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Moran v. Wycoff

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

November 3, 2017

GABRIEL MORAN and REINERIS PENATE-NAJERA, Plaintiffs,
v.
CODY WYCOFF and OLD DOMINION FREIGHT LINE, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         On December 11, 2015, Plaintiffs Gabriel Moran and Reineris Penate-Najera allegedly suffered injuries and damages as a result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on U.S. Highway 550 near Cuba, New Mexico. Each Plaintiff was driving a small Toyota truck and each was towing a small Toyota truck, [1] when a tractor trailer driven by Defendant Cody Wyckoff and owned by Defendant Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., hit the back of the truck being towed by Plaintiff Moran. See Second Amended Complaint for Personal Injuries and Damages (SAC) ¶¶ 6-8, 21; Plaintiffs' Response at 1 (Doc. No. 47). The collision caused Plaintiff Moran's vehicle to strike Plaintiff Penate-Najera's truck; Plaintiff Moran's vehicle then rolled several times. Plaintiffs' Response at 2. Defendant Wyckoff's cab and trailer went down on its left side. Plaintiffs assert claims of negligence and negligence per se[2] against Defendants. SAC ¶¶ 11-20.

         Defendants seek partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claim of negligence per se based, in part, on Defendants' argument that the undisputed material facts demonstrate that Defendant Wyckoff was driving within the speed limit, was not tailgating Plaintiff Moran's vehicle, and was not driving recklessly or negligently when the Old Dominion tractor trailer struck the back of the vehicle being towed by Plaintiff Moran.[3] Plaintiffs assert that genuine disputes of material fact exist to defeat Defendants' request for partial summary judgment.[4]Defendants contend that Plaintiffs have attempted to dispute only one of their nine undisputed material facts and that this “sole ‘disputed' fact” does not defeat Defendants' request for partial summary judgment as to the negligence per se claim.[5]

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment may be granted 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). When applying this standard, the Court examines the factual record and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Applied Genetics Intl, Inc. v. First Affiliated Sec., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir. 1990). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of “show[ing] that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted). Once the movant meets this burden, Rule 56 requires the non-moving party to designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, then, the Court's “role is simply to determine whether the evidence proffered by plaintiff would be sufficient, if believed by the ultimate factfinder, to sustain her claim.” Foster v. Alliedsignal, Inc., 293 F.3d 1187, 1195 (10th Cir. 2002).

         Undisputed Material Facts[6]

         On December 11, 2015, before leaving Farmington for Albuquerque, NM, Defendant Wyckoff conducted a pre-trip inspection of his tractor trailer truck and found no problems with the truck's brakes, air lines, or fluid levels. The accident occurred north of Cuba, NM on Highway 550 at about 7:30 to 8 p.m. when it was dark. At the point of collision, Highway 550 was a 4-lane road, with two lanes traveling in each direction. The pertinent stretch of the road was flat and mostly straight with some slight curves. The weather was clear.

         Before the accident occurred, Defendant Wyckoff was not using a cellular telephone. His low beam headlights were on due to oncoming traffic. He was traveling the posted speed limit of 70 MPH and was in the right-hand lane of Highway 550. Defendant Wyckoff caught just a “glimpse of a vehicle being pulled by another vehicle” when Plaintiffs' cars became visible in his headlights, which occurred right before the accident. He “went for the brake” but did not recall ever touching the brake pedal because “[i]t happened too fast.” Wyckoff Dep. at 66 (Doc. No. 44-1). He turned the steering wheel to the left to try to avoid the vehicle but struck the left rear of the towed vehicle with the passenger side of the tractor trailer.

         Defendant Wyckoff testified that he did not see any lights “whatsoever” on the vehicles before he struck Plaintiff Moran's towed vehicle. Id. at 67 (Doc. No. 44-1). Defendant Wyckoff estimated that Plaintiffs must have been traveling at a speed of no more than 25 MPH.

         In contrast, Plaintiff Moran testified that he was traveling at a speed of about 55 MPH, that his vehicle's lights worked, and that the towed vehicle's lights also were working. Plaintiff Penate-Najera also represented that he was driving 55 MPH when the accident occurred. Plaintiff Moran stated that before the collision, he had seen the tractor trailer “a long way away, and all of a sudden, I saw the lights close and ‘boom.'” Moran Dep. at 55 (Doc. No. 44-1).

         Defendants set out nine material facts in their Motion. In their Response Plaintiffs appear to have admitted most of those facts but expressly challenge Defendants' material fact number 7, which states that Defendant Wyckoff saw no lights from Plaintiffs' vehicles before the accident. See Response at 2. In an attempt to refute fact number 7, Plaintiffs contend that Mr. Penate-Najera testified that “the vehicles were checked and that all lights including his brake lights were working on the vehicles.” Response at 2.[7] Plaintiffs also identified six material facts they contend are undisputed, many of which duplicate Defendants' proposed material facts.[8] See Id. at 2-3. Although Plaintiffs state in their Response that they challenge only Defendant Wyckoff's testimony about vehicle lights, Plaintiffs also dispute Defendant Wyckoff's estimate of Plaintiffs' speed. Response at 3.

         Discussion

         A. Negligence Per Se

         In New Mexico, negligence per se consists of four elements:

(1) There must be a statute [or regulation] which prescribes certain actions or defines a standard of conduct, either explicitly or implicitly, (2) the defendant must violate the statute [or regulation], (3) the plaintiff must be in the class of persons sought to be protected by the statute, and (4) the harm or injury to the plaintiff must ...

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