United States District Court, D. Maryland
Mark Coulson United States Magistrate Judge
suit arises out of a motor vehicle accident in which
Plaintiff Amberlei Dent (“Plaintiff” or
“Ms. Dent”) claims that she suffered injury due
to Defendant Brittany Waters' (“Defendant” or
“Ms. Waters”) alleged negligence in operating her
vehicle. The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate
judge for all proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636
and Local Rules 301 and 302. (ECF Nos. 21 & 22).
Currently pending before this Court is Plaintiff's Motion
for Summary Judgment on the Issue of Liability. (ECF No. 23).
The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's Motion,
Defendant's Response in Opposition thereto, and
Plaintiff's Reply in Support thereof. (ECF Nos. 23, 24,
26). No. hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).
For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion is
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the Court to
“grant summary judgment 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.” The moving
party bears the burden “to demonstrate the absence of
any genuine dispute of material fact.” Jones v.
Hoffberger Moving Servs. LLC, 92 F.Supp.3d 405, 409 (D.
Md. 2015) (internal citations omitted). A dispute as to a
material fact “is genuine if the evidence is such that
a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” J.E. Dunn Const. Co. v. S.R.P. Dev. Ltd.
P'ship, 115 F.Supp.35 593, 600 (D. Md. 2015)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986)).
nonmoving party “opposing a properly supported motion
for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere
allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather
must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore
Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir.
2003). The court is “required to view the facts and
draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable
to” the nonmoving party, Iko v. Shreve, 535
F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 377 (2007)), but must also
“abide by the ‘affirmative obligation of the
trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and
defenses from proceeding to trial.'” Heckman v.
Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 962 F.Supp.2d 792, 799-800 (D.
Md. 2013) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774,
778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).
crux of Plaintiff's claim, and the basis for her Motion
for Summary Judgment, is that Defendant negligently struck
Plaintiff's vehicle when Defendant attempted to merge
into Plaintiff's lane as Plaintiff slowed her own vehicle
in appropriate response to a yellow stoplight. Based only on
Defendant's deposition testimony, Plaintiff argues that
“it is clear that the Defendant was negligent in the
operation of her vehicle and the Plaintiff did nothing to
contribute to the accident.” (ECF No. 23-1 at
In explaining the circumstances of the accident, Defendant
stated at deposition, “I was trying to move over, merge
over [into Plaintiff's lane], so I put my blinker on, and
as I tried to proceed to merge, I expected her to go through
the light and I would have plenty of space to move, but
instead of going through the light, she stopped, and
that's when the right front end of my car tapped the left
rear end of her car.” Id. at 4. Plaintiff
asserts that because Defendant admitted her car came into
contact with Plaintiff's car, Defendant is liable as a
matter of law and summary judgment should be granted.
Maryland Court of Appeals has explained the general rule in
Maryland “that every automobile driver must exercise
toward other travelers on the highways that degree of care
which a person of ordinary prudence would exercise under
similar circumstances.” Brehm v. Lorenz, 206
Md. 500, 506 (1955) (internal citations omitted). In
particular, the Court has cited “the duty of the rear
driver to keep a safe distance between vehicles, ” but
has also explained that “[j]ust how near the driver of
an automobile may follow another automobile and still
exercise ordinary care depends upon the facts and
circumstances of the case.” Id. See also Md.
Code Ann., Transp., § 21-310 (“The driver of a
motor vehicle may not follow another vehicle more closely
than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the
speed of the other vehicle and of the traffic on and the
condition of the highway.”).
the Court of Appeals has also referenced another general rule
in Maryland: “negligence is not presumed from the mere
happening of a motor vehicle collision, because it cannot be
inferred in the absence of negligence that one party rather
than the other was at fault.” Brehm, 206 Md.
at 508. “In this specific type of case, where a
rear-end collision occurs after the lead vehicle comes to a
stop, there is no presumption that the rear driver was
negligent unless she had the chance to stop after the
necessity of stopping was apparent.” Grant v.
Newman, No. 404305, 2017 WL 4251755, at *3 (Md. Ct.
Spec. App. Sept. 26, 2017), cert. denied, 456 Md.
258 (2017), (quoting Herbert v. Klinsenbauer, 12
Md.App. 135, 139 (1971)). In cases involving motor vehicle
collisions, “[t]he question [of] whether due care was
used by either of the drivers is a question for the jury
except when the case is one where reasonable minds would not
differ.” Id.; see also Herbert v.
Klisenbauer, 12 Md.App. 135, 139 (1971) (“The
question whether the following vehicle involved in a rear-end
collision neglected to use due care is ordinarily for the
jury to decide.”).
explanation at her deposition of how the collision occurred
hardly amounts to an admission of liability that would alone
warrant a grant of summary judgment, especially considering
the fact that Defendant asserts Plaintiff herself contributed
to the accident by “stopp[ing] abruptly on a yellow
light.” (ECF No. 24-1 at 9). It is entirely possible
that Defendant operated her vehicle negligently and was at
fault for the accident. It is also entirely possible that
Plaintiff contributed to the collision by negligently
operating her own vehicle by “stopping abruptly.”
For example, the Maryland Driving Manual instructs drivers
that when approaching a yellow light, “If you are too
close to the intersection to stop safely, continue through
the intersection with care.” Maryland Motor Vehicle
Administration, Maryland Driver's Manual 12
(2017). “However, in any action for damages the court
is not justified in inferring negligence merely from
possibilities.” Brehm, 206 Md. at 506.
Depending on the facts and circumstances of this specific
motor vehicle collision, which are disputed in the
parties' submissions, reasonable minds could differ as to
which party is at fault. A grant of summary judgment is
inappropriate where a dispute of material fact exists. In
this case, the material facts and circumstances of the
collision between Plaintiff and Defendant are disputed, and
remain a question for the jury to decide. Thus, a grant of
summary judgment is inappropriate.
foregoing reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 23) is DENIED. A separate Order shall