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Fuentes v. Miller

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

June 11, 2015




This matter is before the Court on Defendants Joseph Wells and P.I. & I. Motor Express’s Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 87], filed on January 30, 2015, and Defendant Con-Way Freight, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 92], filed on February 4, 2015. Defendants Great American Lines, Inc. and Charles Miller (collectively “Miller”) filed responses to both motions on March 2, 2015, and March 9, 2015, respectively. Plaintiffs joined both of Miller’s responses. On March 16, 2015, Defendants Wells and P. I. & I. Motor Express (collectively, “Wells”) filed a reply. Defendant Con-Way Freight, Inc. (Con-Way) did not file a reply in support of its motion, and the time to do so has passed.

This is a personal injury case arising from a vehicle accident that occurred on January 13, 2011, when a semi-truck driven by Defendant Miller (and owned by Defendant Great American Lines, Inc.) rear-ended a 1996 GMC pickup truck in which Plaintiffs Serafin Fuentes and Antonio Cerros were riding. Plaintiffs allege that Wells and Con-Way bear some of the blame for the accident. Discovery has come to a close, and Wells and Con-Way now seek summary judgment in their favor on the basis that they were not the proximate cause of the accident, but that the negligence of Miller was a superceding and intervening cause.

The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).[1]

I. Summary Judgment Standard

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandate that motions for summary judgment 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). Rule 56 further requires the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “[S]ummary judgment is appropriate-in fact, is mandated-where there are no disputed issues of material fact and the movant must prevail as a matter of law. In other words, the record must reveal that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party.” Dempsey v. Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 16 F.3d 832, 836 (7th Cir. 1994) (citations and quotations omitted).

A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party may discharge its initial responsibility by simply “‘showing’-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. When the nonmoving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party is not required to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent’s claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 325; Green v. Whiteco Indus., Inc., 17 F.3d 199, 201 n.3 (7th Cir. 1994); Fitzpatrick v. Catholic Bishop of Chi., 916 F.2d 1254, 1256 (7th Cir. 1990). However, the moving party, if it chooses, may support its motion for summary judgment with affidavits or other materials, and, if the moving party has “produced sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that there are no genuine issues for trial, ” then the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that an issue of material fact exists. Becker v. Tenenbaum-Hill Assoc., 914 F.2d 107, 110-111 (7th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted); see also Hong v. Children’s Mem’l Hosp., 993 F.2d 1257, 1261 (7th Cir. 1993).

Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the non-moving party cannot resist the motion and withstand summary judgment by merely resting on its pleadings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Donovan v. City of Milwaukee, 17 F.3d 944, 947 (7th Cir. 1994). Rule 56(e) provides that “[i]f a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party’s assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion [or] grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2), (3); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986).

Thus, to demonstrate a genuine issue of fact, the nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” but must “come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009); NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-Am., Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir. 1995). A court’s role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

II. Wells’s Motion for Summary Judgment

As an initial matter, Wells objects to the format of Miller’s response, contending that it fails to comply with Northern District of Indiana Local Rule 56-1(b)(2) since it does not contain a section labeled “Statement of Genuine Disputes” or identify the material facts that Miller contends “are genuinely disputed so as to make a trial necessary.” N.D. Ind. L.R. 56(b)(2). Wells thus asks that the Court accept as true all properly supported facts set forth in the Statement of Material Facts in his brief.

A Statement of Genuine Disputes points the Court to those factual issues that the case hinges on. Here, as Wells points out, the response does identify some facts that are in dispute, but does not clarify which of these facts Miller believes create a genuine issue of material fact that must be decided at trial.[2] On summary judgment, the Court is faced with “one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial . . . . The parties, in turn, bear a concomitant burden to identify the evidence that will facilitate this assessment.” Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). It thus is within this Court’s discretion to insist on strict compliance with the local rules. See Stevo v. Frasor, 662 F.3d 880, 886–87 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Ammons v. Aramark Unif. Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004)); Waldridge, 24 F.3d at 922.

The Court declines to do so here. Cf. Stevo, 662 F.3d at 887 (“We have not endorsed the very different proposition that litigants are entitled to expect strict enforcement by district judges.”). “Local rules, like the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that they supplement, should be construed to provide for the ‘just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action’ on its merits.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 1). Miller’s response makes clear which facts are in dispute and supports these disputes with citations to ...

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