United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
JUANITA L. TAYLOR, as Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF ANTHONY N. TAYLOR; and JUANITA L. TAYLOR, individually and as next of kin of JOSHUA C. TAYLOR, deceased, Plaintiffs,
KENNESAW TRANSPORTATION, INC., a foreign corporation; and BYRON E. HARKLEY, an Individual, Defendants.
L. RUSSELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 41), to which Plaintiffs have filed an
objection (Doc. No. 59). Additionally, Defendants filed a
reply in support of their position. (Doc. No. 63). For the
reasons set forth herein, the Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment is granted.
March 24, 2016, Caleb Taylor died in a collision between his
vehicle and the truck driven by Defendant Byron Harkley in
the scope of his employment with Defendant Kennesaw
Transportation. Defendant Harkley had stopped his
tractor-trailer on the outside shoulder of eastbound I-44. He
was attempting to merge back into traffic when Caleb
Taylor's vehicle struck Harkley's trailer from
behind. The result was that Taylor's vehicle was dragged
by Harkley's until Harkley stopped, approximately 300
feet after the impact. Defendants contend they are entitled
to summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages, because
Plaintiffs lack clear and convincing evidence to support such
damages. Plaintiffs contend summary judgment is
inappropriate. Defendants also seek summary judgment with
regard to certain items of damages sought by Plaintiffs,
which Plaintiffs concede are not appropriate pursuant to
Oklahoma's wrongful death statute. Plaintiffs concede the
issue, with one exception, photographs
obtained for purposes of Caleb Taylor's funeral service,
which they contend are recoverable as a burial expense.
Defendants asserted in the motion that there was no evidence
to support the $50.00 expense. Plaintiffs responded with the
affidavit of Plaintiff Juanita Taylor who indicated the cost
was $50.00 but a house fire destroyed the receipt.
Defendants' reply does not challenge the sufficiency of
the evidence in this regard, and accordingly, summary
judgment is denied with regard to the $50.00 expense related
to photographs obtained for the funeral. With regard to items
2 through 14 of the list submitted, summary judgment is
granted, in light of Plaintiffs' concession. Doc. No.
judgment is appropriate only “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). “A genuine dispute as to a material
fact ‘exists when the evidence, construed in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party, is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving
party.'” Carter v. Pathfinder Energy Servs.,
Inc., 662 F.3d 1134, 1141 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Zwygart v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs, 483 F.3d 1086,
1090 (10th Cir.2007)).
Oklahoma law, punitive damages are recoverable when
“the jury finds by clear and convincing evidence that .
. . [t]he defendant has been guilty of reckless disregard for
the rights of others” or “acted intentionally and
with malice towards others.” 23 Okla. Stat. 9.1(B).
Plaintiffs argue they have sufficient evidence to establish
they are entitled to punitive damages under each of the three
categories, because there is evidence that Defendant Harkley
stopped on the shoulder to urinate, which he could have
avoided by stopping at a rest stop before this
point. Plaintiffs further contend that Defendant
Harkley was aware he would be unable to return his truck to
the minimum highway speed of 50 m.p.h. before needing to
re-enter the roadway, before a bridge would impede his
ability to drive on the right shoulder. Because Defendant
Harkley could have stopped elsewhere safely, including beyond
the bridge, Plaintiffs contend they have established the
potential for punitive damages.
Court finds even construing the facts in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff, the record lacks clear and convincing
evidence that Defendant Harkley's behavior on the date of
the accident was reckless or that he acted intentionally and
with malice toward others. Although Plaintiff contends that
Defendant Harkley's actions were reckless because he was
aware that he would be unable to reach the minimum highway
speed before needing to return his truck to the roadway from
the shoulder, he testified that when initiated his return to
the roadway, there were no oncoming vehicles. Notwithstanding
Plaintiffs' attempts to characterize Defendant
Harkey's actions as unreasonable under the circumstances,
the Court finds that accepting Plaintiffs' version of the
facts it does not meet the threshold necessary to support a
verdict for punitive damages under any of the three tiers
provided by Okla. Stat. tit. 23 § 9.1.
reasons set forth herein, Defendants' Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 41) is GRANTED. The Court will
conduct a hearing on Plaintiffs Motion to Exclude (Doc. No.
40) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
IS SO ORDERED
 Plaintiffs' brief asserts:
At the accident scene, Harkley admitted to Trooper
Stanley that the only reason he stopped on the side of the
interstate was that he wanted to urinate.” In support
of this proposition Plaintiffs cite to the following
testimony of Trooper Stanley:
Q: During the time you were at the scene, or
afterwards for that matter, did you ever speak with Byron
Harkley, the driver of ...