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Moore v. Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

September 5, 2017

SAMUEL L. MOORE, Plaintiff/Appellant,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Hon. David C. Mason



         Samuel L. Moore (Appellant) appeals from the judgment of the trial court entered upon a jury verdict in favor of the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission (Respondent). We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On September 27, 2013, Appellant was travelling westbound on Martin Luther King Drive (MLK) when he collided with a car driven by Candice Malloyd (Malloyd), traveling northbound on Jefferson Street (Jefferson). The collision occurred within the intersection of MLK and Jefferson and caused Appellant's vehicle to hit the vehicle of William Van Cotton (Van Cotton), stopped southbound at the intersection. Both Appellant and Malloyd maintained they had a green light at the time of the collision. Malloyd testified she was driving approximately 50 miles per hour as she saw Appellant approach the intersection, but thought he was going to stop since she had a green light.

         Appellant's claim against Respondent, which is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the subject intersection and traffic signal, alleges the traffic signal at the intersection malfunctioned by simultaneously displaying green lights in both the westbound and northbound directions.

         During the discovery phase, Appellant submitted nine sets of interrogatories and requests for production to Respondent seeking information relating to the maintenance and operation of the subject traffic signal. Less than one week before the start of trial, Respondent produced a large number of previously unseen reports of maintenance and repairs of traffic signals done between 2008 and 2012. Appellant filed a motion for sanctions which included a request to strike certain late or unproduced exhibits. Respondent conceded the late production of the discovery and in exchange for a withdrawal of the motion for sanctions, Respondent agreed not to object to any line of questioning as to the veracity of the documents.

         On Monday, July 11, 2016, trial began with voir dire. Counsel for Appellant queried the jury panel by asking them, "Who here feels sometimes things just happen, and that no one should be responsible if a car loses control, leaves a roadway, is in a crash with another car? Does anybody here have a mindset that things just happen?" Five panel members indicated generally they would have difficulty blaming Respondent or any other entity for a malfunctioning product. One panel member stated "if there's a technological malfunction I have trouble discerning that it's the State's fault." Another said, "I can't envision a company making a stop light that would allow two red, two greens at the same time." Appellant's counsel inquired if anyone else felt the same way. Juror No. 199 responded, "I'm not sure I would know who to blame for something like that." Juror No. 75 stated, "I would also think that the safety light feature would have some sort of a safety where … you can't have two green lights at the same time."

         At this point, the trial court asked the responding panel members to stand and asked them:

Regardless of how you feel how these kinds of conflicts ought to be judged, are you willing to set that aside and make a decision exclusively on the instructions I give you and the evidence that I let in? Are you able to do that? And if you're not, raise your hand. Let the record reflect that no hand has been raised.

         The trial court then told counsel to move on to her next subject of inquiry.

         After voir dire, counsel met with the court to discuss jury selection. At that time, Appellant made three strikes for cause, all granted by the court: Juror No. 163; Juror No. 467; and Juror No. 345. Appellant did not mention or move to strike either Juror No. 75 or Juror No. 199.

         At trial, Appellant presented two witnesses, each of whom said they saw the northwest traffic pole assembly display green in two different directions on one light pole at various times following the accident. Appellant also called Michelle Voegele (Voegele), Area Engineer for the City of St. Louis and Respondent's corporate designee. Appellant questioned Voegele on the issue of Respondent's late production of certain discovery materials involving maintenance and repair records of signals and lighting in the City of St. Louis. Respondent made no objections to this line of questioning and the trial court did not intercede.

         Respondent called electrician James Collier (Collier), another corporate designee, who managed the repair and maintenance of signals and lighting in the St. Louis area for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). Through its direct examination of Collier, Respondent attempted to rebut the inference of deliberate discovery violations Appellant had raised in its questioning of Voegele. Appellant, on cross-examination of Collier, again raised the late discovery issue. Specifically, the following ensued:

Appellant: There was some talk about the documents earlier that were given to us and why certain documents weren't given to us.
The Court: Don't inquire. Next subject.
Appellant: I'm sorry?
The Court: I said do not inquire on that. Go to the next subject.
Appellant: Okay. May I approach, Your Honor?
The Court: No.

         Following Collier's testimony, the trial court ...

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