United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
PAUL HANBY, et al. Plaintiffs,
DODSON TRUCKING, et al. Defendants.
HEATON CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Paul and Maureen Hanby brought this action seeking to recover
for injuries they suffered in a motor vehicle accident. They
named as defendants Dodson Trucking and David Dodson. Their
complaint asserts negligence claims based on multiple
David Dodson has moved for summary judgment on the basis that
“Dodson Trucking” is not a separate entity and
that, as to the claims against him, there is no evidence of
judgment is warranted “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). Material facts are those which
“might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine
“if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.
To determine whether this standard is met, the court views
the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 411
(10th Cir. 2014). “[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c)
mandates entry of summary judgment . . . 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. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322-23 (1986).
this standard to the parties' submissions, the court
concludes defendant's motion should be granted as to any
claims against “Dodson Trucking” but otherwise
general circumstances giving rise to plaintiffs' claims
are undisputed. Plaintiffs were traveling on their motorcycle
on Interstate 40 in western Oklahoma when they encountered a
heavy rainstorm. Defendant Dodson was driving his
semitractor-trailer on the same stretch of Interstate 40.
When the rainstorm was encountered, plaintiffs were traveling
with other motorcycle riders in the outer or right hand lane
of the highway. Mr. Dodson's vehicle was traveling in the
same direction, in the same lane, several vehicles behind the
plaintiffs. At some point, Mr. Dodson shifted to the center,
passing lane and passed the plaintiffs. During that time,
plaintiffs' motorcycle and the trailer collided, throwing
plaintiffs onto the road and causing the motorcycle to become
attached to the trailer. Mr. Dodson did not immediately
notice the attached motorcycle, but eventually did and
stopped his vehicle. The plaintiffs suffered multiple
injuries from the collision but fortunately survived.
Dodson seeks summary judgment as to all claims.
the claims against “Dodson Trucking, ” Mr. Dodson
seeks judgment on the basis that “Dodson
Trucking” is only a business name for him, a sole
proprietor, and there is no other or separate entity of
“Dodson Trucking.” Plaintiffs do not controvert
any of the evidence as to the status of Dodson Trucking, but
instead make a somewhat convoluted argument that the claims
against Dodson Trucking can't be formally resolved now
because Dodson Trucking hasn't moved for summary
judgment. Given the undisputed fact that Dodson Trucking does
not even exist as a separate entity, there is no need to wait
for a separate motion from the non-existent entity. In any
event, as there is no dispute as to the non-existence of
“Dodson Trucking” as a legal entity, all claims
nominally against it will be dismissed.
Dodson also seeks summary judgment as to the negligence claim
against him. He contends there is no evidence which would
support a non-speculative inference of his negligence. The
court concludes otherwise. While there is apparently no
eyewitness who can explain exactly how the accident occurred,
there is evidence that the back of Mr. Dodson's trailer
at some point swung into the right-hand lane plaintiffs
occupied. There is evidence which would support inferences
that Mr. Dobson was driving aggressively, was initially
following too close given the conditions, and that his
attempt to pass was unreasonable in light of the weather
conditions. There is also evidence via the investigating
highway patrolman that Mr. Dodson told him it was
“possible” that his trailer had swung into the
plaintiffs' lane. Viewing this evidence in the light most
favorable to plaintiffs, the evidence is sufficient to create
a dispute of material fact which precludes summary judgment
on the negligence claim.
Dodson also seeks summary judgment as to plaintiffs'
request for punitive damages even if the court declines to
grant summary judgment as to the negligence claim itself.
That poses a considerably closer question.
defendant correctly notes, a request for punitive damages is
not a separate “claim” but it is subject
to a different standard of proof. Under Oklahoma law, which
all parties concede governs the question, a plaintiff must
establish a basis for punitive damages by showing at least
reckless disregard for the rights of others and must do so by
“clear and convincing evidence.” 23 Okla. Stat.
§ 9.1(A)-(C). The “clear and convincing”
standard requires plaintiffs to produce a more compelling
quantum of proof to create a justiciable issue as to punitive
damages, and it is less than obvious that they have done so
here. Even plaintiffs' own evidence indicates that Mr.
Dobson passed the motorcycles while moving relatively slowly;
he was apparently moving only a few miles per hour faster
than the motorcycles and was traveling well under the usual
speed limit. He did not stop immediately, but there is no
apparent reason to disbelieve his explanation that he
didn't immediately know of the collision with the
motorcycle, given the relatively minor impact of the
collision (to the trailer, not the motorcycle), the impact of
the weather conditions on visibility, and the surrounding
circumstances. However, the evidence of the severity of the
weather conditions also potentially supports an inference
that any effort ...