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Malone v. Eden

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 17, 2019

TONYA MICHELLE MALONE, as Personal Representative of the Estate of GERARD WATSON, Deceased, Plaintiff,

          Mark J. Caruso and David E. Shelle, Caruso Law Offices P.C., Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Paul D. Barber and Nathan S. Anderson, Barber & Borg LLC, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Plaintiff.

          Lisa Chavez Ortega, Rodey Dickason Sloan Akin & Robb, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Defendant CRST.



         THIS MATTER is before the court on (1) Defendant CRST Expedited Inc.'s (CRST) Motion for Summary Judgment filed July 21, 2017 (ECF No. 86); (2) CRST's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Claim of Vicarious Liability for the Actions of Jacqueline Fletcher filed July 21, 2017 (ECF No. 87); (3) CRST's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Claim for Punitive Damages filed July 21, 2017 (ECF No. 88); (4) CRST's Motion to Exclude Portions of the Testimony of Whitney G. Morgan filed May 14, 2018 (ECF No. 106); (5) Plaintiff's Motion to Strike or, in the Alternative, for Leave to File Motion filed May 29, 2018 (ECF No. 107); and (6) Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time filed May 29, 2018 (ECF No. 108). Upon consideration thereof, the court finds that CRST's initial motion for summary judgment is well taken and should be granted; the remaining motions should be denied as moot.[1]


         In this wrongful death case removed to federal court, Plaintiff, the personal representative of the Estate of Gerard Watson, Deceased, seeks compensatory and punitive damages associated with a commercial motor vehicle accident that occurred on June 22, 2013, resulting in the death of Mr. Watson.

         Defendant Jacqueline Fletcher had an independent contractor agreement with Defendant CRST to operate a commercial vehicle on CRST's behalf, and Mr. Watson was her employee. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 2 (ECF No. 86). Ms. Fletcher and Mr. Watson were driving a truck under lease from CRST, transporting cargo to Ontario, California. Id. at 1-2. At some point during the trip, Ms. Fletcher picked up her father, Gary Eden, and planned to drop him off at his home in Phoenix, Arizona, on their way to California. Id. Ms. Fletcher did not inform CRST of her plans to pick up her father as a passenger, and she did not seek permission for his presence in the truck, in violation of her operating agreement with CRST.[2] Id.

         Early on the morning of June 22, the truck was involved in a single-vehicle accident near Grants, New Mexico. Id. At the time of the accident, Ms. Fletcher was logged as the operator of the truck and Mr. Watson was asleep in the truck's bunk bed. Id. Ms. Fletcher, however, was not the driver during the crash - her father was driving and caused the accident when he lost control of the truck. Id. at 2. Ms. Fletcher's operating agreement with CRST specifically prohibited her from permitting an unauthorized third party to operate the truck.[3] Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A (ECF No. 86-1); Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 2. Mr. Watson suffered severe injuries in the crash and died at the scene of the accident. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 2.

         Mr. Watson's mother, as the personal representative of Mr. Watson's estate, sued Ms. Fletcher, Mr. Eden, and CRST for his wrongful death on October 1, 2015.[4]Complaint at 1 (ECF No. 1-1). CRST removed the case from New Mexico state court on November 6, 2015. Def.'s Notice of Removal (ECF No. 1).

         Six motions are currently pending before the court. On July 21, 2017, CRST filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims against it. (ECF No. 86). That same day, as an alternative to a comprehensive summary judgment order, CRST filed two alternative motions for partial summary judgment - one on the issue of Plaintiff's vicarious liability claim against CRST, and another on the issue of Plaintiff's punitive damages claim against CRST. (ECF Nos. 87 & 88). On May 14, 2018, CRST filed a motion to exclude at trial portions of the testimony of plaintiff's witness Whitney G. Morgan. (ECF No. 106). CRST filed a reply on June 13, 2018, noting Plaintiff's failure to file a response to its motion to exclude. (ECF No. 111). While Plaintiff did not file a response to CRST's motion to exclude testimony, Plaintiff did file two relevant motions. On May 29, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to strike CRST's motion to exclude, or in the alternative a motion for leave to file a motion for partial summary judgment. (ECF No. 107). Plaintiff also filed a motion for extension of time to respond to CRST's motion to exclude testimony until after the court rendered a decision on the motion to strike. (ECF No. 108).


         Summary judgment is warranted “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). In applying this standard, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Gutierrez v. Cobos, 841 F.3d 895, 900 (10th Cir. 2016).

         As for the substantive law governing the motion, a federal district court sitting in diversity applies the choice of law rules of the forum jurisdiction - here, New Mexico state law. See MidAmerica Constr. Mgmt., Inc. v. MasTec N. Am., Inc., 436 F.3d 1257, 1260 (10th Cir. 2006). Under New Mexico choice of law rules, the substantive law governing a tort action is the law of the place where the wrong occurred. See Terrazas v. Garland & Loman, Inc., 142 P.3d 374, 377 (N.M. Ct. App. 2006); see also Restatement (First) of Conflict of Laws § 378 (Am. Law Inst. 1934) (“The law of the place of wrong determines whether a person has sustained a legal injury.”). Here, there is no dispute that the place of wrong is New Mexico, and so New Mexico tort law governs.

         A. CRST's Motion ...

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