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Lufkin v. John S. Reed, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

February 4, 2015

Terry L. Lufkin and Bradley Lufkin, d/b/a Lufkin's Service Center
v.
John S. Reed, Inc. and John S. Little, as Administrator of the Estate of Keith A. Butts No. 2015 DNH 017

ORDER

LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

The Plaintiffs, Terry and Bradley Lufkin ("Lufkins"), are the proprietors of Lufkin's Service Center ("Service Center"), a gas station and automotive repair shop located in Whitefield, New Hampshire. In December of 2011, a flatbed tractor trailer truck lost control and careened through the Service Center, causing damage to a gas pump and the canopy above it. The truck came to rest in a ravine beyond the Service Center, and the truck's driver, Keith A. Butts ("Butts"), was killed in the accident. Because of damage to the Service Center, the Lufkins were ordered by local authorities to stop selling fuel.

The Lufkins have brought this suit against John R. Reed, Inc. ("Reed"), a Tennessee corporation that owns the truck, and John S. Little ("Little" and, together with Reed, "Defendants"), a Tennessee attorney who has been appointed as the administrator of Butts's estate. The complaint asserts a claim for negligent operation of a motor vehicle against Little ("Count I"), and claims for respondeat superior ("Count II") and negligent failure to supervise ("Count III") against Reed. The Lufkins seek compensation for damage to the Service Center, including losses stemming from their ongoing inability to sell fuel.

The Lufkins have filed a motion seeking partial summary judgment solely as to liability on Counts I and II. A hearing was held on this motion on January 29, 2015. For the reasons that follow, the Lufkins' motion for partial summary judgment is denied.[1]

Factual Background

In the early morning hours of December 20, 2011, Butts was driving the truck eastbound on Route 116 in Whitefield, en route from Tennessee to Vermont with a load of steel girders. At approximately 5:50 a.m., Butts descended an incline on Route 116 as he approached the "T" intersection of Route 116 and Route 3. Butts planned to execute a left turn onto Route 3 in order to head north.

For reasons that are unclear, Butts proceeded through a stop sign at the intersection, failed to make the turn onto Route 3, and hurtled through the Service Center, which is located directly across from the intersection. The truck struck a fuel pump and a support column for the Service Center's canopy, finally coming to rest in a ravine with its cab partially submerged in the Johns River. Butts was killed when the steel girders flew forward and breached the rear wall of the cab. Footage from security cameras captured the accident from three different angles.

Legal Standard

"Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Ponte v. Steelcase Inc., 741 F.3d 310, 319 (1st Cir. 2014) (citations omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must "view[] the entire record in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Winslow v. Aroostook Cnty., 736 F.3d 23, 29 (1st Cir. 2013) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

"The object of summary judgment is to pierce the boilerplate of the pleadings and assay the parties' proof in order to determine whether trial is actually required." Dávila v. Corporación de P.R. para la Difusión Pública, 498 F.3d 9, 12 (1st Cir. 2007) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[T]he court's task is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986)).

Discussion

The Lufkins seek summary judgment as to liability for Counts I and II, which assert claims against Little for negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and against Reed for respondeat superior, respectively.[2] The Lufkins contend that the security camera footage establishes as a matter of law that Butts operated the truck negligently. In the alternative, the Lufkins maintain that Butts was negligent per se in violating at least two New Hampshire traffic safety laws. The Defendants counter that genuine issues of material fact remain regarding the road conditions at the time of the accident, precluding summary judgment.

The court has reviewed the footage from the three security cameras. Two of the angles merely show the truck as it barrels through the Service Center. The third angle, however, captures the intersection of Routes 3 and 116 as the truck careens through the stop sign and toward the Service Center. Because the footage was captured at nighttime, is somewhat grainy, and only shows a small portion of the roadway, it is impossible for the court to tell whether the truck ...


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