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Rampersad v. Centerpoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

August 1, 2017

VEDASEH RAMPERSAD, Appellant
v.
CENTERPOINT ENERGY HOUSTON ELECTRIC, LLC, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 281st District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2014-19908

          Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Higley, and Lloyd.

          OPINION

          Russell Lloyd Justice.

         Vedaseh Rampersad appeals the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC on his negligence claim. Rampersad contends that the trial court erred in granting CenterPoint's traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment because CenterPoint failed to conclusively negate the elements of duty, breach, and causation. We affirm.

         Background

         At approximately 4:00 p.m. on October 21, 2013, Rampersad was traveling on his motorcycle when he was struck by another driver as he entered the intersection of Queenston Boulevard and Forest Heights Boulevard in Northwest Houston (the "intersection").[1] Rampersad's left leg was severely injured in the accident, which ultimately required amputation of his leg below the knee.

         Shortly before the collision, at approximately 3:55 p.m., a stirrup clamp connecting CenterPoint's primary power line to a utility pole approximately 2.5 miles away failed, causing the line to fall. This caused the circuit that serviced the traffic lights at the intersection to become de-energized and the traffic lights to stop working. The stirrup clamp in question was thirty-three years old. The undisputed evidence shows that, within three minutes of the outage, CenterPoint dispatched linemen to the location of the stirrup clamp failure to identify, troubleshoot, and repair the problem. Two minutes later, the accident occurred.

         The record reflects that, at the time of the accident, CenterPoint had not been notified of the inoperative traffic lights at the intersection. It is undisputed that the power outage was not scheduled, planned, or otherwise caused by any contemporaneous action taken by CenterPoint.

         The accident report prepared by the responding officer states, in pertinent part, "At the time of the accident, the traffic control lights were disabled. There was no power operating the lights and there were no other forms of traffic control at the intersection informing motorist[s] of the power outage." The report further notes that Rampersad "failed to yield the right-of-way and entered the intersection without stopping."

         In his deposition, Rampersad testified that, as he approached the intersection, he noticed that the traffic signal was not working and that he came to a complete stop. He further testified that the other vehicle never stopped at the intersection. When asked what he thought the other driver could have done differently to avoid the accident, Rampersad stated, "[w]atch a little closer to see what is-what is upcoming in front of her and slow down or stop or blow [her] horn, something like that."

         Rampersad sued Centerpoint for negligence, alleging, among other things, that CenterPoint failed to properly install, inspect, and maintain the stirrup clamp. CenterPoint filed a hybrid no-evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment on Rampersad's claims as well as a motion to exclude the testimony of Rampersad's designated expert, Graviel Garcia. Following a hearing, the trial court granted CenterPoint's summary judgment motion and denied CenterPoint's motion to exclude Garcia's testimony as moot. Rampersad filed a motion for new trial and motion for reconsideration which the trial court denied. This appeal followed.

         Discussion

         CenterPoint moved for summary judgment on Rampersad's negligence cause of action on the grounds that Rampersad presented no evidence to satisfy the elements of duty and breach, and that the evidence conclusively established that CenterPoint's installation of the stirrup clamp was not the proximate cause of Rampersad's injuries. On appeal, Rampersad argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of CenterPoint because a fact issue exists as to each of these elements.

         A. Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's summary judgment de novo. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex. 2010). When reviewing a summary judgment motion, we must (1) take as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant and (2) indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005) (citing Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 215 (Tex. 2003)). If a trial court grants summary judgment without specifying the grounds for granting the motion, we must uphold the trial court's judgment if any one of the grounds is meritorious. Beverick v. Koch Power, Inc., 186 S.W.3d 145, 148 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist] 2005, pet. denied).

         In a traditional summary judgment motion, the movant has the burden to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the trial court should grant judgment as a matter of law. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c); KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison Cty. Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex. 1999). A defendant moving for traditional summary judgment must conclusively negate at least one essential element of each of the plaintiffs causes of action or conclusively establish each element of an affirmative defense. Sci. Spectrum, Inc. v. Martinez, 941 S.W.2d 910, 911 (Tex. 1997).

         In a no-evidence motion for summary judgment, the movant asserts that there is no evidence to support an essential element of the nonmovant ' s claim on which the nonmovant would have the burden of proof at trial. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(i); Hahn v. Love,321 S.W.3d 517, 523-24 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2009, pet. denied). The burden then shifts to the nonmovant to present evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact as to each of ...


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