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USA Truck, Inc. v. Freightliner of Knoxville

July 25, 2006

USA TRUCK, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
FREIGHTLINER OF KNOXVILLE, INC., DEFENDANT.



(Phillips/Guyton)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The plaintiff has sued the defendant in this Court based on breach of bailment, and the defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment and motion to dismiss [Doc. 16]. Defendant argues that plaintiff's claim for punitive damages is meritless and that the remainder of plaintiff's action must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction for failure to meet the required amount in controversy for diversity actions. The plaintiff has filed a response in opposition, and the defendant has replied. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion [Doc. 16] is DENIED.

I. Summary of the Facts

The Court merely provides an abridged summary of facts for the purposes of this opinion. On or about June 11, 2004, plaintiff, USA Truck, Inc. ("USA Truck"), contracted with defendant, Freightliner of Knoxville, Inc. ("Freightliner"), to perform repair work on a 2002 Freightliner tractor owned by USA Truck. While at the Freightliner facility for repairs, Freightliner disconnected the trailer from the tractor and placed the trailer in an unsecured area referred to as the "pad." The tractor was taken by a Freightliner employee to a secured storage area to await repairs. It appears that sometime between 11 p.m. on Friday, June 11, 2004, and 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 12, 2004, USA Truck's trailer, along with all of the cargo inside the trailer, was stolen from Freightliner's facility. The plaintiff's trailer was ultimately recovered wrecked and abandoned outside of Detroit, Michigan, approximately seven (7) days later. The trailer was totaled, and the cargo claim was paid by USA Truck to Gerber Products Company.

Shortly thereafter, plaintiff filed suit based on breach of bailment alleging damages in excess of seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000.00). During the course of discovery, plaintiff provided an outline of damages in its responses to defendant's interrogatories. Indeed, plaintiff's damages claims are specifically described as follows:

1. Stolen Cargo in the amount of $59,454.50;

2. Recovery fees in the amount of $515.00;

3. Lost Revenue in the amount of $866.26 (refunded to client);

4. Lost Revenue for 7 days in the amount of $847.00; and

5. Punitive Damages in the amount of $100,000.00.

The total of claimed damages is $161,682.76. The total amount of damages claimed without inclusion of a punitive damages claim is $61,682.76.

In its summary judgment motion, defendant claims that the only alleged improper actions of Freightliner involve a failure to secure the subject trailer parked on its property. Defendant argues that even if these facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Freightliner could only be liable for simple negligence and that punitive damages would not be awarded. Moreover, based upon a calculation of damages excluding any punitive award, the defendant also argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear the matter in that the jurisdictional amount in controversy is below $75,000.00.

In response, plaintiff points to undisputed evidence that in the years and months leading up to and following the subject incident, defendant had other tractors/trailers stolen from its premises. In fact, between October of 2003 and March of 2006 (approximately two and one half years), there were ten reported incidents where property was stolen from defendant's premises. Plaintiff argues: 1) at a minimum, there is an issue of genuine fact as to whether the instances of theft legally constitutes a prima facie showing of either ...


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