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Salazar v. The Quikrete Companies, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 2, 2019

DON SALAZAR and ANDREA SALAZAR, individuals, d/b/a C&S TRUCKING CO., Plaintiff,
v.
THE QUIKRETE COMPANIES, LLC, A Delaware limited liability company, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. BRACK, SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         After several years of hauling mined material for Defendant Quikrete Companies, LLC (Quikrete), Plaintiffs Don and Andrea Salazar, d/b/a C&S Trucking Co. (C&S), sued to recover damages when Quikrete hired a lower-cost competitor to perform the work in 2018. Despite having no formal agreement, C&S alleges that it purchased additional equipment based on Quikrete's representations that C&S would have rights to the hauling job. Nevertheless, Quikrete found an alternative mover, and C&S lost this business. C&S now seeks reliance damages based on its dealings with Quikrete. In this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court takes up Quikrete's Motion for Summary Judgment contesting C&S's claims. (Doc. 35.) Given the illusory promises and C&S's unreasonable reliance, the Court will grant Quikrete's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Background

         In 2013, C&S started hauling mined material for Quikrete. (Doc. 1 (Compl.) ¶ 6.) It moved several thousand tons from the mine in Monarch Pass, Colorado to Wellsville, Colorado each year. (Id. ¶ 1.) According to tax filings, Quikrete paid C&S an average of $239, 817.90 per year through 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 7.) Revenue earned throughout this period ranged from $86, 084 at the low end to a maximum of $393, 492. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         As he performed more hauls for Quikrete, Mr. Salazar left his employment with Roserock Oil. (Id. ¶ 8.) Believing that C&S would continue to haul mined material for Quikrete indefinitely, C&S purchased approximately $418, 000 worth of equipment in 2014, [1] including: a $150, 000 2014 Peterbilt truck; a $44, 000 Rancho Trailer; a $60, 000 Travis Trailer; and a $165, 000 544 front end loader. (Id.) C&S used this equipment for the next few years not only for Quikrete, but also for other mining companies. (Doc. 35-1 at 145:18-148:13.)

         During the 2016 and 2017 hauls, however, Super Ex began competing with Plaintiff for the work. (Id. at 52:18-53:18.) C&S alleges that it “hauled mined material to Dallas at Quikrete's request at a reduced haul rate under duress which caused C&S to lose $80, 917.59, . . . benefit[ing] Quikrete.” (Doc. 1 ¶ 9.) Despite its expectation that C&S would continue to haul for Quikrete, “[o]n or about May 8, 2018, C&S . . . was notified by a representative of Quikrete (Eric Leigh) that Quickrete no longer needed [the] mined material hauling services of C&S.” (Id. ¶ 11.) C&S has not hauled for Quikrete since December 13, 2017. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit on August 9, 2018, after Quikrete refused to compensate C&S for its alleged losses. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff claims that “Quikrete knew of C&S's expectation of continued hauling and also knew that C&S had purchased the equipment . . . in reliance on C&S's expectation that it would continue to haul mined material for Quikrete.” (Id. ¶ 14.) On this basis, C&S now seeks $739, 735.40 for (i) the 2018 hauling revenue, (ii) the equipment purchases, and (iii) the reduced haul rates across 2016-17. (Id. ¶ 18.) Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on April 24, 2019, asking the Court to dismiss the claim against it. (Doc. 35.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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); see also Garrison v. Gambro, Inc., 428 F.3d 933, 935 (10th Cir. 2005) (reiterating the standard). A “genuine” issue arises when “a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). And a material fact “is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Id. (citation omitted). To support the motion, the moving party may employ “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

         In assessing motions for summary judgment, the Court takes all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The moving party bears the initial responsibility 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) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)). Once the moving party passes this initial hurdle, “the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine triable issue.” Johnson v. City of Roswell, 752 Fed.Appx. 646, 649 (10th Cir. 2018) (citing Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 767 (10th Cir. 2013). The purpose of summary judgment is to “determin[e] whether there is the need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

         III. Analysis

         In a diversity action, the Court applies New Mexico choice of law rules. See Elec. Distrib., Inc. v. SFR, Inc., 166 F.3d 1074, 1083 (10th Cir. 1999). New Mexico utilizes a lex loci approach to contracts, which looks to the contracting location-or rather, where the accepting party agrees to contract. See State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. v. Conyers, 784 P.2d 986, 991 (N.M. 1989). Here, the alleged contract arose from communications between offeror Quikrete in Colorado and offerees Salazars at their home in New Mexico. (Doc. 35 at 13.) As a result, the Court will apply New Mexico law.

         Plaintiff proceeds with a promissory estoppel theory. In Strata Prod. Co. v. Mercury Expl. Co., the Supreme Court of New Mexico provided the promissory estoppel standard. 916 P.2d 822, 828 (N.M. 1996). To make out a prima facie case, a party must show:

(1) An actual promise must have been made which in fact induced the promisee's action or forbearance; (2) The promisee's reliance on the promise must have been reasonable; (3) The promisee's action or forbearance must have amounted to a substantial change in position; (4) The promisee's action or forbearance must have been actually foreseen or reasonably foreseeable to the ...

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