Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

PIERCE v. SYSTEM TRANSPORT

November 2, 2004.

ALLEN J. PIERCE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SYSTEM TRANSPORT, INC., et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRY LEINENWEBER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

  The circumstances of this case are tragic. On September 1, 2001, Plaintiffs were traveling through Indiana en route to a family reunion. While driving on Interstate 65 in Hobart, Indiana, Plaintiffs' car had a flat tire and they pulled onto the shoulder of the interstate, just past a construction zone. Unfortunately, for Plaintiffs, Defendant System Transport, Inc. ("System") was transporting two large lifts manufactured by Defendant Genie Industries, Inc. ("Genie") on a tractor and flatbed trailer traveling in the same direction on Interstate 65. Shortly after entering a curve in the construction zone, the lifts apparently shifted on the bed of the trailer, causing the tractor-trailer to lose control. As the trailer tilted onto the roadway, the two lifts came loose and one struck Plaintiffs' car. As a result of the collision, Plaintiff Allen J. Pierce suffered serious injuries, including the loss of his leg, and his infant son was killed in the ensuing fire in the back of the car.

  Plaintiffs allege that the lifts were negligently loaded in Washington State prior to interstate transport. Plaintiffs also allege that the driver of the truck was negligent in his operation of the tractor-trailer. Defendants contend that the construction zone work rendered the interstate unreasonably unsafe.

  Plaintiffs now seek to amend their Complaint in several ways. Plaintiffs seek to add a survival claim on behalf of Allen M. Pierce, claims for punitive damages, and a request that Defendants be held jointly and severally liable.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. The Court's Prior Ruling That Indiana Law Controls

  The initial hurdle facing Plaintiffs' requested amendment is this Court's prior ruling on April 23, 2002, which held that Indiana law controls in this case. See Pierce v. System Transport, Inc., 2002 WL 731136 (N.D. Ill. 2002). The pertinent portion of this ruling was based on System's Motion for Declaration of Controlling Law. In its motion, System contended that Indiana law should control. In their response brief, Plaintiffs stated:
Plaintiffs do not quarrel the partial conclusion reached by with [sic] System Transportation in its choice of law analysis, but only insofar as the Negligence Counts are concerned. Plaintiffs do not dispute that Indiana law will likely govern the negligence claims. However, this is only a portion of the claims. In the first instance, System Transport ignores the Counts in Plaintiff's Complaint that raise claims under substantial federal law and product liability law. The products claims may be governed by Washington State law. More discovery must be provided to accurately [sic] answer this question.
Pls. Resp. Mem. at 14.

  In its April 23, 2002 ruling, the Court specifically noted that Plaintiffs had not contested that Indiana law should control, at least with regard to the negligence counts. See Pierce, 2002 WL 731136 at *7-8. Although noting Plaintiffs' apparent concession, the Court nonetheless engaged in a brief choice of law analysis, and determined that "Indiana is clearly the state with the most significant relationship to the events in question." See id. at *8. The Court's holding, however, depended in part on Plaintiff's apparent stipulation that Indiana law would control: "[s]ince both parties appear to agree that Indiana law should control, and since the situs of the events was in Indiana, System's Motion for Declaration of Controlling law is granted." Id. Plaintiffs did not file a motion for reconsideration of this ruling.

 
B. The Law of the Case Doctrine Bars the Survival Count and the Claims for Joint and Several Liability
  Under the law of the case doctrine, a ruling made in an earlier phase of a case controls throughout the proceedings. See Tice v. American Airlines, Inc., 373 F.3d 851, 853-54 (7th Cir. 2004). This doctrine is a rule of practice that encourages efficiency, consistency, and finality of legal decisions made during the life of case. The law of the case doctrine, however, is not an absolute limit on a court's power: a court retains the discretion to revise an earlier ruling of law, but generally should only do so when there are changed circumstances in law or fact that render application of an earlier ruling manifestly unjust or clearly wrong. See id.; see also, Avitia v. Metropolitan Club of Chicago, 49 F.3d 1219, 1227-28 (7th Cir. 1995); Payne v. Churchich, 161 F.3d 1030, 1037, n. 8 (7th Cir. 1998).

  The difficulty Plaintiffs face here is that Indiana law effectively nullifies their requested amendments. Specifically, Indiana does not allow concurrent survival and wrongful death claims, and is a several liability state. (Indiana also has certain statutory limits on punitive damages, but Plaintiffs are apparently seeking to add claims within the purview of Indiana law.)

  Plaintiffs, of course, argue — as they must — that this Court's prior ruling on choice of law is not subject to the law of the case doctrine because intervening facts allow for an exception. Plaintiffs initially note that the briefing was completed on System's Motion for a Declaration of Law before discovery commenced. Plaintiffs also note that although they did not take issue with the "initial application of Indiana law at that point in the proceedings," they subsequently learned in discovery certain pertinent facts that mitigate against a "rote application of Indiana law to all issues in this case." Pls. Mem. at 2-3. Specifically, Plaintiffs point to certain facts that were "previously unavailable," and now require reconsideration of the prior ruling. These "new" facts include: (1) Defendants' principal places of business are either Washington or Oregon; (2) the major decisions in how to transport the lifts were made in Washington; (3) the lifts were negligently loaded in Washington; (4) Market Transport, an Oregon company, played a role in the arrangement for transporting the lifts; and (5) Allen M. Pierce, the infant in the back seat, may have survived for some period of time after the initial collision. See id. at 4-5. According to Plaintiffs, these facts demonstrate that Washington law should apply on the issue of joint and several liability, Indiana law on the issue of negligence and punitive damages, and Illinois law on the issue of the survival claim and compensatory damages.

  Defendants initially argue — with substantial persuasive force — that Plaintiffs knew, or should have known, virtually all of these facts at the time (or shortly thereafter) of System's Motion for a Declaration of Law. This is significant because parties cannot evade the law of the case doctrine by relying on "new" facts that were available at the time of the initial ruling. See Intergraph Corp. v. Intel Corp., 253 F.3d 695, 697-99 (Fed. Cir. 2001). For instance, Defendants attach a witness statement taken shortly after the September 2001 accident that indicates that the infant decedent may have still been alive for some period during the fire. In addition, Defendants claim that their Rule 26(A)(1) disclosures contained ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.