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Amalu v. Stevens Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

May 10, 2018

AUGUSTINA C. AMALU, individually and as next kin of and Administrator of the Estate of IFEYINWA STEPHANIE AMALU, deceased, et. al. Plaintiffs,
v.
STEVENS TRANSPORT, INC., et. al.,, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OF LSH TRANSPORT, LLC; STEVE HURT; K & S TRUCKING; AND TIM MILLS, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF TONY R. MILLS, AS TO CROSS-CLAIM ASSERTED BY DAVID LINDSEY INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE ESTATE OF KRISTI MILLS

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a wrongful death action arising from a multi-vehicle accident that occurred on Interstate 40 in West Tennessee. The accident involved, inter alia, a vehicle occupied by Ifeyinwa Stephanie Amalu and Chinelo Udeozo and a tractor-trailer driven by Tony Mills with a passenger, Kristi Mills. All the aforementioned parties died as a result of the accident. Defendants LSH Transport, LLC; Steve Hurt; K & S Trucking; and Tim Mills, as personal representative of the Estate of Tony Mills, have filed a motion for summary judgment as to the cross-claim asserted against them by David Lindsey, individually and as next of kin and as administrator of the Estate of Kristi Mills. (ECF No. 383.) The Estate of Kristi Mills has filed a response to the motion (ECF No. 430), and Defendants have filed a reply to the response. (ECF No. 449.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is DENIED.

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The Court must review all the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and it “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014). When the motion is supported by documentary proof such as depositions and affidavits, the nonmoving party may not rest on his pleadings but, rather, must present some “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). These facts must be more than a scintilla of evidence and must meet the standard of whether a reasonable juror could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the nonmoving party is entitled to a verdict. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The Court should ask “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52.

         Statement of Material Facts

         Local Rule 56.1(a) requires that any motion for summary judgment be “accompanied by a separate, concise statement of the material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue for trial.” Any party opposing summary judgment must respond to each fact stated by the movant by agreeing that it is undisputed, agreeing that it is undisputed for purposes of ruling on the summary judgment motion only, or by demonstrating that the fact is disputed, with specific citations to the record. “Failure to respond to a moving party's statement of material facts ... shall indicate that the asserted facts are not disputed for purposes of summary judgment.” LR 56.1(d). Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure also provides that if a party “fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact ... the court may consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2).

         The parties have agreed that the following facts are undisputed for the purpose of deciding this motion unless otherwise indicated. (Resp. to Defs' Facts, ECF No. 430-9; Defs' Resp. to Add. Facts, ECF No. 449.)

         After marrying Tony Mills, Kristi Mills quit her job in order to ride with Tony Mills while he worked as an over-the-road truck driver. Kristi Mills, who at no time relevant to this matter was employed as a commercial truck driver, wanted to ride with Tony Mills to see the country and take photographs.

         On April 18, 2014, Kristi Mills signed a document in Kentucky relative to her riding as a passenger in a truck with Tony Mills while he was driving for LSH Transport, LLC.[1] The document stated:

This letter is to be concerning Tony Mills carrying a passenger in truck #45 which he is lease purchasing. He may carry His wife Kristi Mills with him. LSH Transport LLC or Progressive Insurance not to be held responsible for any incident or Injuries to Passenger. Tony Mills to assume all responsibility for passenger.

         The document was signed by Kristi Mills, Tony Mills, and Kevin Hurt; Larry “Steve” Hurt notarized the document. The purpose of the document was for Kristi Mills, who did not have a commercial driver's license, to be able to ride with Tony Mills as a passenger.

         The claims of the Estate of Kristi Mills against Defendants arise out of an accident on June 25, 2014, when Kristi Mills was riding as a passenger in a tractor-trailer being driven by Tony Mills. Kristi Mills and Tony Mills died as a result of the accident.

         Following the accident, personnel with the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center, Office of the Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy on Kristi Mills and Tony Mills. As part of the autopsies, the examiners took samples of postmortem blood and submitted the samples for toxicology analysis. Tony Mills' toxicology report was performed using femoral blood, and Kristi Mills' toxicology was performed using blood taken from her heart.

         After analyzing the blood sample taken from Kristi Mills, Aegis Sciences Corporation issued a toxicology report. The toxicology report contained the following positive findings: methamphetamine 1260 ng/mL (reporting threshold of 50 ng/mL) and amphetamine 202 ng/mL (reporting threshold of 50 ng/mL), a metabolite of methamphetamine.

         After analyzing the blood sample taken from Tony Mills, Aegis Sciences Corporation issued a toxicology report. The toxicology report contained the following positive findings: methamphetamine 1150 ng/mL and amphetamine 118 ng/mL.

         Erica Curry, M.D., testified (Curry Dep., ECF No. 430-2) that she would expect cardiac blood to have a higher level of concentration of a drug than the level before death and that cardiac blood is more susceptible to post-mortem redistribution than femoral blood.[2] Dr. Curry also testified that the time between death and the autopsy can affect post-mortem redistribution.[3]

         Kristi Mills' autopsy was performed two days after she died.

         According to Dr. Curry, every person responds differently to a pharmacological agent such as methamphetamine. A person may exhibit all, some, or none of the known effects. It is speculative to suggest what effects the methamphetamine had on Kristi Mills, and there are no scientific means for determining the effects methamphetamine has on a person based solely on the amount of methamphetamine present in their blood. There is no way to determine based on levels on post-mortem methamphetamine subject to redistribution whether a person was exhibiting certain effects at a specific time.[4]

         There is no way to tell whether Tony Mills' exhibited any of the toxic effects of methamphetamine right after he took it. Nothing about the autopsy reports or the information Dr. Curry has indicates when Tony Mills last got into his truck before the wreck or whether he did methamphetamine in his truck or outside of the ...


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