United States District Court, D. Maryland
Lipton Hollander United States District Judge
tort case, Garth White, Jr. has sued Date Trucking, LLC
(“Date Trucking”), alleging that he suffered
severe injuries as a result of Date Trucking's
negligence. ECF 2 (Complaint). In particular, plaintiff alleges
that while he was working as a yard jockey in Perryville,
Maryland, on December 19, 2013, an “unsecured load
bar” fell out of a tractor-trailer and knocked him
unconscious. Id. Plaintiff maintains that defendant
was responsible for the tractor-trailer, and that
defendant's negligence caused his injuries. Id.
¶¶ 5, 12.
pending are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Plaintiff moves for
partial summary judgment on the issue of whether the driver
of the truck, Kevin Grantland, was an employee of Date
Trucking at the relevant time, under the Federal Motor
Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”), 49 C.F.R.
§ 390.5. ECF 37 (“White Motion”). The White
Motion is supported by four exhibits. Date Trucking opposes
the White Motion, and has filed a cross-motion for summary
judgment. ECF 40. Date Trucking's combined opposition and
cross-motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 40-1)
(collectively, “Date Trucking Motion”) and six
exhibits. The Date Trucking Motion asserts that Date Trucking
is not liable for the actions of Grantland, either under the
doctrine of “logo liability” or the common law
theory of respondeat superior. ECF 40-1. White opposes the
Date Trucking Motion, and replied in support of the White
Motion. ECF 43 (“White Reply”). Date Trucking
replied in support of the Date Trucking Motion. ECF 44
(“Date Trucking Reply”).
hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. See
Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant
the White Motion, and I shall deny the Date Trucking Motion.
Factual and Procedural Background
facts underlying the case are largely undisputed. Plaintiff
worked as a yard jockey at Perryville Cold Storage. ECF 40-3
(Deposition of Garth White, Jr.) at 3. As a yard jockey,
plaintiff's job was to “put trailers to the docks
and take them away from the docks and put them in the
yard.” Id. at 4. On December 19, 2013, at
about 9:15 P.M., plaintiff “opened the swing
doors” on a trailer and “a load lock fell from
the trailer and struck him in the head.” ECF 37-2
(Personal Injury Statement) at 1. A “load lock, ”
or “load bar, ” is “a 20-poud metal bar
that secure[s] the load” inside a trailer. ECF 40-3 at
12. Plaintiff was knocked unconscious and, after he came to,
he was taken by paramedics to a shock trauma center. ECF 37-2
tractor trailer in question was leased to Date Trucking by
Kevin F. Grantland, Inc. (“KFG”), pursuant to a
“Motor Vehicle Lease And Agreement.” ECF 40-6 at
2-4 (“Lease Agreement”); see also ECF
37-2 at 1; ECF 37-3 (Bill of Lading). On the date in
question, December 19, 2013, it had been driven by Kevin
Grantland to Perryville Cold Storage in advance of being
loaded with frozen vegetables for a delivery the next day.
ECF 40-5 (Deposition of Dolores Long, principal of Date
Trucking) at 10. Grantland was driving on behalf of KFG,
which owned the trailer. ECF 37-1 (Deposition of Kevin
Grantland) at 3, p.6; ECF 40-6. However, Grantland was not
present at the time of the injury to plaintiff. ECF 40-3 at
Lease Agreement between KFG and Date Trucking provides that
KFG is an independent contractor to Date Trucking.
Id. at 2. However, KFG operated under Date
Trucking's Department of Transportation
(“DOT”) authority, meaning that for all
deliveries Date Trucking was the licensed motor carrier.
See ECF 37-1 at 4, p.13. KFG received 85% of the net
revenue from the transportation contracts fulfilled by Date
Trucking and carried by KFG; Date Trucking received 15%. ECF
40-6; ECF 37-1 at 4, p.11.
under three years after White was injured, White filed suit
against Date Trucking in the Circuit Court for Baltimore
City. See ECF 2. Date Trucking removed the case to
this Court. See ECF 1. Following some discovery,
plaintiff (represented by new counsel, see ECF 22)
sought to amend his Complaint to add Grantland and KFG as
defendants. ECF 31. The Court denied the motion to amend as
futile, on the ground that the claims against the new
defendants were time-barred. ECF 35. One week later,
plaintiff filed the White Motion. ECF 37.
facts are included in the discussion.
parties have moved for partial summary judgment under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Under Rule 56(a), summary judgment is
appropriate only “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.” See
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986);
see also Iraq Middle Mkt. Dev. Found. v. Harmoosh,
848 F.3d 235, 238 (4th Cir. 2017) (“A court can grant
summary judgment only if, viewing the evidence in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party, the case presents no
genuine issues of material fact and the moving party
demonstrates entitlement to judgment as a matter of
law.”). The non-moving party must demonstrate that
there are disputes of material fact so as to preclude the
award of summary judgment as a matter of law. Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 585-86 (1986).
Supreme Court has clarified that not every factual dispute
will defeat the motion. “By its very terms, this
standard provides that the mere existence of some
alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat
an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment;
the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of
material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in
original). A fact is “material” if it
“might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law.” Id. at 248. There is a genuine
issue as to material fact “if the evidence is such that
a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Id; see Sharif v. United Airlines,
Inc., 841 F.3d 199, 204 (4th Cir. 2016); Raynor v.
Pugh, 817 F.3d 123, 130 (4th Cir. 2016).
party opposing a properly supported motion for summary
judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or
denials of [its] 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)
(alteration in Bouchat) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(e)), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1042 (2004); see
also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24. Moreover, in resolving
a summary judgment motion, a court must view all of the
facts, including reasonable inferences to be drawn from them,
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd., 475 U.S. at
587; accord Roland v. United States Citizenship &
Immigration Servs., 850 F.3d 625, 628 (4th Cir. 2017);
FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 173 (4th Cir. 2013).
However, summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence
“is so one- sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
And, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient;
there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably
find for the plaintiff.” Id.
judge's “function” in reviewing a motion for
summary judgment is not “to weigh the evidence and
determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249; accord Guessous v. Fairview Prop. Inv.,
LLC, 828 F.3d 208, 216 (4th Cir 2016). Thus, in
considering a summary judgment motion, the court may not make
credibility determinations. Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative
Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015);
Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French, 499 F.3d 345,
352 (4th Cir. 2007). Moreover, in the face of conflicting
evidence, such as competing affidavits, summary judgment
ordinarily is not appropriate because it is the function of
the fact-finder to resolve factual disputes, including
matters of witness credibility. See Black & Decker
Corp. v. United States, 436 F.3d 431, 442 (4th Cir.
2006); Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc.,
290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002).
as here, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary
judgment, the court must consider “each motion
separately on its own merits ‘to determine whether
either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of
law.'” Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d
516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted); see Mellen
v. Bunting, 327 F.3d 355, 363 (4th Cir. 2003). Simply
because both parties have filed for summary judgment does not
mean that summary judgment to one party or another is
necessarily appropriate. “Both motions must be denied
if the court finds that there is a genuine issue of material
fact. But if there is no genuine issue and one or the other
party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law, the court
will render judgment.” 10A Wright, Miller & Kane,
Federal Practice & Procedure § 2720, at
336-37 (3d ed. 1998, 2012 Supp.).
seeks to establish that Grantland was Date Trucking's
employee. See ECF 37 at 1. However, rather than
relying on common law to argue that Grantland is properly
classified as an employee, plaintiff asserts that Grantland
was a statutory employee under 49 C.F.R. § 390.5, part
of the FMCSR. ECF 37 at 3-4. That regulation sets out the
definitions of various terms for purposes of the FMCSR.
relevance here, 49 C.F.R. § 390.5 defines
“employee” as follows:
[A]ny individual, other than an employer, who is employed by
an employer and who in the course of his or her employment
directly affects commercial motor vehicle safety. Such term
includes a driver of a commercial motor vehicle (including an
independent contractor while in the course of operating a
commercial motor vehicle) . . . .
“employer” is defined as “any person
engaged in a business affecting interstate commerce who owns
or leases a commercial motor vehicle in connection with that
business, or assigns employees to operate it . . . .”
maintains that Grantland should be considered an employee of
Date Trucking under 49 C.F.R. § 390.5, because KFG
leased the tractor trailer to Date Trucking; KFG was
operating under Date Trucking's DOT authority; and
Grantland had been driving the truck. ECF 37 at 4.
import here, plaintiff apparently expects that such a
conclusion will result in the liability of Date Trucking for
Grantland's alleged negligence. However, the White Motion
offers no case citations relevant to that contention, nor
does it explain how or why the definitions section of a
particular federal regulation is dispositive of that issue.
Trucking marshals three arguments for why 49 C.F.R. §
390.5 does not control as to the issue of Grantland's
employment status. First, it suggests that § 390.5 was
not “‘intended to express any view regarding the
issue of one motor carrier's vicarious liability for the
negligence of another motor carrier.'” ECF 40-1 at
10 (quoting Beavers v. Victorian, 38 F.Supp.3d 1260,
1271 (W.D. Okla. 2014)). In other words, Date Trucking
asserts that § 390.5 has no bearing on the question of
tort liability. Second, defendant asserts that because KFG,
the owner/lessor of the trailer, is not an individual, the
driver, Grantland, should not be considered an employee of
Date Trucking under § 390.5. ECF 40-1 at 11. Third,
defendant asserts that Grantland should not be considered an
employee under the regulation because he was not
“operating” the vehicle at the time of the
injury, as specified in the regulation. Id. at 12.
White Reply, plaintiff offers a few more details on his
understanding of 49 C.F.R. § 390.5. He asserts that
“Section 390.5 was enacted to discourage trucking
companies from using the independent contractor argument to
manipulate their liability exposure with respect to the
public.” ECF 43 at 2 (citing Consumers Cty. Mut.
Ins. Co. v. P.W. & Sons Trucking, Inc., 307 F.3d
362, 366 (5th Cir. 2002)). In response to defendant's
second argument, plaintiff contends: “Courts have found
that § 390.5 is applicable to both individuals and sole
proprietorships.” ECF 43 at 2 (citing Ooida Risk
Retention Group, Inc. v. Williams, 579 F.3d 469, 475
(5th Cir. 2009)). And, plaintiff points out that
“courts have held that an individual does not have to
be driving, or even ...