United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division
LINDA WATSON, individually, and DAVID WATSON, as special administrator and personal representative of the estate of ROYCE SIDNEY WATSON, deceased PLAINTIFFS
SOUTHWEST ARKANSAS ELECTRICAL COOPERATIVE CORPORATION and JASON RAY ALEXANDER DEFENDANTS
O. HICKEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendants Southwest Arkansas Electrical
Cooperative Corporation and Jason Ray Alexander's Motion
for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 13). Plaintiffs Linda Watson
and David Watson have filed a response. (ECF No. 16).
Defendants have filed a reply. (ECF No. 17). The Court finds
the matter ripe for consideration.
case arises from a motor vehicle collision that occurred on
April 16, 2018, in Texarkana, Arkansas. Royce Watson
(“Mr. Watson”) and Plaintiff Linda Watson
attended a funeral in Nash, Texas, after which they traveled
in a multi-car funeral procession toward the graveside
service in Texarkana, Arkansas. The funeral procession had a
Texarkana, Texas Police Department escort up to the Arkansas
state line. After crossing into Arkansas, there was no
Arkansas police escort present, so the funeral director led
the procession in a vehicle equipped with activated
“white on blue” colored strobe lights and
emergency flashers. Two other vehicles provided by the
funeral home were also part of the procession and were
equipped with the same colored strobe lights and emergency
funeral procession continued to the intersection of Old Post
Road and North Rondo Road/Highway 237 in Texarkana, Arkansas.
A stop sign governs eastbound traffic on Old Post Road. No.
stop sign governs free-flowing, southbound traffic on North
Rondo Road. The procession traveled east on Old Post Road and
reached the stop sign at the intersection. The funeral
director, in the lead car, reached the stop sign, traveled
through the intersection, and proceeded to the cemetery.
of the procession, Mr. Watson and Plaintiff Linda Watson also
approached the intersection in their vehicle. At the same
time, Defendant Alexander, acting in the course and scope of
his employment with Defendant Southwest Arkansas Electrical
Cooperative Corporation, was driving southbound on North
Rondo Road, approaching the intersection at an average speed
between thirty-four and forty miles per hour. Defendant
Alexander witnessed the vehicle in front of the Watsons pass
through the intersection without stopping at the stop sign.
Witness accounts differ as to whether Mr. Watson stopped his
vehicle at the stop sign, but it is undisputed that Mr.
Watson's vehicle proceeded into the intersection and was
struck by Defendant Alexander's vehicle. Defendant
Alexander's vehicle was traveling at forty-nine miles per
hour at the time of the crash. Mr. Watson died at the scene
of the crash.
November 11, 2018, Plaintiffs filed this action, asserting
claims of negligence, wrongful death, and survival. On
November 5, 2019, Defendants filed the instant motion for
summary judgment, contending that there is no genuine dispute
of material fact and that they are entitled to summary
judgment. Plaintiffs oppose the motion.
standard for summary judgment is well established. A party
may seek summary judgment on a claim, a defense, or
“part of [a] claim or defense.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). When a party moves for summary judgment, “[t]he
court shall grant summary judgment 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); Krenik v. Cnty. of LeSueur, 47
F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). This 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.
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, 47
F.3d at 957. 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.
preliminary matter, the Court must first address the
parties' statements of fact. The Court may deem
undisputed a movant's asserted fact if it is not properly
controverted by the other party pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure Rule 56(c). Fed. R. Civ. 56(e); see
also Local Rule 56.1(c) (providing that a movant's
asserted facts will be deemed admitted if they are not
controverted by the nonmovant's own statement of disputed
material facts). A party asserting a genuine dispute of
material fact must support the assertion by either citing to
materials in the record or by showing that the cited
materials do not establish the absence or presence of a
genuine dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).
statement of disputed facts fails to comport with these
requirements. It sets out whether Plaintiffs dispute each of
the numbered facts asserted in Defendants' statement of
undisputed facts and argues that genuine disputes of material
fact exist as to some, but it fails to cite to materials in
the record or show that Defendants' cited materials do
not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute.
Plaintiffs' statement of disputed facts also set out
twenty purported genuine issues of material fact that
Plaintiffs contend should be submitted to the jury for
resolution. This, however, is not the proper procedure for
controverting the facts asserted by a summary judgment
movant. Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiffs' statement
of disputed facts has failed to properly controvert
Defendants' asserted facts under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56(c) and Local Rule 56.1. However, the Court does
note that Plaintiffs' response brief contains a
background section with several citations to the record. The
Court will consider Plaintiffs' record cites to whatever
extent they may serve to controvert Defendants' facts.
See Silberstein v. I.R.S., 16 F.3d 858, 860 (8th
Cir. 1994) (authorizing federal district courts to overlook
violations of the local rules). Accordingly, all facts
asserted in Defendants' statement of facts are deemed
admitted for summary judgment purposes to the extent that
they are not controverted by the record cites in
Plaintiffs' supporting brief. See Chaffin v. City of
Fort Smith, No. 2:05-cv-2061-JLH, 2005 WL 3805977, at *1
(W.D. Ark. Oct. 19, 2005).
Court now turns to the instant motion. Defendants contend
that they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs'
claims because: (1) Defendant Alexander had the right to
assume that Mr. Watson would obey the stop sign and yield to
incoming traffic, and acting on that right does not
constitute negligence; and (2) Mr. Watson did not have a
superior right-of-way because the funeral procession did not
have a valid funeral escort vehicle, as required by Arkansas
law. Plaintiffs argue that neither argument provides a basis
for granting summary judgment in Defendants' favor and,
furthermore, a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to
whether Defendant Alexander was negligent by violating