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Garcia v. MTZ Trucking, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

August 8, 2019

JESUS GARCIA, Appellant
v.
MTZ TRUCKING, INC., Appellee

          On Appeal from the 113th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2015-55326.

          Panel consists of Justices Lloyd, Landau, and Countiss.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Julie Countiss Justice.

         Appellant, Jesus Garcia, challenges the trial court's rendition of summary judgment in favor of appellee, MTZ Trucking, Inc., in his suit for negligent training and supervision and gross negligence. In his sole issue, Garcia contends that the trial court erred in granting MTZ Trucking summary judgment.

         We affirm.

         Background

         In his second amended petition, Garcia alleges that he was hired by MTZ trucking to "operate dump trucks." On July 3, 2014, while working as an employee of MTZ Trucking, he delivered a load of product to the premises of Perfect Plastic Recycling, Inc., a company "owned, operated, and managed" by Viral Thakkar. On that day, in the course of making his delivery, Garcia's end-dump truck "came into contact with a live power line" on Perfect Plastic's premises. Garcia suffered serious and permanent injuries as a result.

         Garcia brought claims against MTZ Trucking for negligent training and supervision and gross negligence.[1] Garcia asserted that MTZ Trucking owed a legal duty to train and supervise its employees, including Garcia; it breached its duty; and its breach proximately caused Garcia's injuries. More specifically, Garcia alleged that MTZ Trucking failed to provide him with training on "the operation of the machinery," that is, an end-dump truck; failed to supervise him "in his work with dump trucks"; and failed to "properly train[] or supervise[] [him] on avoiding electrical wires." Garcia sought damages for past and future physical pain and mental suffering, past and future loss of earning capacity, past and future medical expenses, past and future physical impairment, past and future physical disfigurement, and "exemplary/punitive damages."

         MTZ Trucking answered, generally denying Garcia's allegations and asserting defenses. MTZ Trucking then filed a combined no-evidence and matter-of-law motion for summary judgment, attaching exhibits. In the motion, MTZ Trucking asserted that, as a matter of law, it did not owe a duty to train or supervise Garcia "regarding any alleged dangerous condition asserted by [Garcia] on . . . Perfect Plastic's premises." Further, it asserted that Garcia is "a seasoned truck driver with over 33 years of experience," he "had made over 100 deliveries dumping materials for" MTZ Trucking, and he "had driven th[e] exact same end[-]dump truck at least 15 previous times." It therefore allegedly did not owe him a duty to train and supervise him "to pay attention to his surroundings before raising the [end-dump] truck's trailer into power lines." In other words, (1) because Garcia was "experienced in the type of work he was doing" when he was injured, (2) because "MTZ Trucking had no knowledge nor was it required to anticipate the presence of electrical wires" on Perfect Plastic's premises, and (3) because "the dangers incident to electrical power lines are common and obvious to anyone," MTZ Trucking owed "no duty pertaining to the power lines or [Garcia]'s operation of the truck." And because the existence of a legal duty is an essential element of Garcia's claims, MTZ Trucking argued that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         In response to MTZ Trucking's motion, Garcia asserted that MTZ Trucking owed him the common-law duties to "hire, supervise, train, and retain competent employees" and "to adequately hire, train, and supervise [inexperienced] employees." Garcia asserted that he "was not experienced in the work he was assigned[, ] which was the unloading of end dumps." Further, according to Garcia, MTZ Trucking had a "duty to train [him] under federal motor carrier safety law." Garcia attached exhibits to his response too.

         In reply to Garcia's response, MTZ Trucking argued that it did not owe Garcia a "duty to properly train and supervise an inexperienced employee" because Garcia was not inexperienced. Further, Garcia "fail[ed] to provide sufficient evidence of a duty to train [him] for the specific dangers of overhead electrical wires and the dangers of contact" between an end-dump truck and such wires. According to MTZ Trucking, an employer owes no duty to warn an employee of hazards that are commonly known or already appreciated by the employee. And Garcia also "failed to provide sufficient evidence to establish" that MTZ Trucking had "an additional duty pursuant to" federal motor carrier safety law.

         The trial court granted MTZ Trucking summary judgment.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's decision to grant summary judgment de novo. Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005). In conducting our review, we take as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant, and we indulge every reasonable inference, and resolve any doubts, in the nonmovant's favor. Id. 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 of the asserted grounds is meritorious. Merriman v. XTO Energy, Inc., 407 S.W.3d 244, 248 (Tex. 2013); Beverick v. Koch Power, Inc., 186 S.W.3d 145, 148 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, pet. denied).

         A party seeking summary judgment may combine in a single motion a request for summary judgment under the no-evidence standard with a request for summary judgment as a matter of law. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c), (i); Binur v. Jacobo, 135 S.W.3d 646, 650-51 (Tex. 2004). When a party has sought summary judgment under both standards, we typically review the summary judgment first under the no-evidence standard. See Merriman, 407 S.W.3d at 248; Deweese v. Ocwen Loan Servicing L.L.C., No. 01-13-00861-CV, 2014 WL 6998063, at *2 n.1 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 11, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.). However, we may review the summary judgment under the matter-of-law standard first if it would be dispositive. See Deweese, 2014 WL 6998063, at *2 n.1; Poag v. Flories, 317 S.W.3d 820, 825 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2010, pet. denied); see also Tex. R. App. P. 47.1.

         In a matter-of-law 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. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c); KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison Cty. Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex. 1999). When a defendant moves for a matter-of-law summary judgment, it must either: (1)disprove at least one essential element of the plaintiff's cause of action or (2)plead and conclusively establish each essential element of an affirmative defense, thereby defeating the plaintiff's cause of action. Lujan v. Navistar Fin. Corp., 433 S.W.3d 699, 704 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2014, no pet.). Once the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to raise a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment. See Centeq Realty, Inc. v. Siegler, 899 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Tex. 1995); Transcon. Ins. Co. v. Briggs Equip. Tr., 321 S.W.3d 685, 691 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2010, no pet.). The evidence raises a genuine issue of fact if reasonable and fair-minded jurors could differ in their conclusions in light of all of the summary-judgment evidence. See Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Mayes, 236 S.W.3d 754, 755 (Tex. 2007).

         Summary Judgment

         In his sole issue, Garcia argues that the trial court erred in granting MTZ Trucking summary judgment on his claims for negligent training and supervision and gross negligence because: (1) MTZ Trucking, as a "non-subscriber employer," "ha[d] a legal duty to train or supervise [Garcia] on the specific hazards associated with operating an end dump in the vicinity of overhead electric wires when an injury occurs outside the non-subscriber's premises"; (2) "the hazard of unloading an end dump in the vicinity of electric wires, and the risk of [electric shock] when exiting a cab of the end dump that might be in contact with overhead electrical wires," were not "open and obvious hazards"; and (3) "there is a fact issue for the jury whether the hazards were 'open and obvious.'"

         A.Employee Negligence Suit Against "Non-Subscribing" ...


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