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Johnson v. Xtra Lease LLC

February 24, 2010

JERMAINE JOHNSON AND LAUREN FRANKLIN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
XTRA LEASE LLC, A DELAWARE LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, ET AL.,*FN1 DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On September 10, 2008, Defendant XTRA Lease LLC removed this matter from the Circuit Court of Cook County, County Department, Law Division, based on the Court's diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In their three-count Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs Jermaine Johnson and Lauren Franklin allege common law negligence claims based on an automobile accident that occurred on May 1, 2008. Before the Court is XTRA's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). For the following reasons, the Court grants XTRA's motion and dismisses this lawsuit in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

Defendant XTRA Lease LLC is a Delaware limited liability company with its principle place of business in Missouri. (R. 42-3, Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Facts ¶ 2.) The sole member of XTRA Lease LLC is XTRA LLC, which is a limited liability company incorporated in Maine with its principle place of business in Missouri. (R. 7-1, Am. Notice Removal ¶ 9.) The sole member of XTRA LLC is XTRA Companies, Inc., which is incorporated in Delaware with its principle place of business in Missouri. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiffs Jermaine Johnson and Lauren Franklin are citizens of Illinois. (Id. ¶ 7.)

Defendant XTRA Lease LLC ("XTRA") is engaged in the business of leasing a fleet of approximately 100,000 trailers to third party customers from approximately 80 branch locations in the United States and Canada. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 4.) XTRA is not in the business of operating tractors, and each trailer it leases is leased subject to a set of policies and procedures. (Id. ¶ 7.)

The accident at issue involved a vehicle operated by Johnson and another vehicle that -- to date -- has not been specifically identified. (Id. ¶ 8; R. 73-1, Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8.) The Illinois Traffic Crash report referred to the unidentified vehicle as "a truck-tractor semi-trailer." (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 9.) The crash report also indicated that "a witness stated the semi-trailer was white with the name 'XTRA' in red lettering. No registration information was obtained." (Id.) Illinois State Trooper Thomas Berkley, the author of the traffic crash report, testified that he believed the cause of the accident was that the vehicles identified as "Unit 1" and "Unit 2" collided. (Id. ¶ 11.) Trooper Berkley based his opinion on the witnesses at the scene and by observing Johnson's vehicle. (Id.) The Illinois State Police have no other documentation related to this accident. (Id. ¶ 13.)

A witness to the accident, Jorge Rayas, Jr., testified at his deposition that on the day in question he was traveling in Illinois on I-294 southbound toward Indiana. (R. 75-1, Ex. A, Rayas Dep., at 7.) He further testified that the collision happened in front of him, but that he did not actually witness it. (Id. at 8.) Specifically, Rayas testified that the first thing he saw related to the accident was a car upside down on the right-hand shoulder of the road. (Id.) After seeing the upside down car, Rayas pulled over and rushed to the car to see if everybody was all right after which he saw Johnson unconscious in his vehicle. (Id. at 10, 16.) Rayas further testified that an older man who saw the accident stated that a white semi-truck was switching lanes and nicked Johnson's car on the front end which made Johnson lose control. (Id. at 12.) Another eyewitness, Floyd Smith, testified that he saw a white semi-truck with XTRA in red lettering on it and that this tractor-trailer passed his vehicle on the highway after he saw an upside down car on the right-hand shoulder. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 16, 17; R. 42-13, Def.'s Ex. J, Smith Dep. at 14-18.)

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). In determining summary judgment motions, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). After "a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party 'must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (quotation omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) (requiring adverse party to "set out specific facts").

ANALYSIS

Based on the automobile accident that occurred on May 1, 2008, Plaintiffs bring the present three-count Amended Complaint alleging: (1) a negligence claim in Count I; (2) a loss of consortium claim in Count II; and (3) a negligent entrustment claim in Count III. The parties agree that Illinois law controls this action based in tort. See Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Websolv Computing, Inc., 580 F.3d 543, 547 (7th Cir. 2009) ("When a federal court hears a case in diversity, [] it applies the choice-of-law rules of the forum state to determine which state's substantive law applies."); Tanner v. Jupiter Realty Corp., 433 F.3d 913, 915 (7th Cir. 2006) (Illinois courts apply the most significant relationship test to choice of law disputes).

"To establish a valid claim for negligence in the state of Illinois, a party must demonstrate that the defendant owed him a duty, that the defendant breached this duty, and that he suffered an injury that was proximately caused by the defendant's breach." Lewis v. CITGO Petroleum Corp., 561 F.3d 698, 702 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Cunis v. Brennan, 56 Ill.2d 372, 308 N.E.2d 617, 618 (1974)). In addition, under Illinois law "a person may be liable for the negligent entrustment of a vehicle 'where that person entrusts the vehicle to one whose incompetency, inexperience, or recklessness is known or should have been known by the entrustor of the vehicle.'" Watson v. Enter. Leasing Co., 325 Ill.App.3d 914, 921, 258 Ill.Dec. 915, 757 N.E.2d 604 (2001) (citation omitted).

I. Negligence and Loss of Consortium Claims -- Counts I and II

In Count I of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that XTRA, "individually and by and through its unknown agent, employee and/or less[ee] and XTRA Lease's unknown agent, employee and/or less[ee] was operating a Truck Tractor Semi Trailer white in color with the name XTRA clearly marked in red lettering on the side southbound on Interstate 294 at or near mile post 3.6 in the City of Thorton Township, County of Cook, and State of Illinois." (R. 1-3, Am. Compl., Count I ΒΆ 2.) In Count II, Plaintiff ...


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