United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Mr.
Greene's direct negligence claims against USA
Truck. 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)
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.
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.
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)
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 ...