United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
DAVID M. LAWSON, District Judge.
In this case, plaintiff Stefano Spigno has sued the driver of a truck and his employer for damages caused by a rear-end motor vehicle collision. Spigno alleges that at the time of the accident, the driver, Alan Gansch, was doing his employer's bidding, and therefore the employer, Precision Pipeline, LLC, is liable under the theory of respondeat superior. Before the Court is Precision's motion for summary judgment, in which it argues that the undisputed facts show that Gansch was not on the job when the accident occurred. Precision contends, therefore, that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the respondeat superior claim. (Spigno also has a claim under the Michigan Owner's Liability statute, Mich. Comp. Laws § 257.401(1).) The Court heard oral argument on February 2, 2015 and now concludes that fact questions prevent the resolution of the claim on summary judgment. Therefore, the motion will be denied.
The accident occurred on December 14, 2012. Gansch was driving a large Peterbilt truck eastbound on Highland Road near Eager Road in Oceola Township, Michigan. Spigno was driving in the same direction in front of Gansch's truck. Gansch rear-ended Spigno's car, causing him to spin out and cross the center line into the path of an oncoming westbound car driven by Ann E. Blaauw. Spigno and Blaauw suffered serious injuries in the resulting collision, and both subsequently sued Gansch and Precision for negligence. Blaauw settled her claims against all of the defendants, and her case was dismissed. Spigno reached a settlement with Gansch only, and on December 4, 2014, the claims in this case against Gansch individually were dismissed without prejudice, upon the stipulation of the parties.
When not working out of state, Gansch resides in Pittsville, Wisconsin. He is a diesel engine mechanic by trade, and he was hired by defendant Precision to work in that capacity. At the time of the accident on December 14, 2012, Precision was his only employer. From August 2011 through October 2012, Gansch worked for Precision at a job site in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. In early November, Gansch was reassigned to work at several Precision job sites in Michigan. While he was working in Michigan, he lived temporarily at the Waldenwoods Campground in Oceola Township. According to the daily time records of November 5, 2012 through December 14, 2012, Gansch worked every day except the Sunday after Thanksgiving, seven days a week, an average of 13 hours per day (approximately 90 hours per week). He testified that he was "on call" at all hours and had to be ready any time that Precision might call for him to take his truck out and do repairs at a job site.
Gansch was paid an hourly wage of $30.18 for his labor, plus $16 per hour "rig pay" or rent for the use of the truck that he owned and brought with him to the job in Michigan. The truck was large enough that Gansch needed a commercial driver license (CDL) to drive it. During the time he worked for Precision in Michigan, the truck was not used for work purposes by or for any employer other than Precision. Also during that time, Precision paid for fuel Gansch used while driving the truck, as well as regular maintenance including oil changes and replacing broken parts like burned out lights. If parts such as brake linings wore out in the course of the assignment, Precision would pay for replacements, unless the item was a major component such as an engine or transmission.
On the day of the accident, Gansch started work at around 6:00 a.m., and he worked 13 hours. That morning, Gansch clocked in by reporting in person to his supervisor, Mike Wall, at the Whitmore Lake jobsite, as he was required to each day. According to the police report, the accident occurred at 5:46 p.m. Along with his own tools and equipment, Gansch also had certain items that belonged to Precision on the truck at the time of the crash, such as "[m]iscellaneous parts... angle irons, strap iron... some disc blades... and a hose." Gansch testified that he was driving in the direction of the Waldenwoods Campground on Eager Road, in Oceola Township, Michigan, when the accident happened. But he could not recall whether he had any other scheduled stops for work assignments after leaving his last job site prior to the accident, which also was located on Eager Road. Gansch stated, however, that "Walden would be [his destination] eventually." Gansch's supervisor also testified that he did not know if Gansch had any scheduled stops between leaving the Eager Road job site and heading home.
The plaintiff filed his complaint on January 8, 2014, and an amended complaint on November 11, 2014. Spigno alleged in his original complaint that Precision Pipeline was liable for the injuries caused by Gansch's driving because at the time of the accident he was an employee of Precision acting within the scope of his employment. In the amended complaint, Spigno further alleged that because Precision Pipeline had rented, or had exclusive use of, for a period of more than 30 days, the truck driven by defendant Gansch at the time of the accident, Precision Pipeline would be deemed an "owner" of the truck under Michigan law and therefore liable for Gansch's negligence. That theory of liability is not before the Court in the present motion.
Summary judgment is appropriate "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). As the Sixth Circuit has explained, when a summary judgment motion is filed, "[t]he court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, and determine whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Alexander v. CareSource, 576 F.3d 551, 557-58 (6th Cir. 2009) ( Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)).
"The party bringing the summary judgment motion has the initial burden of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute over material facts." 576 F.3d at 558 (citing Mt. Lebanon Personal Care Home, Inc. v. Hoover Universal, Inc., 276 F.3d 845, 848 (6th Cir. 2002)). "Once that occurs, the party opposing the motion then may not rely on the hope that the trier of fact will disbelieve the movant's denial of a disputed fact' but must make an affirmative showing with proper evidence in order to defeat the motion." Id. (quoting Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989)).
"[T]he party opposing the summary judgment motion must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'" Highland Capital, Inc. v. Franklin Nat'l Bank, 350 F.3d 558, 564 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Instead, the responding party must designate specific facts in affidavits, depositions, or other factual material showing "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. If the non-moving party, after sufficient opportunity for discovery, is unable to meet his or her burden of proof, summary judgment is clearly proper. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "Thus, the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [opposing party]'s position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [opposing party]." 350 F.3d at 546 (quoting 477 U.S. at 252) (quotations omitted).
Irrelevant or unnecessary factual disputes do not create genuine issues of material fact. St. Francis Health Care Centre v. Shalala, 205 F.3d 937, 943 (6th Cir. 2000). A fact is "material" if its resolution affects the outcome of the lawsuit. Lenning v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 260 F.3d 574, 581 (6th Cir. 2001). "Materiality" is determined by the substantive law claim. Boyd v. Baeppler, 215 F.3d 594, 599 (6th Cir. 2000). An issue is "genuine" if a "reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Henson v. Nat'l Aeronautics & Space Admin., 14 F.3d 1143, 1148 (6th Cir. 1994) (quoting 477 U.S. at 248).
In a defensive motion for summary judgment, the party who bears the burden of proof must present a jury question as to each element of the claim. Davis v. McCourt, 226 F.3d 506, 511 (6th Cir. 2000). Failure to prove an essential element of a claim renders all other facts immaterial for summary judgment purposes. ...