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Kimble v. Cr Operating Co. Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 21, 2018




         Defendant, CR Operating Company, Inc. filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 55). Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition (Dkt. No. 58) and Defendant filed a Reply (Dkt. No. 60). The matter is fully briefed and the motion is now at issue.

         I. Background

         In early 2015, Andrew Kimble moved into Apple Creek Estates and/or Apple Creek Apartments (hereafter “Apple Creek Apartments”). Kimble continuously used his balcony to smoke cigarettes and leaned against the balcony railing on multiple occasions without issue. On January 25, 2016, Kimble leaned against the railing and fell to the ground. Kimble suffered numerous injuries when he fell from the second story balcony including head, wrist, and back injuries with the potential for future surgery to correct additional medical issues. Kimble underwent multiple surgeries and missed months of work as a result of the fall.

         Dr. Vinod Gupta owns Apple Creek Apartments through Apple Creek Estates, LLC. Dr. Vinod Gupta and his wife, Chandra Gupta, are the only shareholders of CR Operating Company, Inc., which is the management and operating company for Apple Creek Estates and/or Apple Creek Apartments.

         Plaintiff brought claims for negligence and gross negligence against Defendant, CR Operating Company, Inc., d/b/a Apple Creek Apartments and Apple Creek Estates, L.L.C. Plaintiff also seeks to recover punitive damages from Defendants. Plaintiff argues Defendants recklessly disregarded Plaintiff's rights from which malice and evil intent can be inferred. Defendant CR Operating Company, Inc., seeks partial summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims for punitive damages.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         A key policy goal and primary principle of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is “to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 sets the standard for summary judgment:

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense- or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment 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).

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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 Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). It is also well established that the “party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion . . . which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “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., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (footnote omitted). “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).

         III. Analysis

         At the outset of this analysis, this Court notes that Defendant Apple Creek Estates, LLC, is the owner of Apple Creek Apartments. CR Operating Co., Inc. is functioning as a management company for the landowner, Defendant Apple Creek Estates, LLC. (Mem. Op. and Order, Dkt. No. 61.) This Court will limit its inquiry to discuss whether there is competent evidence from which a reasonable jury could find reckless disregard, sufficient to support an inference of evil intent and malice on the part of moving Defendant.

         Punitive damages are “generally considered to be an element of recovery of the underlying cause of action; it does not constitute a separate cause of action.” Rodebush v. Okla. Nursing Homes, Ltd.,1993 OK 160, ¶ 21, 867 P.2d 1241, 1247. Under 23 Okla. Stat. § 9.1, “Plaintiffs seek punitive damages pursuant to 23 Okla. Stat. § 9.1 which allows such a recovery where the jury finds by “clear and convincing evidence” that “the defendant has been guilty of reckless disregard for the rights of ...

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