United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
SHELIA BECK as Special Administrator for the Estate of Jeffery D. Beck, Deceased, Plaintiff,
XPO EXPRESS, INC., ADAM ROCKHOLD, JACK E. RUDOLPH, SR., and JOSHUA M. WILLIS, Defendants.
HERNDON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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)
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). 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 (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. 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).
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.).
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).
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
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.
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against XPO
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
Establishing Proof of Agency
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
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 ...