving rise to this action. Under the Independent Contractor Agreement, Ventura was responsible for providing drivers and trucks to pull Central Transport trailers and equipment to specified destinations.

         The facts surrounding the accident do not appear to be in dispute. At approximately 7:00 a.m. on May 6, 2015, Ventura was dispatched to assist another Central Transport tractor-trailer which had broken down on the shoulder of the eastbound lane of Interstate 30 near Prescott, Arkansas. Ventura approached the incapacitated tractor-trailer in the left lane of Interstate 30. As Ventura neared the broken-down rig, he attempted to merge into the right lane. However, Ventura allegedly failed to maintain a proper lookout when he attempted to merge into the right lane. Plaintiff, who was driving a third tractor-trailer in the right lane, was sandwiched between Ventura and the broken-down tractor-trailer and sustained injuries as a result of the collision.

         The parties contest whether Ventura's alleged negligence can be imputed to Central Transport. Consequently, on November 6, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on vicarious liability, arguing that the undisputed facts show Ventura was a Central Transport employee acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. On December 20, 2018, Central Transport filed its Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that it is entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims against it because Ventura was an independent contractor and not an employee.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “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.” Hess v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 898 F.3d 852, 856 (8th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is a “threshold inquiry of . . . 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 reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Id. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Id. at 252.

         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. Nitsche v. CEO of Osage Valley Elec. Co-Op, 446 F.3d 841, 845 (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 Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The nonmoving party must then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. Cnty. of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). However, a party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion “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. When, as here, cross-motions for summary judgment are filed, each motion should be reviewed in its own right, with each side “entitled to the benefit of all inferences favorable to them which might reasonably be drawn from the record.” Wermager v. Cormorant Twp. Bd., 716 F.2d 1211, 1214 (8th Cir. 1983).

         DISCUSSION

         The Court will first address whether Central Transport is vicariously liable for Ventura's alleged negligence. Then the Court will turn to Plaintiff's claims against Central Transport.

         I. Vicarious Liability

         Central Transport argues that it cannot be held liable for Ventura's alleged negligence because Ventura was acting as an independent contractor at the time Plaintiff was injured. Plaintiff, however, contends that the undisputed facts show that Central Transport exercised control over Ventura, and thus, Ventura was a Central Transport employee. Plaintiff also argues that Ventura was a Central Transport employee as a matter of law under the special employee doctrine. If Central Transport was Ventura's employer at the time of Plaintiff's injury, any liability for Ventura's alleged negligence could be imputed to Central Transport. Stoltze v. Ark. Valley Elec. Coop Corp., 127 S.W.3d 466, 470 (Ark. 2003). Consequently, the Court must decide whether Ventura was a Central Transport employee or an independent contractor.[1] If Ventura was an independent contractor, the Court must further address whether any of the exceptions to independent contractor liability apply in this case.

         A. Independent Contractor Relationship

         This is a diversity action governed by Arkansas state substantive law. Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 645 (1938). Under Arkansas law, in order to prevail on a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must prove the following: (1) that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff; (2) that the defendant breached that duty; and (3) that the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. Branscomb v. Freeman, 200 S.W.3d 411, 416 (Ark. 2004). The general rule in Arkansas is that an employer is not responsible for the negligence of its contractor. Stoltze, 127 S.W.3d at 470. When the employer, however, goes beyond certain limits in directing, supervising, or controlling the performance of the contractor's work, the relationship changes to that of employer-employee, and the employer is liable for the employee's negligence. Draper v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 212 S.W.3d 61, 67 (Ark. 2005). The nature of an agency relationship is ordinarily a question of fact to be determined by a jury; however, where the facts are undisputed and only one reasonable inference can be drawn from them, the nature of an agency relationship becomes a matter of law for the court to determine. Id.

         Central Transport argues that it cannot be held liable because Ventura was an independent contractor hired by Central Transport and not a Central Transport employee. No. fixed formula exists under Arkansas law for determining whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor; thus, the determination must be made on the particular facts of each case. Ark. Transit Homes, Inc. V. Aetna Life & Cas., 16 S.W.3d 545, 547 (2000). An independent contractor is “one who contracts to do a job according to his own method and without being subject to the control of the other party, except as to the result of the work.” Kistner v. Cupples, 372 S.W.3d 339, 343 (Ark. 2010). A written contract creates the relation of employer and independent contractor; however, such relation may be destroyed by conduct of the employer through direction of means and methods of producing physical results. ConAgra Foods, Inc. v. Draper, 276 S.W.3d 244, 249 (2008).

         The Arkansas Supreme Court has adopted the Restatement (Second) of Agency § 220(2) (1958), which outlines several factors to consider when determining whether an ...


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