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Russell Noble Plaintiff and Liberty v. J.B. Hunt Transport

June 21, 2012

RUSSELL NOBLE PLAINTIFF AND LIBERTY MUTUAL FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY INTERVENING
PLAINTIFF
v.
J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC.
DEFENDANT



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on a motion by Plaintiff, Russell Noble, for summary judgment/declaratory judgment relating to the intervening claim of Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company on behalf of Nationwide Express, Inc. [DN 22]. Intervening Plaintiff, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company, filed a response to the motion for summary judgment and also requested the Court issue a declaration regarding the applicability and enforceability of Liberty Mutual's subrogation lien in favor of Liberty Mutual. Plaintiff filed no reply. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision.

I. BACKGROUND

On July 1, 2009, Plaintiff, Russell Noble ("Noble"), was operating a semi tractor-trailer owned by his employer, Nationwide Express, Inc. ("Nationwide"), on Interstate 65 in Hart County, Kentucky. Plaintiff's tractor-trailer was struck from behind by a J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. ("J.B. Hunt") tractor-trailer which was operated by Randall E. Mitchell. Mitchell was killed as a result of the collision. The force of the collision knocked Noble forward in his seat.

Noble filed a workers' compensation claim under Tennessee law against Nationwide as a result of the accident. Intervening Plaintiff, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company ("Liberty Mutual"), was the workers' compensation carrier for Nationwide. On March 3, 2011, Liberty Mutual paid workers' compensation benefits to Plaintiff in the amount of $122,615.00 for disability benefits and $4,069.06 for medical benefits. (Andrew Marley Aff. at ¶7.)

During the pendency of his underlying workers' compensation case, Noble filed a civil action in Hart Circuit Court against Defendant, J.B. Hunt, seeking to recover money damages for the damages he sustained in the collision. The action was removed to this Court. Liberty Mutual filed an intervening complaint in this case alleging that "[p]ursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-112, the intervening plaintiff is entitled to recover from the defendants all sums not to exceed the indemnity and medical benefits paid and payable to or on behalf of Russell Noble under the workers' compensation policy . . ." (Intervening Complaint ¶ 7.) Liberty Mutual further alleged that "[t]o the extent that any damages recovered by Russell Noble in this proceeding are duplicative of any workers' compensation benefits he has received or will receive in the future from the intervening plaintiff, the intervening plaintiff is entitled to reimbursement from the plaintiff of the sums it has expended as workers' compensation benefits . . . . " (Intervening Complaint, Cross-Claim ¶ 3.)

J.B. Hunt moved this Court for summary judgment based upon the "impact rule." The Court granted summary judgment in part finding that while there is sufficient evidence to show that Noble was impacted by the collision, "he may not recover damages under Kentucky law for the emotional distress he may have suffered as a result of witnessing the fatal injuries of the other driver." (October 18, 2011, Order at 2, DN 11.) The Court further held that "Plaintiff may recover for mental anguish which he can relate to the contact or injury he suffered in the accident." (Id. at 4.)

On February 10, 2012, Noble entered into a settlement agreement with Defendant, J.B. Hunt, in which Noble received the sum of $30,000 in exchange for the release and dismissal of the claims against J.B. Hunt. On February 24, 2012, Liberty Mutual made a demand upon Plaintiff pursuant to T.C.A. § 50-6-112 regarding its subrogation lien against the settlement proceeds. Liberty Mutual does not dispute Plaintiff's right to offset for attorney's fees and court costs. As a result of this demand, Plaintiff filed this current motion for summary judgment/declaration of rights regarding the settlement proceeds.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and of identifying that portion of the record which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party is required to do more than simply show there is some "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The rule requires the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

III. DISCUSSION

In support of his motion for summary judgment, Noble argues that Liberty Mutual is not entitled to any of the settlement proceeds received by him from J.B. Hunt. According to Noble, Liberty Mutual intervened in this case seeking to recover monies which were duplicative of monies paid to Noble in the Tennessee workers' compensation case which arose out of the July 2009 collision. In support of his motion, Noble submits a document filed in his Tennessee workers' compensation claim entitled "Workers Compensation - First Report of Injury or Illness." The document that was prepared by the Human Resource Department at Nationwide reflects that the type of injury/illness claimed was "mental stress;" the part of body affected was "no physical injury;" all equipment, materials, or chemicals employee was using when accident or illness exposure occurred was "seeing dead bod[sic];" and the initial treatment was "no medical treatment." (Workers Compensation - First Report of Injury or Illness, DN 22-1.) Noble contends that this document clearly reflects that all monies paid to him as a result of the Tennessee workers' compensation claim relate to "mental stress" which arose as a result of Noble witnessing the fatal injuries to the other driver. Since those claims were dismissed by the Court prior to the tort claim settlement, Noble argues that Liberty Mutual may not claim that the settlement paid by J.B. Hunt duplicates any payment made to Noble in the Tennessee workers' compensation case. Finally, Plaintiff contends that the First Report of Injury or Illness document is consistent with the sworn statement of Noble in which he states that he received no physical injury as a result of the collision.

In response to the motion for summary judgment, Liberty Mutual argues that because Noble obtained a recovery against J.B. Hunt, Liberty Mutual's intervention and assertion of its lien against the settlement proceeds is lawful and proper under Tennessee law pursuant to T.C.A. ยง 50-6-112(c). Liberty Mutual requests the Court to issue a declaration regarding the validity of the subrogation lien and to issue a judgment in favor of Liberty Mutual in the ...


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