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Beck v. XPO Logistics, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 22, 2017

SHELIA BECK as Special Administrator for the Estate of Jeffery D. Beck, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
XPO EXPRESS, INC., ADAM ROCKHOLD, JACK E. RUDOLPH, SR., and JOSHUA M. WILLIS, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HERNDON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 84), and defendant XPO Express, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 91). Based on the following, both motions (Docs. 84, 91) are DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 21, 2016, plaintiff Shelia Beck (“Beck”)-as Special Administrator for the Estate of Jeffery D. Beck-filed a four-count Second Amended Complaint naming defendants' XPO Express, Inc. (“XPO”), Adam Rockhold (“Rockhold”), Jack Rudolph, Sr. (“Rudolph”), and Joshua Willis (“Willis”) (Doc. 71).[1] Beck alleged that on May 19, 2016, Coyote Logistics, LLC, a subsidiary of United Parcel Service, contracted XPO to retrieve and transport a shipment of blood-on behalf of the American Red Cross-from Cleveland, Ohio to its final destination of St. Louis, Missouri[2] (Id. at 5). Approximately one week later on May 25th, XPO assigned the delivery to Rockhold under a Subcontractor's Agreement (Docs. 71 at 5; 71-2). Rockhold then directed his employee Rudolph to drive the shipment from Cleveland to St. Louis.[3] In turn, Rudolph invited his son Willis, and at some point between Ohio and Missouri, Willis was permitted to operate the van (Doc. 71 at 5). At approximately 5:25am on May 26th, Willis collided with a vehicle driven by the decedent while travelling westbound on I-70 in Fayette County, Illinois (Id. at 6). Unfortunately the collision was fatal, and the decedent was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident (Id.). Beck alleged the negligent acts and omissions made by XPO's co-defendants caused the decedent's death, and moreover asserted claims of Wrongful Death against all named defendants (Id. at 7-15). For relief, she requested judgment against XPO, in addition to the other defendants (Id. at 13).

         On April 12, 2017, Beck filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against XPO (Doc. 84). Specifically, she alleges XPO ratified acts of each named defendant, as well as their agency, by accepting and retaining benefits of employee performance (Id. at 7). In other words, Beck argues summary judgment is proper because XPO engaged in: billing Coyote Logistics for transport services; accepting payment for services rendered; accepting the performance of Rockhold, Rudolph, and Willis; and, in paying Rockhold, sanctioning the actions of its co-defendants (Id.). For relief, she requests grant of summary judgment in her favor regarding the Wrongful Death count asserted against XPO (Id.).

         XPO's counterargument is simple: Beck failed to produce evidence that Rockhold, Rudolph, or Willis were its agents; and further, Beck's ratification argument is premature because she must first prove existence of an agency relationship before ratification can take place (Doc. 89).

         Subsequently, XPO filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in its favor arguing, inter alia, the transport van and its driver Willis were never under, nor subject to, control of XPO; and, no vicarious liability exists for negligent conduct of independent contractors-one of which was not a qualified driver and should have never been operating the transport van (Doc. 91). Moreover, XPO reasons facts indicate it had no possession of sufficient control over co-defendants to warrant the involuntary creation of an agency relationship (Doc. 92).

         In response, Beck argues, inter alia, that under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), XPO is responsible for operation of the leased transport van-notwithstanding analysis of agency principles; and further, factual questions still exist pertaining to who had the right to control how Rockhold and his drivers performed services-which, in itself, precludes grant of summary judgment in XPO's favor (Doc. 100).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against XPO

         Beck's argument in favor of partial summary judgment boils down to application of the legal doctrine of ratification. She contends XPO ratified acts of Rockhold, Rudolph, and Willis, and in doing so, exposed itself to consequential liability as if the aforementioned acts were performed under XPO's actual authority. See, e.g., Rosenthal & Co. v. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n, 802 F.2d 963, 966 (7th Cir. 1986) (stating principals are strictly liable for agents' actions, even if agents are not employees, if principal authorizes or ratifies acts, or creates appearance that acts are authorized; even when principal does not himself direct acts and knows nothing of acts when they occur). However, determining whether ratification ensued turns on the existence of a principal-agent relationship between XPO and its co-defendants. Cf. Sphere Drake Ins. Ltd. v. Am. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 376 F.3d 664, 672 (7th Cir. 2004) (party alleging agency relationship bears burden of proving its existence by preponderance of the evidence). Put differently, if Beck cannot establish with sufficient proof that XPO was principle and its co-defendants acted as agents-the Court will not entertain the ratification argument.

         i. Establishing Proof of Agency

         In Illinois, “[t]he test of agency is whether the alleged principal has the right to control the manner and method in which work is carried out by the alleged agent and whether the alleged agent can affect the legal relationships of the principal.Chemtool, Inc. v. Lubrication Tech., Inc., 148 F.3d 742, 745 (7th Cir. 1998) (emphasis added) (“Principal among these considerations is the right to control the manner that the work is done”). For summary judgment purposes, the complaint and filings made to support an agency relationship “must allege specific facts regarding the circumstances from which the existence of the relationship can be inferred. [And] the party alleging an agency relationship has the burden of proving it.” Valenti v. Qualex, Inc., 970 F.2d 363, 367 (7th Cir. 1992) (citing Matthews Roofing v. Cmty. Bank & Trust, 194 Ill.App.3d 200, 206, 550 N.E.2d 1189, 119 (1990) and explaining under Illinois law agent's authority can only come from his principal; this relationship need not depend on express appointment but may be found in situation of parties, their actions, and other relevant circumstances).

         Therefore, Beck is required to demonstrate XPO and its co-defendants expressly agreed to agency; and in the absence of direct proof, she must establish a principle-agent relationship existed through circumstantial evidence. See HPIHealth Care Serv., Inc. v. Mt. Vernon Hosp., Inc., 131 Ill.2d 145, 163, 545 N.E.2d 672, 680 (Ill. 1989) (explaining plaintiff must still allege specific ...


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