Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Greene v. Grams

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 6, 2019

BYRON GREENE, Plaintiff,
v.
CHAD GRAMS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This negligence case arises out of an auto accident in northeast Washington, D.C. Chad Grams' tractor trailer collided with a car driven by Byron Greene at the intersection of Benning Road and Maryland Avenue. Mr. Grams' employer, USA Truck, Inc., admits that he was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident and now moves for summary judgment on Mr. Greene's direct negligence claims against the company. Mr. Greene, however, seeks to amend his Complaint to add punitive damages against both Defendants, citing Mr. Grams' poor driving record. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Mr. Greene's Motion to Amend.

         I.

         Mr. Greene stopped at a red light at the intersection of Benning Road NE and Maryland Avenue NE on the evening of March 30, 2016. Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 1-1.[1] When the light turned green, he entered the intersection heading westbound. Id. ¶ 8. Meanwhile, Mr. Grams was driving his tractor trailer northbound on Maryland Avenue towards the intersection. Id. ¶ 9. Mr. Grams failed to stop as his light changed from yellow to red, and the two vehicles collided. Id.; see also Grams Dep. at 13, ECF No. 23-1.[2]

         Mr. Greene sued, claiming that he had permanent physical and emotional injuries from the accident. He brought a simple negligence claim against Mr. Grams. Compl. ¶ 32. He also alleged that USA Truck was vicariously liable for Mr. Grams' negligence. Id. ¶ 33. USA Truck admits that Mr. Grams caused the accident while acting within the scope of his employment. Answer at 1, ECF No. 8. Mr. Greene also asserted direct negligence claims against USA Truck for negligent entrustment and negligent hiring, training, and supervision. Compl. ¶¶ 34-35.

         This was not Mr. Grams' first strike as a driver, and Mr. Greene cites Mr. Grams' driving record and criminal history to justify amending his Complaint to add claims for punitive damages against Mr. Grams and USA Truck. See Pl.'s Mot. to Amend (“Mot. to Amend”) at 1- 2, ECF No. 23. But as explained below, Mr. Greene's proposed amendment is futile. Meanwhile, USA Truck seeks summary judgment on Mr. Greene's direct negligence claims. Mot. for Partial Summ. J. at 1-2, ECF No. 24. It argues that because it has admitted that Mr. Grams was its agent at the time of the accident, Mr. Greene's direct negligence claims are duplicative and unnecessary. Id.

         II.

         Summary judgment may be granted 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); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A fact is “material” if it can affect the substantive outcome of the litigation. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. And a dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. In making that determination, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, draw all inferences in its favor, and avoid making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence. Calhoun v. Johnson, 632 F.3d 1259, 1261 (D.C. Cir. 2011).

         III.

         The Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Mr. Greene's direct negligence claims against USA Truck.[3] USA Truck admits that it is vicariously liable for Mr. Grams' negligence. Answer at 1. Under the “McHaffie Rule, ” when an employer acknowledges vicarious liability for its employee's negligence, a plaintiff's direct claims against the employer are barred. See McHaffie v. Bunch, 891 S.W.2d 822, 826 (Mo. 1995); see also Ferrer v. Okbamicael, 390 P.3d 836, 843-44 (Colo. 2017) (collecting cases).

         The rule originates from Houlihan v. McCall, 78 A.2d 661 (Md. 1951). See Ferrer, 390 P.3d at 842. The facts of Houlihan foreshadow this case. A truck driver collided with the plaintiffs' car at an intersection. Houlihan, 78 A.2d at 662-63. The plaintiffs sued both the truck driver and his employer for negligence, and they sued the employer for negligent hiring, citing the truck driver's poor driving record. See Id. at 664. The employer acknowledged an agency relationship with the truck driver before trial, but the trial court still allowed the plaintiffs to enter evidence about the truck driver's past infractions. Id. at 664-65.

         Maryland's highest court determined that, because the employer had admitted the truck driver was its agent, “it was quite unnecessary to pursue the alternative theory [of direct negligence] in order to hold the corporate defendant [liable].” Id. at 665. So it reversed the trial court's decision to admit evidence of the driver's driving record, concluding that where an employer admits agency, an employee's driving record “can serve no purpose except to inflame the jury.” Id. at 666.

         To be sure, some jurisdictions have adopted a different rule. They allow plaintiffs to hold an employer “liable for injuries caused by it own independent negligence . . . and, at the same time, under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the injuries cause by its employee's negligent behavior.” MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier, 433 S.W.3d 324, 335 (Ky. 2014) (emphasis in original). Those courts reason that “[j]ust as an employee can act to cause another's injury . . . so can an employer be independently liable in tort.” See James v. Kelly Trucking Co., 661 S.E.2d 329, 330 (S.C. 2008)

         But the D.C. Court of Appeals would likely follow Houlihan's reasoning. Other federal courts in this Circuit have reached the same conclusion. See, e.g., Hackett v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 736 F.Supp. 8, 9-11 (D.D.C. 1990). “Where there is no D.C. common law on point, the courts of this jurisdiction are instructed to ‘look to the law of Maryland for guidance' because D.C. common law is based on Maryland common law.” Smith v. Summers, 334 F.Supp.3d 339, 342 (D.D.C. 2018) (quoting Conesco ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.