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Bailon v. Landstar Ranger, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

September 25, 2019

MICHELE BAILON, Plaintiff,
v.
LANDSTAR RANGER, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Sam A. Lindsay United States District Judge

         Before the court is Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 43), filed September 21, 2018. After careful consideration of the motion, response, [1] record, and applicable law, the court denies Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 43).

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         This action arises from a vehicular accident that occurred near the interchange between Interstate Highway 20 East and Interstate Highway 635 North in Balch Springs, Texas, on April 27, 2015. Michele Bailon (“Plaintiff” or “Ms. Bailon”) originally filed this action on March 4, 2016, in the 44th Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas, against Landstar Ranger, Inc., (“Landstar”) and Camara Percival, Jr. (“Mr. Percival”) for negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence.

         Ms. Bailon contends that Mr. Percival, while acting within the course and scope of his employment with Landstar, was negligent, negligent per se, and grossly negligent when his vehicle violently collided with her vehicle on April 27, 2015. She contends that she sustained severe injuries, and she seeks compensation for her injuries.

         Landstar removed the action to federal court on April 15, 2016, contending that complete diversity of citizenship existed between the parties and that the amount in controversy, exclusive of interest and costs, exceeded $75, 000. Ms. Bailon disputed whether complete diversity of citizenship existed between the parties.[2] The court ultimately ruled that complete diversity of citizenship existed between the parties.

         Landstar denies Ms. Bailon’s claims of negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence. It also contends that it is not liable to her for any injuries that she may have suffered. Further, Landstar seeks summary judgment on her claims for exemplary or punitive damages, as it contends that she has not presented any evidence to establish a genuine dispute of material fact to show that gross negligence exists to award exemplary or punitive damages.

         Ms. Bailon disagrees. She contends that sufficient evidence in the record exists to raise a genuine dispute of material fact regarding her entitlement to exemplary or punitive damages and that the court should deny Landstar’s motion for partial summary judgment. The court agrees with Plaintiff.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment shall be granted when the record shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). A dispute regarding a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all disputed facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). Further, a court “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence” in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254-55.

         Once the moving party has made an initial showing that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case, the party opposing the motion must come forward with competent summary judgment evidence of the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, “if the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, either because he is the plaintiff or as a defendant he is asserting an affirmative defense, he must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986) (emphasis in original). “[When] the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine [dispute] for trial.’” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. (citation omitted). Mere conclusory allegations are not competent summary judgment evidence, and thus are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996). Unsubstantiated assertions, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation are not competent summary judgment evidence. See Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1533 (5th Cir. 1994).

         The party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports his or her claim. Ragas, 136 F.3d at 458. Rule 56 does not impose a duty on the court to “sift through the record in search of evidence” to support the nonmovant’s opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Id.; see also Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915-16 & n.7 (5th Cir. 1992). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing laws will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Disputed fact issues that are “irrelevant and unnecessary” will not be considered by a court in ruling on a summary judgment motion. Id. If the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to its case and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment must be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         III. Discussion

         Landstar has correctly stated the legal standard to recover for exemplary or punitive damages under Texas law; however, the court disagrees that summary judgment is appropriate regarding Ms. Bailon’s claim of gross negligence. This is so because there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding what actually happened on April 27, 2015. The court has read the relevant depositions. Based on the court’s review, there is definitely a conflict in the testimony regarding important facts, and the credibility of the persons deposed, and any other witness who testifies in this action, must be determined by the jury. As stated previously, a court “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence” in deciding a motion for summary judgment. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254-55. In this case, Ms. Bailon’s testimony is at odds with that of alleged eyewitness Mr. Frank Albanese, who, from what the court can ascertain by reading his deposition, did not observe the entire collision or what led up to it. Moreover, his testimony is at odds in part, with that of Christopher Cortemelia, the police officer who investigated the accident. Further, the court, at this juncture, has some questions or ...


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