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Hayward v. C.H. Robinson Co., Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

December 9, 2014

RICHARD HAYWARD, as Administrator of the Estate of Crystal Hayward and Individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
C.H. ROBINSON COMPANY, INC.; C.H. ROBINSON TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, INC.; C.H. ROBINSON INTERNATIONAL, INC.; C.H. ROBINSON COMPANY; C.H. ROBINSON WORLD-WIDE, INC.; C.H. ROBINSON WORLDWIDE-LTL, INC.; COMPASS LEASING, INC.; COMPASS FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT GROUP, INC., d/b/a Compass Leasing; COMPASS LEASE, LLC; VLADO PETROVSKI; and PELLA CARRIER SERVICES, INC., Defendants-Appellees

Page 49

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois. Circuit No. 09-L-68. Honorable David J. Dubicki, Judge, Presiding.

SYLLABUS

In an action plaintiff filed for the death of his wife when the vehicle she was driving struck a tractor trailer while it was making an illegal U-turn in the middle of a highway, the trial court's entry of summary judgment for the transportation broker that entered into a contract for carrier services provided by the company that supplied the tractor trailer and its driver was affirmed by the appellate court, since the transportation broker was an independent contractor and the contract for carrier services required the carrier to have minimum insurance for liabilities arising from hauling loads for the broker and to hold the broker harmless from any and all losses arising from the services provided; additionally, once summary judgment was entered for the transportation broker, the appellate court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion to compel further discovery pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 191.

David A. Kleczek, of Oakland, California, Greg Leiter, of Law Office of Gregory L. Leiter, of Joliet, and Alene Kleczek Bolin, of Baraboo, Wisconsin, for appellants.

William J. Ryan and Eric J. Munoz, both of Scandaglia & Ryan, of Chicago, for appellees.

JUSTICE WRIGHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holdridge and McDade concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Page 50

WRIGHT, JUSTICE.

[¶1] Crystal Hayward died from severe injuries she sustained when her vehicle collided with a tractor-trailer driven by an employee of Pella Carrier Services, Inc. (Pella). At the time of the collision, Pella was transporting the contents of the tractor-trailer as an independent contractor for C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. Crystal's husband filed a third amended complaint alleging multiple counts of negligence and/or willful wanton conduct against Vlado Petrovski, Pella, each of the C.H. Robinson companies (collectively Robinson), and various other defendants.

[¶2] The trial court found that Pella was operating as an independent contractor and not as an agent of Robinson, and that Robinson had no control over Pella's operation. The court also found that Robinson did not negligently hire or supervise Pella or Petrovski. On this basis, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Robinson. After granting summary judgment in favor of Robinson, the court denied plaintiffs' motion to compel Robinson to produce additional discovery. We affirm.

[¶3] BACKGROUND

[¶4] On February 4, 2009, defendant Vlado Petrovski, while employed by Pella, attempted to make an illegal U-turn with his tractor-trailer in the middle of Route 29, in Chillicothe, Illinois, when a vehicle driven by Crystal Hayward struck the side of the tractor-trailer. On December 10, 2010, Crystal died as a result of the severe injuries she sustained from the collision.

[¶5] Plaintiff Richard Hayward filed a 56-count, third amended complaint, individually, and as special administrator for Crystal's estate (collectively plaintiffs) naming Petrovski, Pella, Robinson, and the Compass companies[1] as defendants. The counts of the third amended complaint relevant to this appeal alleged separate causes of action against each of the Robinson defendants separately, claiming each was liable for Petrovski's and/or Pella's acts or omissions under different legal theories of liability for negligence. The only legal theory relevant to this appeal addressed Robinson's negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of Pella and/or Petrovski.

[¶6] On October 3, 2011, Robinson filed a motion for summary judgment alleging the undisputed facts contained in the pleadings and attachments were insufficient to support any of the plaintiffs' theories of recovery based on negligence or willful and wanton misconduct attributable to Robinson. In its motion for summary judgment, Robinson attached a detailed affidavit as well as the discovery deposition of Bruce Johnson, Robinson's manager of carrier services, explaining Robinson's policies and procedures used when contracting with independent contractor carriers. Therefore,

Page 51

Robinson asked the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of Robinson and against plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed a motion in opposition to Robinson's motion for summary judgment with multiple attachments, including an affidavit and deposition of Peter A. Philbrick, a commercial vehicle safety specialist.[2]

[¶7] Before the hearing took place on Robinson's motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs filed " Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel" against Robinson on July 12, 2012. The motion to compel requested the court to order Robinson to disclose any records in its possession regarding Robinson's knowledge of Transpeed, Inc.'s (Transpeed's) connection to Pella and Robinson's knowledge of Transpeed's previous poor safety record.

[¶8] Plaintiffs informed the court they did not require this additional discovery, pursuant to Rule 191(b) (Ill. S.Ct. R. 191(b) (eff. July 1, 2002)), prior to the summary judgment hearing because they felt they had sufficient facts, at that time, to support denial of the motion for summary judgment. Consequently, the court set the pending motions for a combined hearing on August 31, 2012, to address both the motion for summary judgment and the motion to compel.

[¶9] I. Summary Judgment Pleadings

[¶10] The pleadings established the following uncontested facts with respect to Petrovski's safety record and employment status. Petrovski had a valid commercial driver's license (CDL) for seven years preceding the date of the collision. His driving record did not include any traffic tickets or moving violations. Additionally, Petrovski's tractor-trailer was in good condition with no safety violations when the accident occurred.

[¶11] During those seven years when he established a safe driving record, Petrovski was employed by Pella as a driver of tractor-trailers hauling freight from May 2005 through May 2006. Thereafter, Petrovski worked as a truck driver for a company called Transpeed from 2006 through 2008. Finally, Petrovski returned to his employment as a driver for Pella, beginning in 2008, and was an employee of Pella at the time of the collision. From 2005 through 2008, both Transpeed and Pella were owned and operated as separate business entities by the same person, Eric Popov. The pleadings also established that Transpeed lost its federal licensing in 2008 due to safety issues.

[¶12] Robinson entered into an " Agreement for Motor Contract Carrier Services" (the contract) with Pella, on May 9, 2005, and the contract remained in effect on February 4, 2009, at the time of the collision. The contract between Pella and Robinson detailed Robinson's role, as a transportation broker, was to arrange for the transportation of freight cargo belonging to Robinson's customers from one location to another, and Pella's role was to provide " contract carriage," as an independent contractor, and transport the freight cargo from point A to point B as brokered by Robinson. At the time of the collision, Pella was transporting freight cargo for Robinson under the terms of the contract.

[¶13] Pella received compensation directly from Robinson for transporting the freight cargo. The contract required Pella, at its own cost, to procure and maintain all required " licenses, fees, taxes, fuel tax payments, road tax, equipment use fees or taxes, equipment license fees, driver's license fees, tolls ...


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