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Till v. Dolgencorp, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

July 16, 2019

LEE TILL, Plaintiff,
v.
DOLGENCORP, LLC, and DOLGENCORP INC. d/b/a DOLLAR GENERAL, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 by Defendants Dolgencorp, LLC and Dolgencorp Inc., doing business as Dollar General, (“Dollar General”) (Filing No. 47). Plaintiff Lee Till (“Till”) filed this lawsuit against Dollar General after he was injured while delivering products to a Dollar General store in Mooresville, Indiana. Till asserts a single claim of negligence and requests damages for his injuries. For the following reasons, the Court grants summary judgment on behalf of Dollar General.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the facts are presented in the light most favorable to Till as the non-moving party. See Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         Dollar General is a discount retailer, which offers products from a variety of brands at a discounted brand to make the products more affordable and make them available for customers at convenient locations. Dollar General contracted with U.S. Xpress to deliver “merchandise inventory, store supplies, equipment and fixtures” from the Dollar General distribution center in Marion, Indiana, to various Dollar General stores (Filing No. 47-3 at 2; Filing No. 47-1 at 2). The contract governing the relationship between U.S. Xpress and Dollar General for the Marion distribution center provided that U.S. Xpress “shall perform the transportation and delivery services provided for in this Agreement as an independent contractor and shall have exclusive control and direction of the persons operating the equipment or otherwise engaged in such services.” (Filing No. 47-3 at 4.) Further, “Each [U.S. Xpress] driver shall unload all ‘roll-tainers' on each trailer and shall assist in the unloading of any other items on a trailer, as needed, ” and U.S. Xpress “shall be responsible for ensuring that each driver is properly trained in the procedures for unloading ‘roll-tainers.'” Id. A roll-tainer is a cart used to deliver Dollar General goods. It is a steel cage on three sides, and the fourth side has a net with a steel bar to lock it in (Filing No. 47-2 at 4, 6).

         All of the trailers hauled by U.S. Xpress pursuant to the contractual relationship are owned by Dollar General. Dollar General produces the store orders for delivery and the order sequence of delivery for an entire trailer. Dollar General workers pack the roll-tainers at the distribution centers and inspect them to make sure they are properly packed, including making sure heavy items are on the bottom. If problems are found, the roll-tainers are repacked (Filing No. 84-1 at 3-6, 9-12). Inspection of the roll-tainers is performed before they are loaded on the trailer, but the inspections are random; so not every roll-tainer is inspected. Once a trailer is loaded with roll-tainers, a seal is placed on the trailer for trailer integrity.

         The truck drivers do not open the trailers when they pick up the trailers; the Dollar General security guard does that and breaks the seal. Afterward, the security guard seals the trailer again. Pursuant to Dollar General's policy, all trucks should arrive and leave the store with an intact trailer seal. (Filing No. 84-1 at 14-15, 17-19). When the truck driver arrives at a store, a Dollar General store manager must meet the driver at the back door. The driver then pushes the roll-tainers through the threshold of the door designated by the store manager and into an area designated by the store manager. Dollar General requires its employees to ensure that the path from the back door to the roll-tainer delivery area is clear of obstructions. Once the roll-tainers are in the store, the U.S. Xpress driver does not unload or unpack them. Id. at 11, 19-20.

         Till was employed as a delivery truck driver by U.S. Xpress. He worked exclusively for U.S. Xpress on the Dollar General account. He delivered only Dollar General trailers beginning around March 2014. As a U.S. Xpress delivery truck driver on the Dollar General account, Till would pick up a trailer at the Dollar General distribution center. He would then make deliveries to Dollar General stores throughout Central Indiana and in parts of northern Kentucky (Filing No. 47-2 at 2, 10-11; Filing No. 47-1 at 2).

         On May 28, 2016, Till picked up a 48-foot trailer from the Marion, Indiana Dollar General distribution center, which holds about 48 roll-tainers. His trailer was preloaded and had been sealed for two days before he picked it up (Filing No. 84-1 at 13-14). Till arrived at the Dollar General store in Mooresville, Indiana and began to unload the roll-tainers from his trailer. To unload a roll-tainer, Till had to push the roll-tainer onto the liftgate, lower the lift, and then push the roll-tainer into the store through the back door.

         While Till was pushing a roll-tainer through the threshold of the door leading into the store, the roll-tainer bucked back against him. Till fell to his knees, and when the roll-tainer started to roll toward him, he pushed it off to his right side. Till's arm got stuck in the cage of the roll-tainer and resulted in his arm being ripped out of its socket. At the time of the accident, no one was helping Till unload the trailer, and nobody witnessed the events (Filing No. 47-2 at 4-6). At the time of the incident, Till already had pushed five or six roll-tainers into the Mooresville store. He did not have any specific delivery instructions for the day (Filing No. 47-1 at 2-3; Filing No. 47-2 at 2-6).

         The roll-tainer involved in the incident was overloaded and loaded incorrectly. It was top-heavy and weighed too much. Roll-tainers typically weigh between 700 and 1, 000 pounds, but the roll-tainer involved in the accident weighed between 800 and 1, 000 pounds. It was loaded with bottled water, gallon water, and canned goods. Id. at 6, 14. Because the roll-tainer inspections were random, it is possible the roll-tainer that injured Till had not been inspected (Filing No. 84-1 at 15-16). Prior to this accident, Till was aware of a couple of incidents where roll-tainers tipped over because they were overloaded. Those incidents were reported to driver managers, and in one case, Till took a photograph of the tipped-over roll-tainer to give to a manager (Filing No. 47-2 at 6-7, 14, 22).

         On December 12, 2017, Till filed a Complaint against Dollar General in the Marion Superior Court, asserting his sole claim of negligence (Filing No. 47-1). On January 16, 2018, Dollar General removed the case from state court to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction (Filing No. 1). After answering the Complaint and denying liability, Dollar General filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         The purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir. 2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews “the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Zerante, 555 F.3d at 584 (citation omitted). “However, inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture will not defeat a summary judgment motion.” Dorsey v. Morgan Stanley, 507 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Additionally, “[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue ...


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