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Kelley v. Rinck

May 27, 2009

PAULA M. KELLEY AND PATRICIA A. MERSMAN, SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF CARRIE RANDOLPH, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RHONDA RINCK AND OZBURN HESSEY LOGISTICS, LLC, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is defendant Ozburn Hessey Logistics, LLC's ("Ozburn") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 12), which has been fully briefed by the Parties and is now ripe for ruling. Ultimately, the issue before the Court is whether an employee's intent to deviate on her way home from a work-related event relieves her employer of its respondeat superior liability for Plaintiffs' injuries. The Court does not find that Illinois case law squarely indicates that a mere "intent to deviate" would be sufficient to absolve Ozburn of its respondeat superior liability.

Thus, what remains is whether defendant Rinck, as Ozburn's employee, had, in fact, deviated from her scope of employment at the time of the vehicular collision. Because the Court finds that questions of material fact exist regarding this issue, summary judgment must be denied.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Paula Kelley ("Kelley") and Patricia M. Mersman ("Mersman"), acting as Special Administrator of the Estate of Carrie Randolph ("Randolph"), brought suit against defendants Rhonda Rinck ("Rinck") and Ozburn Hessey Logistics, LLC ("Ozburn"), on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (Doc. 26) contains four counts: (1) Kelley's claim for her personal injuries against Rinck; (2) Kelley's claim for her personal injuries against Ozburn, on the basis of respondeat superior; (3) the Estate of Carrie Randolph against Rinck for personal injuries resulting in death; and (4) the Estate of Carrie Randolph against Ozburn, on the basis of respondeat superior, for personal injuries resulting in death. Since the filing of their First Amended Complaint, the Parties have attended a settlement conference with Magistrate Judge Frazier and informed the Court that plaintiff Kelley has settled her claims with Defendants, but that plaintiff Mersman, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Carrie Randolph, has not (see Doc. 45). A Stipulation of Dismissal regarding the partial settlement was filed on May 22, 2009 (see Doc. 51).

This suit stems from an automobile collision, occurring on or about March 14, 2006 at approximately 8:36 p.m. on southbound Interstate 55, .38 miles north of Illinois Route 138, near Mt. Olive, Illinois (Doc. 12, ¶ 15 and Ex. I). The uncontroverted facts show that at the time of the incident, Rinck was employed by Ozburn as a logistics/transportation analyst (Id. at ¶ 7). Ozburn's southern Illinois office location is at 1600 Wayne Lanter Boulevard in Madison, Illinois (Id. at ¶ 6). Rinck had attended a dinner with her co-workers Bill Maund and Mark Montague at Porter's Restaurant in Collinsville, Illinois, on March 14, 2006. Also in attendance were two representatives from a company called Old Dominion (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10). It appears the dinner ended approximately between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. (Id. at 11).

Rinck left Porter's Restaurant in her own personal automobile around 7:30 p.m. (Id. at ¶ 14). Approximately one hour later, Rinck was involved in a vehicular collision. The police report indicates that Rinck was traveling northbound in the southbound lanes on Interstate 55 when she collided head on with another vehicle heading southbound, driven by Carrie Randolph. Plaintiff Kelley was riding in the passenger seat of Randolph's automobile at the time (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16). Randolph died as a result of her injuries from the head-on collision. Plaintiff Kelley claimed severe injuries resulting therefrom (see Doc. 26). Rinck was also transported to the hospital for medical attention. She no longer recalls the details of that evening.

That evening, after leaving Porter's Restaurant but before the collision, Rinck called her co-worker and friend, Rodion Safin at approximately 8:00 p.m. and left the following voice mail:

Hey, Rodion. We are leaving the place where we had to go make our appearance for Bill and Marge*fn1 and the whole world and we are now on our way to some other place. I still haven't become real sure on where I'm leaving, um where I'm headed. I keep seeing these signs that say Lebannon and I don't know where that is. Warren (one) -water 336 Street. I kind of want to go back to St. Louis. (I tried the one that goes back to St. Louis) is where I'm trying to go but nobody seems to understand that that's where I'm heading. So anyway, if I get back to St. Louis I'm gonna try to go to, uh, whatcha call it? To Soulard and cut up there for a little while if you want to go with me.

So the moral to the story, I can tell already is going be if you can find me or head where I am then I can tell you where we gonna go. Cause so far, this ain't it. Okay? Ah, I will talk to you later. (Doc. 12, Ex. 1 of Ex. K.) Rinck has no recollection of leaving the voice mail or of intending to drive from Porter's Restaurant to Soulard, which is an area south of downtown St. Louis, Missouri, known for its various entertainment venues and restaurants. The discovery provided to the court does not indicate whether the business of the evening was to reconvene elsewhere after the dinner at Porter's Restaurant, as loosely suggested in Rinck's voice mail. At the time of the collision, Rinck resided in an apartment located on Olive and Grand Boulevard in the City of St. Louis, Missouri (Doc. 12, ¶ 3).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings and affidavits, if any, "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c); Oats v. Discovery Zone, 116 F.3d 1161, 1165 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). The movant bears the burden of establishing the absence of fact issues and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Santaella v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 123 F.3d 456, 461 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). In reviewing a summary judgment motion, this Court does not determine the truth of asserted matters, but rather decides whether there is a genuine factual issue for trial. Celex Group, Inc. v. Executive Gallery, Inc., 877 F. Supp. 1114, 1124 (N.D. Ill. 1995). This Court must consider the entire record, drawing reasonable ...


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