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Wallen v. Mapletree Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

December 22, 2016

LARRY WALLEN, Plaintiff,


          Joseph S. Van Bokkelen United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Larry Wallen sued Defendant Mapletree Transportation Inc. for negligence, failure to provide insurance, and failure to pay him. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on Count I of his complaint, the negligence count (DE 23), and to strike certain evidence (DE 30). The Court held oral argument on the motions on December 13, 2016. For the following reasons, the motions are granted.

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         A motion for 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). 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).

         A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing a 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, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party supports its motion for summary judgment with affidavits or other materials, it thereby shifts to the non-moving party the burden of showing that an issue of material fact exists. Keri v. Bd. of Trust. of Purdue Univ., 458 F.3d 620, 628 (7th Cir. 2006).

         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 and resolve all doubts in favor of that party. Keri, 458 F.3d at 628. 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. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986).

         B. Facts

         The following facts are assumed to be true for the purpose of summary judgment. Wallen has been a truck driver for about fifty-four years. On December 10, 2014, in Centerville, Michigan, he picked up a trailer belonging to Mapletree carrying three campers that he was to deliver to Canada for Mapletree. He was driving his own Peterbilt truck. From Centerville he traveled to a Mapletree facility in Middlebury, Indiana, to have Jeff Reinhold, the shop manager, look at the trailer's automatic brake system (“ABS”). He was concerned because the ABS indicator light on the trailer did not come on when he turned on the ignition. Reinhold discovered that the cord from the trailer to the indicator light had been cut, but would not fix it, telling Wallen that he, Reinhold, would be fired if he did so. Wallen then drove to Shipshewana Trailer to have the trailer repaired but was sent back to Mapletree where Anita, a Mapletree employee, told him that if he didn't go on the trip he wouldn't have a job Throughout the course of the trip Wallen recorded daily in his logbook (which has been lost) that the ABS light didn't work and that the wire had been cut. While on his trip, he took the trailer to someone in Alexandria, Minnesota, whom he told that the ABS light would not come on and that the brakes were not working, but the man would not work on the trailer. Throughout the trip the regular brakes on the trailer were working, according to Wallen. Wallen believes that the trailer ABS was not working properly because the trailer always pulled to the left when he rounded a corner or curve to the right, regardless of whether he applied the brakes.

         On the morning of December 22, 2014, Wallen left Seattle, headed toward Kamloops, British Columbia. At about 2:30 pm he was traveling north on Highway 99 when he came to the top of a hill with a bridge at the foot of the hill. He was traveling at less than 15 kilometers per hour down the hill toward the bridge. The road was dry. After he hit a bump at the top of the hill, he saw in his mirror that the trailer was sliding left and noticed that its tires were not rolling but were locked and kicking up rocks. Wallen never used the brakes the entire time the vehicle moved down the hill. The trailer hit the bridge and the truck cab fell into the water below. Wallen thinks that the ABS failed because hitting the bump made the trailer slide sideways and caused the wheel to lock up. Wallen had no other experience with the failure of a trailer ABS in the course of his trucking career. In his complaint, Wallen asserts that Mapletree had a duty to provide him with a trailer with working brakes, and that it negligently failed to do so.

         In support of its motion for summary judgment, Mapletree submitted the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) expert witness report prepared by Fred Monick and authenticated by his affidavit. Wallen does not challenge Monick's expertise with regard to automatic brake systems. Monick gave the following opinions, which he holds to a reasonable degree of engineering certainty:

1. The ABS unit cannot apply the brakes independently of the driver in any failure mode.
2. The failure of the ABS unit will not cause the trailer to off track in a turn absent a hard brake application by the driver.
3. Failure of the ABS unit will not cause the brakes to lock absent a hard application by the driver.
4. Failure of the trailer ABS lamp to work does not mean that the ABS unit ...

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