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Danrich v. Ettling

April 27, 2010

JOHNNY DANRICH, AS THE SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF DECEDENT CHRISTOPHER JONES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JASON ETTLING AND MONROE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Johnny Danrich is the administrator of the estate of the late Christopher Jones, formerly a citizen of the State of Missouri. Danrich sued Jason Ettling and the Monroe County Sheriff's Department on March 5, 2009. Ettling is a sheriff's deputy with the department, and both he and the Department have Illinois citizenship. Danrich alleges that Ettling negligently caused Jones' death in connection with a vehicle crash and that Ettling's conduct was willful and wanton. On that basis, Danrich claims that Ettling and the Department are liable under Illinois wrongful death and survival statutes. See 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 180/1 (wrongful death); 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/27-6 (survival). Because Danrich claims damages in excess of $75,000, the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this state-law case under the federal diversity statute. 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (2006); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c) (noting that the citizenship of the representative of a decedent's estate is the same as the decedent for jurisdictional purposes).

Now pending is the Defendants' fully briefed and argued motion for summary judgment (Doc. 17), in which the Defendants argue that there are no material issues of fact on their affirmative defenses and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. However, the Court holds that a reasonable fact-finder could find in Danrich's favor on the affirmative defenses, so Court will deny the motion.

Standard of Decision

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Estate of Suskovich v. Anthem Health Plans of Va., Inc., 553 F.3d 559, 563 (7th Cir. 2009) (citingFed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)); accord Breneisen v. Motorola, Inc., 512 F.3d 972 (7th Cir. 2008); Levy v. Minn. Life Ins. Co., 517 F.3d 519 (7th Cir. 2008). In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the Court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the respondent. Lloyd v. Swifty Transp., Inc., 552 F.3d 594, 600 (7th Cir. 2009); TAS Distrib. Co. v. Cummins Engine Co., 491 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2007); Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d 756, 764 (7th Cir. 2007).

If the movant meets its burden on summary judgment, the responding party cannot rest on the pleadings. Rather, the respondent must provide evidence on which a reasonable fact-finder could find for the respondent. Maclin v. SBC Ameritech, 520 F.3d 781, 786 (7th Cir. 2008). As the Seventh Circuit recently explained:

[T]he non-moving party must submit evidence that there is a genuine issue for trial. The existence of merely a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party.

Giant Screen Sports v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 553 F.3d 527, 531--32 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted) (citingPtasznik v. St. Joseph Hosp., 464 F.3d 691, 694 (7th Cir. 2006)).

Stated another way, to counter a summary judgment motion, the respondent may not simply reiterate the allegations contained in the pleadings; more substantial evidence must be presented. A genuine issue of material fact is not shown by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986), or "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [non-moving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (here, Danrich), the Court will assume the following facts as true for the purposes of deciding the motion for summary judgment.

Facts

On August 16, 2008, the sun set at 7:53 PM and the end of civil twilight occurred at 8:21 PM. Ettling began his shift as a sheriff's deputy that night at 8:00 PM. He left his residence in Columbia, Illinois at that time but shortly afterwards received a call from another deputy asking him to pick up some food. He proceeded to Valmeyer, Illinois to pick up the food from the deputy's home.

The route to the deputy's home included Bluff road, a heavily travelled road in the Valmeyer area. At about the same time as the start of Ettling's shift, six friends were riding their motorcycles northbound on Bluff Road, a heavily travelled road in the Valmeyer area. They rode in two groups. The lead group was James Scott, Dewone Lemon and Terrance Strickland. The trailing group was Christopher Jones, Eric Brown and Nathan Haney. Eventually on his route while travelling southbound on Bluff Road, Ettling encountered the lead motorcycle group travelling in the opposite direction. Ettling's squad car was equipped with radar attached to the dashboard of his squad car. The radar started pinging and indicated that the motorcyclists were travelling at 90 MPH. The speed limit of the road at that point was 55 MPH.

Ettling decided to issue the motorcyclists traffic citations. To do that, he slowed down, pulled his vehicle to the right at what he thought was a safe part of the roadway, stopped, waited for the motorcycles to pass, looked both directions to make sure the road was clear and then attempted to make a U-turn. Around the same time that the first group passed Ettling, the trailing group had rounded a bend in Bluff Road. Jones was in the lead of that group, followed by Brown and Haney in that order. Brown saw that Ettling had his head outside the patrol car ...


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