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Raborn v. Johnston

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

October 17, 2017




         Now before the Court are Defendants' Motion and Brief for Partial Summary Judgment on Punitive Damage Claim (Dkt. # 41) and plaintiff's opposed motion to stay or hold in abeyance defendants' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. # 43). Defendants argue that there is no evidence showing that David Johnston acted with reckless disregard for the rights of others when he was involved in an automobile accident with plaintiff William Raborn. Dkt. # 41. Plaintiff claims that he needs to conduct additional discovery before he can fully respond to defendants' motion, and he asks the Court to stay its ruling on defendants' motion until discovery is completed. Dkt. # 43.


         On February 26, 2014, Johnston was driving a tractor trailer for his employer, Covenant Transport, Inc. (Covenant), and he had parked at a travel plaza near Big Cabin, Oklahoma. Dkt. # 41-3, at 2, 4. Johnston had a commercial driver's license (CDL). Dkt. # 41-2. Johnston conducted a pre-trip inspection before he left the travel plaza and this took about 15 to 17 minutes. Dkt. # 41-3, at 5. Johnston's wife, Nora Johnston, was a passenger in the tractor trailer, and she confirmed that he did a pre-trip inspection. Dkt. # 41-4, at 4. Johnston was not aware that his tractor trailer had any mechanical difficulties. Dkt. # 41-3, at 3.

         Johnston was attempting to make a left turn out of the travel plaza and onto northbound Highway 69, and there were vehicles headed northbound and southbound on the highway. Id. at 6. Highway 69 is a two lane highway in both directions. Dkt. # 41-5, at 4. Johnston waited about two minutes until he believed that the traffic was clear in both directions, and he states that there was nothing impairing his visibility. Dkt. # 41-3, at 8-9. Johnston pulled out into the highway to make a left turn into the inside lane of northbound Highway 69 and he observed another tractor trailer heading northbound on Highway 69, but at the time Johnston began his left turn the other tractor trailer was in the outside lane. Id. at 10. Raborn was driving the other tractor trailer. Johnston claims that he was constantly checking his surroundings as he pulled onto the highway and he believed the inside lane was clear as he was pulling onto Highway 69. Id. at 12-13. As Johnston pulled into the inside lane of northbound Highway 69, the other tractor trailer changed lanes and collided with Johnston's tractor trailer. Id. at 10-11. Johnston testified in his deposition that he had no opportunity to avoid the collision at the point that Raborn changed lanes. Id. at 14. Raborn states that he accelerated immediately before the collision in an attempt to avoid the collision, but he could not have changed lanes because there was a vehicle next to him in the outside lane. Dkt. # 41-6, at 2-3.

         On February 2, 2016, Raborn filed this case in Craig County District Court alleging negligence claims against Johnston, Covenant, and Covenant's insurer, Marsh USA, Inc. Dkt. # 2-1. Raborn alleged that Covenant was liable for Johnston's conduct under the doctrine of respondeat superior, and he also alleged that Covenant was directly liable for “negligently hiring, training, supervising and retaining” Johnston. Id. at 3. Covenant removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. Dkt. # 2. Covenant filed a motion to transfer venue, because Craig County is located within the Northern District of Oklahoma and Covenant mistakenly removed the case to the wrong judicial district. Dkt. # 5. The case was transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. Dkt. # 17. Covenant filed an answer (Dkt. # 9) and admitted that Johnston was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Covenant filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's direct negligence claim against it, because claims of direct negligence are not viable against an employer that has admitted that it is vicariously liable for the acts of an employee as a matter of Oklahoma law. Dkt. # 11, at 7. Raborn did not file a response to Covenant's motion to dismiss, and the Court dismissed Raborn's claim of direct negligence against Covenant. Dkt. # 23. Raborn has voluntarily dismissed his claims against Marsh USA, Inc. Dkt. # 12.


         Summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Kendall v. Watkins, 998 F.2d 848, 850 (10th Cir. 1993). The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317. “Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed ‘to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.'” Id. at 327.

         “When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (citations omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. In essence, the inquiry for the Court is “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.” Id. at 250. In its review, the Court construes the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Garratt v. Walker, 164 F.3d 1249, 1251 (10th Cir. 1998).


         Defendants argue that plaintiff has no evidence that would support an award of punitive damages under Oklahoma law, and defendants ask the Court to enter partial summary judgment in favor of defendants on the issue of punitive damages. Dkt. # 41, at 5. Plaintiff asks the Court to defer ruling on defendants' motion until plaintiff has had an opportunity to conduct additional discovery. Dkt. # 43. In the alternative, plaintiff argues that the issue of punitive damages is fact-intensive and he asks the Court to deny defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. Id. at 6-7.


         Plaintiff asks the Court to stay its ruling on defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, because the parties have not completed discovery and plaintiff cannot fully respond to defendants' motion without taking depositions of Covenant's corporate representative under Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6) and Johnston's driving trainer, Levi Shelley. Dkt. # 43, at 2. Defendants respond that plaintiff has had ample time to conduct discovery, and plaintiff is not entitled to relief under Rule 56(d) because the additional ...

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