United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
A. OWEN SMITH, III, an individual, and WILLIAM HENRY SMITH, an individual Plaintiffs,
ROBERT OAKLEY BROWN, an individual, VALLEY TRANSPORTATION SERVICE, INC., a foreign for-profit corporation, and GREAT WEST CASUALTY COMPANY, a foreign for-profit corporation Defendants.
L. RUSSELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant Valley Transportation Service,
Inc.'s (“VTS”) Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment. Doc. 16. This case arises out of a March
5th, 2015 motor vehicle accident between Defendant
Robert Oakley Brown, a semi-trailer truck driver, and
Plaintiffs, the driver and passenger of a Ford F-250 that
allegedly collided with items fallen from Brown's truck.
Defendant VTS argues that-because it stipulated in its Answer
that Defendant Brown was acting as VTS's agent at the
time of the accident, Doc. 1-3, at 2-Plaintiffs cannot
maintain separate claims against Defendant for respondeat
superior (“vicarious liability”) and
directly negligent training and supervision because the
direct negligence claims are superfluous. Defendant therefore
requests partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' direct
negligence claims. Plaintiffs respond that the claims are not
superfluous and Defendant's reliance on the Oklahoma
Supreme Court's Jordan v. Cates decision is
misplaced. Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate “if 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.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden
of demonstrating the basis for its motion and of identifying
those portions of “the pleadings, depositions, answers
to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, ” that demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotations
omitted). These specific facts may be shown “by any of
the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c),
except the mere pleadings themselves.” Id.
issue is ‘genuine' if there is sufficient evidence
on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve
the issue either way. . . . An issue of fact is
‘material' if under the substantive law it is
essential to the proper disposition of the claim.”
Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670
(10th Cir. 1998) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In short, the Court
must inquire “whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.
While the Court construes all facts and reasonable inferences
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party,
Macon v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 743 F.3d 708,
712-713 (10th Cir. 2014), “[t]he mere existence of a
scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's]
position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on
which the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for the
[non-movant].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. At
the summary judgment stage, the Court's role is not
“to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the
matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Id. at 249.
Court sits in diversity and applies Oklahoma substantive law.
Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs'
claims for negligent training and supervision based on the
Oklahoma Supreme Court's Jordan v. Cates
decision. 935 P.2d 289 (Okla. 1997).
concerned a store visitor who brought a battery action
against the store's employee, a vicarious liability claim
against the employer, and negligent hiring and retention
claims against the employer. 935 P.2d at 290. The employer
stipulated that “the harm-dealing altercation occurred
during the course of Cates' employment and that employer
would stand liable for damages (including punitive damages)
if Cates was found guilty of battery.” Id. at
292. Granting partial summary judgment for the employer on
the negligent hiring and retention claims, the court held
that “where the employer stipulates that liability
[exists] under the respondeat superior doctrine . .
. any other theory for imposing liability on the employer
[is] unnecessary and superfluous.” Id. at 293.
unpersuasively read Jordan narrowly to apply only to
intentional tort cases. They argue that “if [the
Jordan court] intended to create the broad
substantive rule indicated by Defendant, [it could] have done
so explicitly.” Doc. 17, at 3. Jordan did not
expressly concern vicarious liability for negligence as in
this case, but the court did seem to contemplate it:
“Our holding today is limited to those situations where
the employer stipulates that liability, if any,
would be under the respondeat superior doctrine,
thereby making any other theory for imposing liability on the
employer unnecessary and superfluous.” 935 P.2d at 293
(emphasis added). Using Plaintiffs' logic,
Jordan could have limited summary judgment to
situations where the employer stipulates that liability
for an intentional tort would apply vicariously. It
didn't-instead the court used the phrase, “if
any.” Additionally, the court discussed vicarious and
direct liability as alternative theories to litigate
simultaneously only when defendants contest agency, unlike
this case with Defendant's stipulation. See Id.
at 292-94. Otherwise, it would be illogical to hold an
employer that has already stipulated to agency
“directly liable for negligent acts, but not
intentional acts, of an employee with a recorded history of
violence.” Davis-Pashica v. Two Buds Trucking,
LLC, No. 16-CV-257-GKF-FHM, 2017 WL 2713332, at *1 (N.D.
Okla. Jan. 5, 2017); see Bryson v. Sierra Metals,
Inc., No. CIV-12-839-C, 2013 WL 1397826, at *1 (W.D.
Okla. Mar. 25, 2013) (describing the distinction between
intentional torts in Jordan and negligence cases as
reliance on Jordan's syllabus is also
unpersuasive. In Oklahoma, “the syllabus is the law of
the case” and must be “strictly construed.”
Eckels v. Traverse, 362 P.2d 683, 686 (Okla. 1961).
Jordan's syllabus references a
“harm-dealing altercation, ” which implies an
intentional tort. Jordan, 935 P.2d at 290. However,
it must be construed “in light of circumstances of the
case, ” which requires looking to the case's
underlying rationale. Avery v. Roadrunner Transp. Servs.,
Inc., No. CIV-11-1203-D, 2012 WL 6016899, at *3 (W.D.
Okla. Dec. 3, 2012) (citing Eckels, 362 P.2d at
686). Jordan concerned whether a direct liability
claim was superfluous to a vicarious liability claim.
Similarly herein, Defendant stipulated to vicarious
liability, meaning that Plaintiffs would not be able to
recover additional damages from their negligent training and
supervision claims. Plaintiffs respond exclusively with inapt
precedent and fail to offer a logical distinction between
Jordan and this case. Therefore,
Jordan's broader holding controls.
first rely on “an outlier case, ” Ramiro v.
J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., and Steven Bernard
Augustine, to support their narrow interpretation.
Davis-Pashica, 2017 WL 2713332, at *1 (citing
Ramiro, No. CIV-04-1033-M (W.D. Okla. April 8,
2005)). Ramiro confronted similar allegations of
employee negligence and direct employer negligence arising
from a semi-trailer truck accident. The court narrowed
Jordan's scope to bar summary judgment on
plaintiff's negligent training and supervision claims.
This conclusion belies the vast weight of authority to the
contrary. See, e.g., Huntley v. City of
Owasso, 497 F. App'x 826, 834 (10th Cir. 2012) ([I]n
Oklahoma these [negligent hiring, training, and supervision]
claims are available only when vicarious liability is
not established.”) (citing Jordan,
935 P.2d at 293); Hall v. Chang Soo Kang, No.
CIV-16-1101-HE, 2017 WL 2414916 (W.D. Okla. June 1, 2017);
Isso v. W. Exp., Inc., No. CIV-14-109-R, 2015 WL
4392851, at *2 (W.D. Okla. July 15, 2015); Fisher v.
National Progressive, Inc., No. CIV-12-853-C, 2014 WL
7399185, at *2 (W.D. Okla. Dec. 29, 2014);
Dowuona-Hammond v. Integris Health, No.
CIV-10-965-C, WL 134923, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Jan.14, 2011)
(“Because there is vicarious liability there can be no
negligent hiring, retention, or supervision claim.”);
Henderson v. Choctaw Cnty. City of Hugo Hosp. Auth.,
No. CIV-09-125-KEW, 2010 WL 2104670, at *4 (E.D. Okla. May
Ramiro's analysis of the plaintiff's
negligent maintenance claims is inapplicable. Unlike
negligent supervision and training claims, an employer's
stipulation to agency would not render superfluous a claim
that the employer failed to properly maintain a truck; a jury
could find the employer ...