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Scala v. Fedex Freight, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 6, 2017




         On January 7, 2014, plaintiff Thomas J. Scala was driving on Route 100 in Waterbury, Vermont, when his car was hit by a large chunk of ice. The ice crashed through Scala's windshield and struck him, causing serious injuries to his eye and face. In this lawsuit, Scala alleges that the ice came from a defendant FedEx Freight, Inc. (“FedEx Freight”) tractor-trailer truck. He seeks to hold FedEx Freight liable for his injuries on the ground that it was negligent. The matter is before me on defendant's motion for summary judgment. Docket # 31.

         I. Background

         I summarize the relevant facts in the light most favorable to Scala, the non-moving party. See Planadeball v. Wyndham Vacation Resorts, Inc., 793 F.3d 169, 172 (1st Cir. 2015).

         On January 7, 2014, between 10:30 and 11:30 am, Scala was driving south on Route 100 in Vermont. Jennifer Scala (“Jennifer”), Scala's then-fiancée, was in the passenger seat. As Scala was driving, a large chunk of ice fell onto his car, crashed through his windshield, and struck him in the face. Following the incident, his vehicle stopped on the northbound side of Route 100, and phone calls were made to 911 at 11:32:34 am, 11:34:13 am, and 11:34:21 am.

         Jennifer recalled seeing a white tractor-trailer in the vicinity, but she did not remember whether she saw the vehicle prior to or following the incident. Another driver, Kevin Rogers, was driving a few hundred yards behind Scala just prior to the incident. As Rogers drove through a curve, he saw snow and large sheets of ice coming off of a tractor-trailer with a “FedEx” logo on it. He pulled over to the side of the road to avoid the ice and saw Scala's car in a snow bank.

         On June 30, 2015, Scala filed the present suit in Massachusetts Superior Court, alleging his injuries were caused by FedEx Freight's negligence. FedEx Freight removed the case to federal court on July 31, 2015, based on diversity jurisdiction, Docket # 1, and then moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, Docket # 7. I denied that motion on October 13, 2015. Docket # 11. The parties completed discovery, and FedEx Freight now moves for summary judgment on the ground that the evidence shows no FedEx Freight tractor-trailer could have been involved in the accident. Docket # 31.

         II. Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party “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). “An issue is ‘genuine' for purposes of summary judgment if ‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ' and a ‘material fact' is one which ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'” Poulis-Minott v. Smith, 388 F.3d 354, 363 (1st Cir. 2004) (quoting Hayes v. Douglas Dynamics, Inc., 8 F.3d 88, 90 (1st Cir. 1993)).

         III. Analysis

         The outcome of this summary judgment motion depends on whether a reasonable jury, taking the evidence most favorably to Scala, could conclude that a FedEx Freight tractor-trailer was at the scene of the incident. Scala's claim of negligence is that the tractor-trailer in question did not have its snow and ice removed properly, which caused ice to fall onto his car. If FedEx Freight was not near Scala at the time the incident occurred, however, Scala's claim fails.

         “To prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care, that the defendant breached this duty, that damage resulted, and that there was a causal relation between the breach of the duty and the damage.” Jupin v. Kask, 849 N.E.2d 829, 834-35 (Mass. 2006); see also Cheney v. City of Montpelier, 27 A.3d 359, 361 (Vt. 2011) (“To succeed on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must prove four elements: duty, breach, causation and harm.”).[1] “The first element, duty, is a question of law for the court to determine, although the court's decision about duty might require the jury to resolve predicate factual disputes upon which a determination of duty rests.” Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical & Emotional Harm § 6 (2010). An actor generally “has a duty to exercise reasonable care” if his or her “conduct creates risks of physical harm to others.” Id.

         Here, if there was no FedEx Freight vehicle near the scene of the incident, then FedEx Freight had no duty to Scala. This is because, absent being in the vicinity, FedEx Freight could not have put Scala at risk of the harm alleged. And based on the evidence, taken most favorably to Scala, I conclude no reasonable jury could find that a FedEx Freight vehicle was nearby when the incident occurred.

         As a preliminary matter, FedEx Freight is a wholly-owned subsidiary of FedEx Corporation. “Under Massachusetts law a parent corporation and its subsidiary are separate corporate entities.” Devlin v. WSI Corp., 833 F.Supp. 69, 74 (D. Mass. 1993). Further, FedEx Freight is a distinct entity from FedEx Ground and FedEx Express.[2]FedEx Freight operates a facility in Berlin, Vermont; FedEx Ground and FedEx Freight operate a facility in Williston, Vermont. FedEx Freight's logo is purple and red; FedEx Express's logo is purple and orange. ...

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