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Steffey v. Beechmont Investments, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

August 29, 2017

BRIAN STEFFEY; and JANE ANN STEFFEY, Plaintiff,
v.
BEECHMONT INVESTMENTS, INC. d/b/a MASERATI OF CINCINNATI, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LEON JORDAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 24], Defendant's Brief in Support of the Motion [doc. 25], Plaintiffs' Response [doc. 27], Defendant's Reply [doc. 28], Plaintiffs' Supplemental Response [doc. 33], and Defendant's Reply to the Supplemental Response [doc. 34]. For the reasons herein, the Court will grant the motion.

         I. Background

         Roughly three years ago, Plaintiffs Brian Steffey and Jane Ann Steffey (“the Steffeys”) filed suit in Knox County Circuit Court against Defendant Maserati of Cincinnati and Gregory P. Isaacs (“Mr. Isaacs”), after Mr. Isaacs was involved in an automotive accident with Plaintiff Brian Steffey (“Mr. Steffey”) in Knoxville. [State Am. Compl., doc. 26-4, at 2]. According to the Steffeys' allegations, the Knoxville Police Department investigated the accident and concluded that Mr. Isaacs made an “improper lane change” and “sideswipe[d]” Mr. Steffey, who was “violently thrown from his motorcycle” and suffered serious, chronic injuries. [Id. ¶¶ 7-8, 10, 18-19]. The Steffeys maintained that Maserati of Cincinnati owned the vehicle involved in the accident and had lent it to Mr. Isaacs beforehand. [Id. ¶¶ 14-15]. As a result, Mr. Steffey brought two negligence claims against Mr. Isaacs, one for common-law negligence and one for negligence per se under various Tennessee statutes. [Id. ¶¶ 11-12]. Mr. Steffey also brought two tort claims against Maserati of Cincinnati, one for vicarious liability under Tenn. Code Ann. sections 55-10-311, 55-10-312 and one for negligent entrustment. [Id. ¶¶ 13-17]. Jane Ann Steffey (“Mrs. Steffey”) also sued for loss of consortium. [Id. ¶ 20]. Together, they claimed $3, 268, 170.32 in compensatory damages. [Id. ¶ 22].

         About midway through the case, Mr. Steffey moved to dismiss, without prejudice, his claims against Maserati of Cincinnati, electing to proceed to trial only with his negligence claims against Mr. Isaacs, and the Knox County Circuit Court granted his motion and ordered the dismissal of the claims against Maserati of Cincinnati without prejudice. [Order Voluntary Dismissal without Prejudice, doc. 26-3, at 1].[1] Leading up to trial, Mr. Isaacs conceded that he caused Mr. Steffey's injuries from the accident by negligently operating his vehicle, leaving damages as the only remaining issue for resolution between the parties. [State Answer, doc. 26-5, ¶¶ 10-17]. Mrs. Steffey then moved to dismiss, with prejudice, her wrongful consortium claim and was no longer a party to the case. [Order Voluntary Dismissal with Prejudice, doc. 26-7, at 2]. At the parties' trial on damages, the jury returned a verdict for Mr. Steffey, awarding a judgment to him totaling $504, 348 in compensatory damages. [Special Verdict Form, doc. 26-6, at 2; State J., doc. 26-8, at 2-3]. Mr. Isaacs then fully paid this judgment. [Satisfaction of J., doc. 26-9, at 2].

         Three weeks later, the Steffeys filed this federal diversity suit against Maserati of Cincinnati, bringing the very same claims that they initiated against it in Knox County Circuit Court. Mr. Steffey alleges a claim for vicarious liability under Tenn. Code Ann. sections 55-10-311, 55-10-312, contending that “any and all negligence of Mr. Isaacs can be imputed to Defendant Maserati.” [Fed. Compl., doc. 1, ¶¶ 11, 14]. Mr. Steffey also brings a claim for negligent entrustment, asserting that Maserati of Cincinnati “fail[ed] to discover and/or investigate the prior driving actions of Mr. Isaacs before entrusting [its] vehicle to his care.” [Id. ¶ 13]. Mrs. Steffey renews her wrongful consortium claim as well. [Id. ¶ 21]. In addition, the types and amounts of compensatory damages that they pursue in this action are identical to those in the state action:

         ECONOMIC DAMAGES

STATE AM. COMPL.

[¶ 22]

FED. COMPL.

[¶ 23]

Lost Income/Diminished Capacity to Earn

$ 2, 053, 633

$ 2, 053, 633

Past Medical Bills

$ 36, 576.68

$ 36, 576.68

Future Medical Bills

$ 249, 760.64

$ 249, 760.64

         NON-ECONOMIC DAMAGES

STATE AM. COMPL.

[¶ 22]

FED. COMPL.

[¶ 23]

Physical Pain and Suffering

$ 132, 600

$ 132, 600

Emotional Distress

$ 132, 600

$ 132, 600

Disfigurement

$ 132, 600

$ 132, 600

Loss of Enjoyment of Life

$ 132, 600

$ 132, 600

Permanent Injury

$ 132, 600

$ 132, 600

Loss of Consortium

$ 265, 200

$ 265, 200

         TOTAL DAMAGES

STATE AM. COMPL.

[¶ 22]

FED. COMPL.

[¶ 23]

Economic and Non-Economic Damages

$ 3, 268, 170.32

$ 3, 268, 170.32

         Maserati of Cincinnati now strenuously objects to the Steffeys' filing of this action, maintaining that the Steffeys are attempting to snooker the Court into allowing them to recover two judgments for one injury. [Def.'s Br. at 7-9]. Maserati of Cincinnati argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because Mr. Steffey is vying for a double recovery, which is impermissible under Tennessee law. [Id. at 8-9]. The Court will now rule on Maserati of Cincinnati's motion.

         II. ...


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