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Kyles v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

September 26, 2017

JOHNNY W. KYLES, Plaintiff,
v.
CELADON TRUCKING SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          DAVID P. RUSH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion of Defendants Celadon Trucking Services, Inc. and Dwight Jones for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. 118.) Defendants move for judgment in their favor on Plaintiff's claims for punitive damages in Counts I-IV of the Complaint, and in favor of Celadon Trucking Services, Inc. on Counts III and IV of the Complaint. Upon review, the Motion will be GRANTED.

         I. Background[1]

         This action stems from an incident that occurred on April 10, 2014 on Highway 63 in Oregon County, Missouri, when a tractor-trailer owned by Celadon Trucking Services, Inc. (“Celadon”) and driven by Dwight Jones (“Jones”), an employee of Celadon, collided with the rear of a tractor-trailer driven by Plaintiff (the “collision”). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) alleging that, as a result of the collision, he has suffered severe, permanent, and progressive injuries, including injuries to his back and neck. The Complaint raises four claims: negligence in Count I against both Defendants; negligence per se in Count II against both Defendants; negligent hiring, training, supervision, and entrustment in Count III against Celadon; and, negligence per se in Count IV against Celadon. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages on all counts.

         Jones attended Mayfield Driving School and obtained the equivalent of the modern-day Class A Commercial Driver's License (“CDL”) from the State of Ohio in 1987. Jones began driving with Burlington Motor Freight in 1987 and continued driving with that same company until 2002, when its trucking operations were purchased by Celadon. At the time of said purchase, Celadon screened Jones and determined that he was qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSRs”). In 2001 and 2002, Jones received tickets for speeding. Jones incurred no further moving violations until 2013, when he was ticketed while driving a commercial vehicle for failure to yield the right of way. During the ten-year time period prior to the collision, Jones was involved in one motor vehicle accident, in 2013, in which the tractor-trailer he was driving made contact with a guard rail, resulting in no damage to the guard rail and minor damage to the step on the passenger side of the tractor-trailer.

         At the time of the collision, Jones was: more than twenty-one years old; could read and speak the English language; was able, by experience or training, to safely operate the commercial motor vehicle which he was driving; was the holder of a current medical examiner's certificate in compliance with 49 CFR § 391.41; was the holder of a valid CDL; had provided Celadon with an annual list of violations in compliance with 49 CFR § 391.27; was not disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle for any conviction or violation included in 49 CFR § 391.15; and, had successfully completed a road test for Celadon.

         Jones went off duty at 19:11 (EDT) on Saturday, April 5, 2014 and remained off duty continuously through and including 05:33 (EDT) on the morning of April 7, 2014. The period of time during which Jones was continuously off duty between April 5, 2014 and April 7, 2014 totaled thirty-four hours and twenty-two minutes, and included two periods from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Pursuant to the provisions of 49 CFR § 395.3(c)(2), the eight-day time period that included April 5, 2014 ended at 19:11 (EDT) on that date. The eight-day time period during which the collision occurred began at 05:33 (EDT) on April 7, 2014. At the time of the collision, Jones had accumulated approximately 51.5 hours of on duty time during the eight-day time period that began on April 7, 2014.

         During the evening of April 9, 2014 and the morning of April 10, 2014, Jones spent 10.5 hours in the sleeper berth of the tractor he was operating. On the morning of April 10, 2014, prior to the collision, Jones had driven for three hours and fourteen minutes, and had been on duty a total of three hours and twenty minutes.

         Jones was first diagnosed with sleep apnea in the late 1980s. Due to his sleep apnea, Jones uses a BiPAP machine, which has a SIM card that records usage. Jones completed a Department of Transportation (“DOT”) physical examination every year while employed with Celadon, at a clinic operated by an independent medical examiner at the location of the Celadon terminal in Indianapolis, Indiana. Each time Jones reported for a physical examination for renewal of his medical certificate, the independent medical examiner performing the examination obtained a release from Jones' sleep doctor, up until he obtained a new BiPAP machine which recorded all data on a SIM card. After that, the SIM card was read by the independent medical examiner to monitor the usage of the BiPAP machine by Jones. Jones' sleep apnea was diagnosed and treated. In all the time Jones drove for Celadon, he never nodded off while driving. Celadon was aware of, and through its reliance on the independent medical examiner that performed the physical examinations, appropriately monitored Jones' sleep apnea. Treated sleep apnea is not a disqualifying medical condition for truck drivers under the FMCSRs.

         Jones does not recall whether he had a good night's sleep in the days leading up to the day of the collision. However, at the time of the collision, on the morning of April 10, 2014, Jones was well rested and was neither sleepy nor drowsy. During the night of April 8, 2014 into the morning of April 9, 2014, Jones utilized his BiPAP machine for eight hours, forty-four minutes and forty seconds. During the night of April 9, 2014 into the morning of April 10, 2014, Jones utilized his BiPAP machine for seven hours, thirteen minutes and twenty-six seconds without interruption.

         Jones had driven on Highway 63 before the crash, and knew that it had intersections where traffic in front of him may be turning left or right. Jones knew that it was important to keep a safe distance on highways where vehicles may be turning directly from the highway. Jones did not keep a safe distance in front of him and did not have sufficient lead time, paying attention to the vehicles in front of him, prior to colliding with Plaintiff's vehicle. In general, if a driver is not alert for a matter of seconds, a collision could happen.

         II. Legal Standard

         A party is entitled to summary judgment when the evidentiary record shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed R. Civ. P. 56(a); Heacker v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 676 F.3d 724, 726-27 (8th Cir. 2012). When a party moves for summary judgment, the court's role is to determine whether the evidentiary record contains genuine issues of material fact. Connolly v. Clark, 457 F.3d 872, 876 (8th Cir. 2006). The court makes this determination by viewing the facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Heacker, 676 F.3d at 726-27. However, a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment cannot simply rest on allegations and denials in his pleading to get to a jury without any significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). When the movant has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), the nonmovant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” and must come forward with “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         a. Punitive Damages

         Plaintiff seeks the imposition of punitive damages under Counts I-IV against both Celadon and Jones, alleging their conduct and violations “showed complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others, including Plaintiff.” Defendants move for judgment in their favor as to the issue of punitive damages on all four counts, arguing that no evidence exists to support any such award.

         Under the proper circumstances, punitive damages may be awarded in negligence actions if the act or omission manifests “such reckless indifference to the rights of others that the law will imply that an injury resulting from it was intentionally inflicted.” Sharp v. Robberson, 495 S.W.2d 394, 397 (Mo. 1973) (en banc). Punitive damages may also be awarded where the person acting or failing to act is “conscious of his conduct, and, though having no specific intent to injure, must be conscious, from his knowledge of surrounding circumstances and existing conditions, that his conduct will naturally or probably result in injury.” Id.; see also Mo. Approved Jury Instr. (Civil) 10.02 (a jury may award punitive damages where the negligent conduct “showed complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”); Hoover's Dairy, Inc. v. Mid-America Dairymen, Inc./Special Products, Inc., 700 S.W.2d 426, 436 (Mo. 1985) (en banc) (“punitive damages can be awarded in a negligence action but only when the defendant knew or had reason to know that there was a high degree of probability that the action would result in injury.”)

         The standard of proof for punitive damages is clear and convincing evidence. Rodriguez v. Suzuki Motor Corp., 936 S.W.2d 104, 111 (Mo. 1996) (en banc). This standard requires evidence “which instantly tilts the scales in the affirmative when weighed against evidence in opposition; evidence which clearly convinces the fact finder of the truth of the proposition to be proved.” Lewis v. FAG Bearings Corp., 5 S.W.3d 579, 582-83 (Mo. App. 1999).

         Here, Plaintiff seeks punitive damages “in an amount sufficient to punish Defendant(s) and deter Defendant(s) and others from like conduct” in all four counts of the Complaint, alleging that the conduct set forth in Counts I and III and the violations set forth in Counts II and IV “showed complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others, including Plaintiff.” In his First Interrogatories to Plaintiff, No. 23, Jones sought from Plaintiff the specific facts that “showed complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others which could ...


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