United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
A. TRAUGER United States District Judge.
before the court are two motions. The first is a Motion for
Summary Judgment (Docket No. 39) filed by the defendant, John
Fort, to which the plaintiff has filed a Response (Docket No.
49), and Mr. Fort has filed a Reply (Docket No. 50). The
second is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 43) filed
by an unnamed defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile
Insurance Company ("State Farm"), to which the
plaintiff has filed a Response (Docket No. 48), and State
Farm has filed a Reply (Docket No. 52). For the following
reasons, both motions for summary judgment will be denied.
& PROCEDURAL HISTORY
case arises from a January 3, 2015 motor vehicle accident in
which the plaintiff, Will Neal, Jr., was severely injured
after he lost control of his vehicle and struck an earthen
median on Interstate 65. According to Mr. Neal, he lost
control of his van after it was struck from behind by another
vehicle allegedly operated by the defendant, John Fort.
(Docket No. 1 ¶¶ 3, 6-11.) On April 14, 2015, Mr.
Neal filed the Complaint against Mr. Fort, bringing claims
for negligence and negligence per se, premised on
Mr. Fort's failure to "stop before the front of his
vehicle came in contact with the back of [Mr. Neal's]
vehicle." (Id. ¶¶ 8, 12-14.) On May
5, 2015, Mr. Fort filed an Answer, acknowledging that his
vehicle had collided with Mr. Neal's van but denying that
he had violated his duty to drive safely, carefully, and
lawfully before the accident. (Docket No. 9 ¶¶ 7,
15.) Rather, Mr. Fort alleges that Mr. Neal's vehicle
"suddenly and without warning" began
"improperly traveling in generally a perpendicular
fashion cutting across the northbound lanes of I[nterstate]
65 north" until it "came directly into the
immediate path" of his vehicle. (Id. ¶
11.) An unnamed party, State Farm, also filed an Answer on
May 5, presumably as the plaintiffs uninsured motorist policy
carrier. (Docket No. 10.) State Farm's Answer, which was
filed by Mr. Fort's counsel, contained the same
allegations and denials as those made by Mr. Fort, with an
additional allegation that Mr. Fort was not "an
uninsured motorist or an underinsured motorist."
(Id. ¶ 27.)
August of 2015, the parties reached an agreement to amend
these pleadings. (Docket No. 17.) Pursuant to a Stipulation
filed with the court, Mr. Fort amended his Answer to allege
that, if Mr. Neal was rear-ended, it was not he but, rather,
a John Doe motorist who acted negligently in causing the
accident. (Docket No. 18 ¶ 27.) Mr. Neal filed an
Amended Complaint incorporating Mr. Fort's allegations
regarding the unknown motorist and "demanding] strict
proof of these allegations" from him. (Docket 19 ¶
14.1.) Pursuant to Tennessee law, Mr. Neal then served
process on State Farm, his uninsured motorist carrier, which
has the right to file pleadings and take other actions on
behalf of the unknown motorist. (Id. ¶ 14.2
(citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119)); see Tenn.
Code Ann. § 56-7-1206 (providing procedures for personal
injury suits against unknown motorists). In the Stipulation,
the parties further anticipated that, in light of Mr.
Fort's new defense, "additional counsel shall be
required to represent" State Farm as Mr. Neal's
uninsured motorist carrier. (Docket No. 17 ¶ 7.) On
November 20, 2015, new counsel appeared on behalf of State
Farm and filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint.
(DocketNos. 22, 23.)
Mr. Fort's Motion for Summary Judgment
14, 2016, Mr. Fort filed a Motion for Summary Judgment
(Docket No. 39), accompanied by a Memorandum of Law (Docket
No. 40), a Statement of Material Facts (Docket No. 41), his
own responses to Mr. Neal's interrogatories (Docket No.
38-2), and a transcript of the deposition of Mr. Neal (Docket
No. 38-1). In the Motion, Mr. Fort argues that Mr.
Neal "lacks sufficient evidence to demonstrate elements
essential to a case of negligence" and, therefore,
cannot survive summary judgment on his claims. (Docket No.
39, p. 1.) Specifically, Mr. Fort argues that Mr. Neal cannot
produce evidence sufficient to establish that (1) Mr. Fort
breached any duty owed to Mr. Neal, or (2) any of Mr.
Fort's conduct was "a cause in fact" of the
accident. (Docket No. 40, pp. 1-2.) As support for these
arguments, Mr. Fort cites Mr. Neal's deposition
testimony, in which Mr. Neal testified that, although he
distinctly recalls something coming into contact with the
rear of his van shortly before he lost control of the
vehicle, he did not see who or what it was. (Id. at
p. 2 (citing Docket No. 38-1 (Dep. W. Neal), 57:8-21).) Mr.
Fort argues that there exists no evidence of his alleged
negligence other than the fact of the accident itself, and
"negligence is never presumed from the mere fact of an
accident or injury." (Id. at p. 5 (citing
Armes v. Hulett, 843 S.W.2d 427, 432 (Tenn. Ct. App.
1992).) On August 9, 2016, Mr. Neal filed a Response in
Opposition to Mr. Fort's motion (Docket No. 49),
accompanied by a Response to Mr. Fort's Statement of
Material Facts (Docket No. 49-1). In his Response, Mr. Neal
argues that a reasonable fact finder could apply the doctrine
of res ipsa loquitur, which allows for an inference
of negligence when "the events which resulted in the
plaintiffs injury do not ordinarily occur unless someone was
negligent, " to support a finding that Mr. Fort was, in
fact, negligent. (Docket No. 49, pp. 5-6 (quoting Seavers
v. Methodist Med. Ctr. of Oak Ridge, 9 S.W.3d 86, 91
(Tenn. 1999)).) According to Mr. Neal, it is within the
common knowledge of a potential juror that the type of
injuries he sustained do not ordinarily occur absent
negligence. (Id.) Moreover, "ample
circumstantial evidence" in the record supports the
inference that Mr. Fort negligently allowed his vehicle to
strike Mr. Neal's van, causing Mr. Neal to lose control
of the van and resulting in his injuries. (Id. at p.
August 22, 2016, Mr. Fort filed a Reply, in which he argues
that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is
inapplicable to this case, because it does not apply (1) when
"specific acts of negligence are alleged and evidence in
support those theories [is] presented and accepted, " or
(2) if the plaintiffs injury could reasonably have occurred
even without the defendant's alleged negligence. (Docket
No. 50, p. 3 (citing Brown v. Univ. Nursing Home,
Inc., 496 S.W.2d 503, 509 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1972)).) Mr.
Fort then reiterates his argument that, because Mr. Neal
"has testified he has no knowledge of who or what caused
his accident, " he has insufficient proof of Mr.
Fort's alleged negligence and cannot survive summary
judgment. (Id. at pp. 4-5.)
Fort also filed an Objection to Mr. Neal's Response to
his Statement of Material Facts, arguing that certain of Mr.
Neal's responses assert "argumentative"
additional contentions that are not supported by specific
citations to the record, in violation of Local Rule 56.01(c).
(Docket No. 51.) It appears to the court that a portion of
the challenged response is merely an attempt to correct Mr.
Fort's characterization of Mr. Neal's deposition
testimony, and the court does not find that Mr. Neal's
failure to provide specific citations to support these
arguments violates local rules. To the extent, however, that
Mr. Neal has attempted to inject facts into his responses
that are not adequately supported by citations to the record,
the court will sustain Mr. Fort's objection and exclude
those facts from its consideration of the pending motions.
State Farm's Motion for Summary
15, 2016, State Farm filed a Motion for Summary Judgment
(Docket No. 43), accompanied by a Memorandum of Law (Docket
No. 44), a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Docket No.
45), and transcripts of the deposition testimony of Mr. Neal
and two witnesses to the accident (Docket Nos. 46-2-46-4). In
the Motion, State Farm argues that Mr. Neal cannot prevail on
a negligence claim against any unknown motorist - which would
implicate his uninsured motorist policy with State Farm -
because he cannot meet the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 56-7-1201(e). (Docket No. 43.) According to State
Farm, Mr. Neal has failed to meet the requirements of this
statutory provision because he has insufficient proof of any
actual physical contact between Mr. Neal's van and
another vehicle or of the existence of an unknown motorist.
(Docket No. 44, pp. 6-7.)
August 9, 2016, Mr. Neal filed a Response in Opposition to
State Farm's Motion (Docket No. 48), accompanied by a
Response to State Farm's Statement of Undisputed Material
Facts (Docket No. 48-1) and a copy of Mr. Fort's
responses to interrogatories (Docket No. 48-2). In his
Response, Mr. Neal first notes that it is not he but, rather,
Mr. Fort who should be opposing State Farm's motion.
(Docket No. 48, pp. 1-2.) Citing Banks v. Elks Club Pride
of Tenn. 1102, 301 S.W.3d 214, 220 (Tenn. 2010), Mr.
Neal argues that, when a defendant adds a negligent third
party as a defense to a plaintiffs claims, it is not the
plaintiff but, rather, the defendant who is responsible for
proving that the third party's negligence limits his
liability. (Docket No. 48, pp. 3-4.) Mr. Fort first asserted
the existence of an unknown, negligent motorist as an
affirmative defense to Mr. Neal's claims, and it is,
therefore, Mr. Fort who is responsible for proving the
existence of this unknown motorist. (Id.) Mr. Neal
further argues that a genuine issue of material fact exists
as to whether it was Mr. Fort or an unknown motorist who
struck the back of his van, which precludes any grant of
summary judgment to State Farm. (Id. at pp. 6-7.)
August 24, 2016, State Farm filed a Reply, arguing that Mr.
Neal amended his Complaint "to assert an uninsured
motorist claim against State Farm, as his uninsured motorist
carrier, " and its Motion for Summary Judgment against
Mr. Neal, therefore, is directed at the appropriate party.
(Docket No. 52, p. 1.) State Farm then reiterates its
argument that Mr. Neal has insufficient evidence to meet
Tennessee statutory requirements for claims against unknown
motorists, because no one has testified as to the existence
of an unknown motorist who acted negligently on January 3,
2015 or to any physical contact between an unknown
motorist's vehicle and Mr. Neal's van. (Id.
at pp. 2-4.)