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Partain-Hartigan v. Grandfreight Global

July 26, 2010

GAYLE PARTAIN-HARTIGAN PLAINTIFF,
v.
GRANDFREIGHT GLOBAL, LLC A NEW JERSEY LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY AND JOSEPH YUGI DEFENDANTS.



DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Gayle Partain-Hartigan commenced the present action on June 23, 2006. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). Plaintiff, a citizen of New York State, alleges that Defendant Joseph Yugi ("Yugi"), a citizen of Texas, negligently drove a tractor-trailer on Interstate 87 and caused Plaintiff to collide with that tractor-trailer. Compl. ¶¶ 3-5. Plaintiff also sues Yugi's employer, Defendant Grandfreight Global, LLC, a New Jersey Limited Liability Company with a principal place of business in New Jersey, which owns the tractor-trailer. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4. This Court has jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 based on the parties' diversity and amount in controversy. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion seeking summary judgment and dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (Dkt. No. 36). For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On September 21, 2005, Plaintiff Gayle Partain-Hartigan ("Plaintiff") and Defendant Joseph Yugi ("Defendant") were driving on Interstate 87 south of Plattsburgh, New York. Compl. ¶ 3.

Defendant was operating a tractor-trailer owned by Defendant Grandfreight Global, LLC. Compl. ¶ 5. Plaintiff was driving a 1999 Oldsmobile Achieva at approximately 64 miles per hour and following Defendant in the right-hand lane traveling southbound between exits 36 and 37. Pl. Dep. (Dkt. No. 35-5, Ex. C) at 15, 19, 25, 26. While operating her vehicle, Plaintiff rear-ended Defendant. Id. at 28. The above facts concerning the sequence of events prior to the accident are not disputed. See Dkt. Nos. 35-1, 38-2.

In her deposition, Plaintiff states that she was approximately five car lengths behind Defendant when she noticed that he had stopped on the highway. Id. at 26, 28. She did not observe the truck's brake lights and slammed on her brakes when she became aware he had stopped. Id. at 28-29.

William Burch, who was stopped in the median on Interstate 87 near the location of the collision, gave testimony that he saw the tractor-trailer drive past him immediately before the accident. Burch Dep. (Dkt. No. 35-14, Ex. F) at 7, 11. Burch was unable to recall the events surrounding the accident during his deposition, though he does remember thinking that the tractor-trailer was moving slower than the other traffic. See id. 11-14, 17. Burch had previously given statements to the police and the Town Court of Peru. Police Accident Report (Dkt. No. 35-19) at 2; Burch V.S. (Dkt. No. 38-3) at 1. Burch stated that he saw Defendant's tractor-trailer traveling at a slow speed, approximately 30 to 35 miles, without flashing lights. Burch V.S. at 1. After the accident, Burch asked Defendant why he had been operating his tractor-trailer at a slow speed. Id. at 1.

Cherie Hicks, who was following Plaintiff on the highway, gave testimony that Plaintiff was following Defendant by approximately one or two car lengths. Hicks Dep. (Dkt. No. 35-16) at 10.

Hicks states that the truck "just stopped all of a sudden and then she [Plaintiff] just ran into it." Id. at 11. Hicks does not recall seeing Defendant's brake lights and had to swerve into the left-hand lane quickly in order to avoid the collision. Id. at 12.

Defendant gave deposition testimony that he was traveling at 55 miles per hour when he heard a loud noise come from behind his truck. Yugi Dep. (Dkt. No. 35-10, Ex. D) at 23-24. Defendant states that after he heard the loud noise, his engine cut off and his truck came to a stop. Id. at 25. Defendant seems to suggest that there was a mechanism in his tractor-trailer triggered by Plaintiff colliding with his two rear tires that engaged the engine brakes and stopped the truck immediately. Id. at 25-27. However, Defendant's construction of the events surrounding the accident is not entirely clear from his testimony.

A Police Accident Report completed at the scene documents a rear-end collision. Police Accident Report (Dkt. No. 35-19, Ex. K). Both Plaintiff and Defendant were issued tickets concerning the accident. Plaintiff was issued a ticket for violating Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1129 having followed Defendant's tractor-trailer too closely. Certificate of Disposition (Dkt. No. 35-18, Ex. J) at 3. In his testimony, Defendant stated that he was issued a ticket for driving slowly, which he paid in full. Yugi Dep. at 36. However, Defendant's only ticket on record is for having a false log book. Certificate of Disposition (Dkt. No. 39-2) at 1. Additionally, this ticket is for a violation occurring on September 14, 2005, not the date of the accident. Id. at 1.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(2). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying the portions of the record that demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

In response, the non-movant "must come forth with evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in her favor." Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 251 (2d Cir. 2001). The non-movant "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleadings" to overcome a motion for summary judgment. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)(2); see Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 ...


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