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JEFFREY SIPLER, LISA SIPLER, AND MEGAN RUANE v. TRANS AM TRUCKING

November 30, 2010

JEFFREY SIPLER, LISA SIPLER, AND MEGAN RUANE,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TRANS AM TRUCKING, INC. AND PAUL C. ROBB,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Debevoise, Senior District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter arises out of a March 8, 2007 motor vehicle collision and raises the issues of whether: (1) Defendants Paul C. Robb ("Robb") and Trans Am Trucking, Inc. ("Trans Am") are liable to Plaintiffs Jeffrey Sipler and Lisa Sipler ("The Siplers") and Megan Ruane ("Ruane") for punitive damages; and (2) whether Trans Am is liable to Plaintiffs for negligent hiring, training, and supervision. During the course and scope of his employment, Robb was driving a tractor trailer owned and operated by Trans Am that collided with a commercial commuter bus. Plaintiffs were passengers on the bus. In their complaints, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' recklessness, carelessness, and negligence caused their injuries and that Trans Am is vicariously liable for the conduct of its employee Robb.

Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. In doing so, they contend that: (1) Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim must be dismissed because Defendants were not reckless; and (2) Plaintiffs' negligent hiring, training, and supervision claims must be dismissed because Trans Am has stipulated that it is vicariously liable for any negligence attributable to Robb and therefore, any additional negligence claims are duplicative. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 8, 2007, Robb was driving a Trans Am tractor trailer in Roxbury, New Jersey during the course and scope of his employment. He was traveling eastbound on Interstate 80 in heavy traffic and at one point, was immediately behind a commercial bus. His tractor trailer collided with the rear of the bus when all traffic in front of him braked suddenly. At the time of the accident, Robb was talking on his hands-free cell phone to his girlfriend.

On August 12, 2008, The Siplers filed a complaint against Defendants in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. Defendants then removed the case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. On May 29, 2009, Ruane filed a complaint against Defendants in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. Defendants also removed the case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The Complaints allege that: (1) Defendants' recklessness, carelessness, and negligence caused Plaintiffs' injuries and damages; and (2) Trans Am is vicariously liable for the conduct of its employee Robb. In addition, The Siplers allege that Trans Am was reckless, careless, and negligent in failing to properly hire, train, and supervise Robb. Ruane also alleges that Trans Am was reckless, careless, and negligent in training, supervising, controlling, and monitoring Robb, as well as in its maintenance of the tractor trailer.

On June 2, 2010, Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment in the United States District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The Siplers and Ruane then filed briefs in opposition on June 17, 2010 and June 22, 2010, respectively. On July 9, 2009, the court consolidated the two actions upon Defendants' motion and the consent of all parties.

On July 13, 2010, the Pennsylvania district court transferred the consolidated action to the District of New Jersey. On November 8, 2010, Defendants filed a supplemental brief in support of their motion for partial summary judgment, and Plaintiffs filed a supplemental brief in opposition.

II. DISCUSSION

In moving for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, Defendants seek to dismiss Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim on the ground that Defendants did not act with actual malice or wanton and willful disregard of Plaintiffs' safety. Additionally, Trans Am seeks to dismiss Plaintiffs' negligent hiring, training, and supervision claims because it has already admitted that it is vicariously liable for Robb's conduct and therefore, any additional negligence claims are redundant.

Plaintiffs argue that the Court should deny Defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to the punitive damages claim because a jury could conclude that Robb's conduct was outrageous. According to Plaintiffs, Robb violated New Jersey motor vehicle law*fn1 and federal motor carrier safety regulations*fn2 . Plaintiffs also note that Robb was talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend at the time of the collision, despite knowing that Trans Am recommends against cell phone use while driving.

Plaintiffs contend that the Court should deny Trans Am's motion for summary judgment with respect to their negligent hiring, training, and supervision claims because Trans Am subjectively appreciated the risk of harm posed by hiring Robb. In particular, Plaintiffs note that Trans Am either knew or should have known that a previous employer had dismissed Robb due to an unsatisfactory safety record and that his employment application with Trans Am contained omissions and false statements. Plaintiffs ...


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