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Robertsl v. Alexandria Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 18, 2018

THOMAS ROBERTS and DIANE ROBERTS, Plaintiffs,
v.
ALEXANDRIA TRANSPORTATION, INC., et al., Defendants. ALEXANDRIA TRANSPORTATION, INC., et al., Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
STATEWIDE TIRE DISTRIBUTORS, INC., et al., Third-Party Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on two motions. The first is a motion for summary judgment filed by third-party defendant Safety International, LLC on the third-party complaint in this case. (Doc. 234.) The second is Safety International, LLC's motion to exclude the opinions of two of the third-party plaintiffs' expert witnesses. (Doc. 239.) The Court held oral arguments on both motions on January 4, 2018. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court granted in part and denied in part the motion to exclude and explained its full rationale for doing so on the record. The Court took the motion for summary judgment under advisement. Now, for the following reasons, the Court DENIES the motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         One day in 2013, plaintiff Thomas Roberts was driving his truck on I-70 westbound in Madison County, Illinois. When Roberts entered a construction zone-one he had been aware of for several weeks because of his regular travel through the area-the lanes merged from two to one. (Thomas Roberts Dep., Doc. 241-1, pp. 56-57.) Roberts did not see a sign indicating that a flagger was ahead, but he spotted a flagger anyways at a distance of around 100 yards. The flagger was holding a sign that said “SLOW”, so Roberts slowed down from 45 MPH to some unspecified slower speed. (Id. at 66-67.) When Roberts was about 50 yards from the flagger, the flagger abruptly flipped the sign around to “STOP”-even though there were no trucks entering or leaving the site, no vehicles in the open lane on the other side of the flagger, and the flagger did not appear to be communicating with anyone. The flagger also failed to raise his other hand to indicate the stop, as required by law. Regardless, Roberts slammed on the brakes and came to a quick stop merely 12 yards from the flagger. (Id. at 74-75.)

         Defendant Alexandre Solomakha had been driving a freightliner behind Roberts for about two miles before the stop. The distance between the two vehicles was around one-and-a-half freightliners. (Alexandre Solomakha Dep., Doc. 241-2, p. 113.) Solomakha also never saw a “flagger ahead” sign, but he did see the flagger haphazardly playing with the sign by flipping it back and forth. (Id. at 117.) When Solomakha noticed that Roberts started to slow down, Solomakha slowed down too. But when Roberts slammed on his brakes, Solomakha was not able to stop his freightliner in time. Though the freightliner had slowed dramatically and was almost completely stopped at the time of the impact, it still rear-ended Roberts. (Id. at 122-23, 129.)

         Following the crash, Roberts sued Solomakha in this Court for negligence stemming from the crash. Roberts also sued several more defendants, including Alexandria Transportation-which is owned by Solomakha-and Alex Express, LLC: the company that Solomakha was delivering freight for at the time of the accident. Roberts's wife Diane joined in the suit on a loss of consortium theory.

         Solomakha, Alexandria Transportation, and Alex Express then brought a third party-complaint against several third-party defendants for their role in failing to maintain the safety of the construction site, on the theory that if Solomakha/Alexandria Transportation/Alex Express are liable to plaintiff Roberts in negligence for the crash, then the third-party defendants are also liable as joint tortfeasors because they failed their duty to keep the construction site safe for the general public to drive through. One of those third-party defendants is Safety International, LLC (“Safety”). The general contractor for the site, Edwards-Kamadulski, LLC (“Edwards”), retained Safety via an oral agreement to be responsible for, well, safety issues at the construction site.

         That oral agreement is what complicates this case. Safety claims that their responsibilities under the oral agreement are clear: Safety was only responsible for employee safety compliance and training at the worksite. They were to effectuate this responsibility by developing a compliance plan to be implemented by Edwards and their subcontractors, as well as providing a small amount of Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) training with the supervisors and project foremen at the site. Safety is a small shop-made up of only two people-and Safety argues that they never provide services to anyone other than this routine safety consulting.

         Solomakha, Alexandria Transportation, and Alex Express vehemently disagree with Safety's interpretation of the oral contract. They argue that Safety had a duty to the general public-not just employees at the site-to exercise reasonable care in the operation, maintenance, management, and inspection of the site. Under this interpretation, Safety's duty extends to training the flaggers responsible for directing public traffic through the construction zone. Since Safety has admitted that they did not provide any traffic control services to Edwards, and the flagger was an employee of Edwards (Kevin Edwards Dep., Doc. 241-5, p. 61), the third-party plaintiffs believe that Safety categorically failed to carry out their contractual duties and should be liable as a joint tortfeasor.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         i. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment must be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.

         The initial summary judgment burden of production is on the moving party to show the Court that there is no reason to have a trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 2013). If the moving party bears the burden of persuasion on an issue at trial, it must “lay out the elements of the claim, cite the facts which it believes satisfies these elements, and demonstrate why the record is so one-sided as to rule out the prospect of a finding in favor of the non-movant on the claim.” Hotel 71 Mezz Lender LLC v. National Ret. Fund, 778 F.3d 593, 601 (7th Cir. 2015); accord Felix v. Wisconsin Dep't of Transp., 828 F.3d 560, 570 (7th Cir. 2016). Where the moving party fails to meet that strict burden, the Court cannot enter summary judgment for that party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

         In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings, but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1168. A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of “some alleged factual dispute between the parties, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by “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 ...


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