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Berry v. Golla

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

March 23, 2018



          Lee H. Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge

         The Missionaries of Mary move for summary judgment on the basis that, as a matter of law, they are not responsible for the actions of the co-defendant, Albin Golla. (Docket Entry No. 22). Based on a careful review of the motion, the response, and the reply, the record evidence, and the applicable law, the motion for summary judgment is granted, for the reasons explained below.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of an October 2015 car accident. The plaintiff, Krystal Berry, was driving on October 9, 2015, a Friday evening, in Houston, Texas. The defendant, Albin Golla, failed to yield the right of way, drove through a stop sign, and hit Berry's car.

         Golla was 87 in October 2015. He was a member of the Missionaries of Mary, a Catholic missionary order. “The missionary work done by its members, among other things, consists of devotion to and promoting the Catholic faith and participating in charitable causes.” (Docket Entry No. 22-1). Members of the Missionaries of Mary do not receive an income. Any income from their charitable work or any money they receive-including Social Security benefits-is paid directly to the Missionaries of Mary, which in turn covers its members' living expenses as they arise. Golla lived in New York. He volunteered once a week as a hospital chaplain. His only income was through Social Security, paid to the Missionaries of Mary bank account.

         In October 2015, Golla was on a personal trip to Houston to visit his sister, who was ill. The Missionaries of Mary paid for Golla's rental car, as they paid all his living expenses. But he was not in Houston to perform work on behalf of the Missionaries, but only to see his sister. (Docket Entry No. 22-1). Berry testified that, immediately after the accident, Golla got out of his car and apologized to her, telling her that he was on his way to give a sermon at the St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Houston. Golla was wearing traditional priest garb. (Docket Entry No. 23-1).

         Berry sued both Golla and the Missionaries of Mary in Texas state court in August 2017, alleging negligence as to Golla and vicarious liability as to the Missionaries of Mary. The Missionaries timely removed, and the court denied Berry's motion to remand. (Docket Entry No. 7).

         In January 2018, shortly after the court held a Rule 16 scheduling conference and the parties began discovery, Golla died. (Docket Entry No. 20). The court ordered Berry to substitute a representative for Golla's estate within 90 days or the case would be dismissed. (Docket Entry No. 21). The 90-day period has not yet expired.

         II. The Legal Standard

         “Summary judgment is required when ‘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.'” Trent v. Wade, 776 F.3d 368, 376 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the ‘evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Nola Spice Designs, LLC v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “The moving party ‘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.'” Id. (quoting EEOC v. LHC Grp., Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 694 (5th Cir. 2014)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         If the burden of proof at trial lies with the nonmoving party, the movant may satisfy its initial burden by showing an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Fret v. Melton Truck Lines, Inc., No. 17-50031, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 16912, at *5-6 (5th Cir. Sept. 1, 2017) (quoting Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir. 1994)). While the party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it does not need to negate the elements of the nonmovant's case. Coastal Agric. Supply, Inc. v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 759 F.3d 498, 505 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005)). A fact is material if “its resolution could affect the outcome of the actions.” Aly v. City of Lake Jackson, 605 Fed. App'x 260, 262 (5th Cir. 2015) (citing Burrell v. Dr. Pepper/Seven UP Bottling Grp., Inc., 482 F.3d 408, 411 (5th Cir. 2007)). “If the moving party fails to meet [its] initial burden, the motion [for summary judgment] must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response.” Pioneer Exploration, LLC v. Steadfast Ins. Co., 767 F.3d 503 (5th Cir. 2014).

         “When the moving party has met its Rule 56(c) burden, the nonmoving party cannot survive a summary judgment motion by resting on the mere allegations of its pleadings.” Bailey v. E. Baton Rouge Parish Prison, 663 Fed. App'x 328, 331 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Duffie v. United States, 600 F.3d 362, 371 (5th Cir. 2010)). The nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate how that evidence supports that party's claim. Willis v. Cleco Corp., 749 F.3d 314, 317 (5th Cir. 2014). “This burden will not be satisfied by ‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.'” Jurach v. Safety Vision, LLC, 642 Fed. App'x 313, 317 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Boudreaux, 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005)). In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Darden v. City of Fort Worth, 866 F.3d 698, 702 (5th Cir. 2017).

         III. Analysis

         The Missionaries of Mary argue that because Golla was not acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident, the Missionaries cannot be vicariously liable for his actions. Berry argues that there is a genuine factual dispute material to determining whether Golla was acting within the course and scope of his employment with the Missionaries of Mary at the time of the accident. The Missionaries also argue that Berry has no evidence to prove her respondeat superior claim. Berry objects ...

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