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Berry v. Golla

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

June 15, 2018

KRYSTAL BERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
ALBIN GOLLA AND MISSIONARIES OF THE COMPANY OF MARY, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION GRANTING GALLA'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Lee H Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge

         John Galla moves for summary judgment on the basis that he is not a proper party to this lawsuit. (Docket Entry No. 39 at ¶ 2). Based on a careful review of the motion, response, and reply, the record evidence, and the applicable law, the motion for summary judgment is granted, and final judgment is entered by separate order. The reasons are explained below.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of a motor vehicle accident on October 9, 2015 between the plaintiff, Krystal Berry, and the now deceased driver and defendant, Albin Golla. 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. Members of the Missionaries of Mary do not receive 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's only income was through Social Security, paid to the Missionaries of Mary bank account.

         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 Nos. 1, 3, 7).

         Golla died on January 5, 2018. On January 19, 2018, Golla's counsel filed a suggestion of death, and the court ordered Berry to substitute the proper party within 90 days, under Rule 25 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket Entry Nos. 20, 21). Berry filed a motion to substitute John Galla for Golla on April 5, 2018, which the court granted. (Docket Entry Nos. 32, 33). Galla is Golla's nephew and presumed closest living relative.[1] (Docket Entry No. 44 at ¶ 10). Galla moved for summary judgment on May 2, 2018. (Docket Entry No. 39). Galla was not personally involved in the accident. (Docket Entry Nos. 39 at ¶ 2, 39-1, 44-1, 44-2). Berry does not allege that Galla is either personally or vicariously liable in his individual capacity, but named him only because he is Golla's closest living relative. (Docket Entry Nos. 32 at ¶ 4, 44 at ¶ 1).

         II. The Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

         “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, 511 (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 at 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

         Galla argues that he is not personally liable for the accident, he is not a representative of Golla's estate, and he is not liable as Golla's heir or successor-in-interest because he did not receive any of Golla's property when he died. Berry concedes that Galla is neither directly, nor vicariously, liable for the accident. Berry further concedes she does not seek to recover from Galla as the representative of Golla's estate. Berry argues only that Galla is a proper party as Golla's closest relative and heir.

         A. The ...


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