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Soto v. Shealey

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 2, 2018


          Brian E. Wojtalewicz, for plaintiffs.

          Matthew D. Sloneker, for defendants.



         This diversity case is a personal-injury action brought by Ricardo and Marisol Gaytan Soto against Anthony Shealey and Swift Transportation Company of Arizona, LLC (“STC”). Shealey was driving a semi truck that overturned on Interstate 90 when he tried to avoid hitting six deer. Mr. Soto was driving a sedan that collided with the overturned trailer. The Sotos assert a negligence claim against Shealey (Count I) and a vicarious-liability claim against STC for Shealey's negligence (Count III). The Sotos also assert a direct negligence claim against STC (Count II) under multiple tort theories, including negligent hiring, retention, selection, supervision, and entrustment. STC moves for summary judgment on Count II, arguing that no reasonable jury could find STC negligent under any of those theories of tort liability. Because the Sotos neither allege nor present evidence that Shealey committed an intentional tort, the Court will grant Defendants' motion with respect to the Sotos' claims for negligent hiring and retention. But the Court will deny STC's motion with respect to the Sotos' claims for negligent selection, supervision, and entrustment because genuine disputes of material fact remain with respect to those claims.



         Shealey was an STC employee in late 2007 and early 2008, driving an 18-wheeler semi truck. (Aff. of Michael T. Burke (“Burke Aff.”) ¶ 2, Ex. 1 (“Shealey Dep.”) at 14:20-15:23, May 1, 2018, Docket No. 106.) During that time, STC documented multiple violations by Shealey related to his speed and hours driven. (Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. 2 (“Malchesky Dep.”) at 22:5-25:5.)

         In early 2016, Shealey wanted to rejoin the truck-driving workforce, and so he completed truck-driving school and renewed his commercial driver's license. (See Shealey Dep. at 16:3-17:11.) He rejoined STC in July 2016, and completed his training in August 2016. (Id. at 19:5-14.) During his training in August 2016, his truck's on-board computer system logged a “Critical Event Report, ” indicating that the truck's “stability control yaw system [was] triggered, ” which could have been caused by going around a turn too quickly or hard braking. (Malchesky Dep. at 27:19-30:22.)

         During his training, Shealey was driving for STC as an employee. (Shealey Dep. at 21:11-22.) After that, Shealey purchased his own truck and became an owner-operator for STC. (Id. at 21:11-17; 63:14-20.) Shealey financed the truck through a company called Idealease, a subsidiary of STC. (Id. at 23:10-25.) Shealey's monthly payments on the loan were deducted from his STC paycheck. (Id.) Shealey's agreement with STC is titled “Contractor Agreement.” (Burke Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. 5 at 1.) Shealey was not permitted to haul for anyone other than STC. (Id. ¶ 5.A.) While Shealey operated under STC's authority, STC had “exclusive possession, control and use” of the truck and trailer. (Id.) If Shealey failed to make on-time deliveries, STC could “temporarily take possession of the Equipment and complete the transportation.” (Id. ¶ 5.C.) STC also had the sole authority to bar Shealey from employing anyone that STC “deem[ed] unqualified” to operate the equipment. (Id. ¶ 7.D.) Shealey was required to comply with STC's speed restrictions (which are different than posted speed limits on roadways). (Id. ¶ 5.A; see Shealey Dep. at 61:6-15.) STC also required Shealey to maintain an on-board electronic monitoring system (sometimes called a “Qualcomm Communication system”). (See Burke Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. 5 ¶ 5.D.)

         Shealey's truck had a governor that limited its speed to 68 mph. (Shealey Dep. at 61:1-62:25.) STC's company trucks - i.e., not owner-operator trucks - are governed at 62 or 64 mph. (Id.) STC's “Driver Handbook” states that speeds of 67 to 70 mph are “excessive” and speeds above 70 mph are “flagrant.” (Decl. of Brian Wojtalewicz, ¶ 5, Ex. E (“Long Rep.”) at 7, Apr. 13, 2018, Docket No. 93.) STC's Driver's Handbook also warns of the danger of migrating deer. (Id. at 5.) It notes that there is a spike in deer- related crashes in May and June and in October and November each year. (Id.) It also twice warns drivers in all-capital letters: “NEVER SWERVE!” (Id.) It is unclear whether STC requires its drivers to read the handbook. (Burke Aff. ¶ 8, Ex. 7 (“Peyton Dep. ”) at 23:1-24:13.) STC neither tests their drivers on the handbook nor has a process for ensuring that their drivers read or maintain familiarity with the handbook. (Id. at 19:1-20:3.)

         On October 31, 2016, Shealey got a speeding ticket in Missouri. (Shealey Dep. at 25:4-18.) Shealey claims he was going 68 mph in a 60-mph zone. (Id.) STC records indicate that he was going 84 mph in a 60-mph zone. (Malchesky Dep. at 20:14-21:1.) It is unknown whether STC took any action in response to Shealey's speeding ticket. (Id. at 21:2-12.) In the trucking industry, there is an expression called “out-running your headlights, ” referring to a situation in which a driver is traveling at a speed such that the minimum stopping distance for the vehicle exceeds the distance the driver can see. (See Peyton Dep. at 14:18-15:14.) STC trains its drivers about such situations. (Id.)


         Around 10:00 p.m. on November 15, 2016, Shealey was driving westbound in the right-hand lane of I-90 near Luverne, Minnesota, going 68 mph on cruise control in a 70-mph zone. (Shealey Dep. at 27:18-21; Burke Aff. ¶ 4, Ex. 3 (“Crash Report”).) It was a clear, calm night, and there was little traffic. (Shealey Dep. at 26:16-22; see also Crash Report.) At that time, Shealey would have needed about 300 yards to stop his truck; Shealey admitted he could not see that far and that “[e]ven in daylight it's really hard” to see that far. (Shealey Dep. at 74:20-76:1.)

         Shortly after 10:00 p.m., Shealey saw six deer in I-90's westbound lanes, two in the middle of the road and four near the shoulder. (Id. at 27:9-28:5). When he saw the deer he tapped his brakes which released the cruise control, decelerated, and flashed his lights. (Id. at 27:9-28:5; 32:15-33:1; Malchesky Dep. at 61:24-63:24.) Flashing the truck's headlights caused the deer to freeze and stare in his direction. (Shealey Dep. at 32:15-33:1.)

         Shealey thought he could avoid a collision by moving to the left and missing the deer. (Id. at 29:22-30:8.) He moved over to the left-hand lane and then onto the left shoulder. (Id. at 27:9-28:11.) He made it around the deer without striking them, but there was a drop-off where the pavement ended, dropping down to the grassy median. (Id.) The truck's left tires slipped off the road and into the median, but the right tires remained on the pavement. (Id. at 28:6-29:7.) Shealey felt his trailer pulling sideways into the median. (Id. at 28:12-24; 30:14-23.) He then steered hard to get his truck and trailer back up onto the pavement, which caused the whole rig to tip onto its left side and slide onto the freeway. (Id. at 29:98-18, 34:22-35:1.) The cab of the truck came to a rest in the north ditch, and the overturned trailer blocked both westbound lanes of traffic. (Id. at 39:3-9; see also Crash Report.) Shortly thereafter, a vehicle driven by Mr. Soto collided with the underside of the trailer. (Crash Report.)

         III. ...

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