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Bryant v. Turney

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

July 11, 2013

RICHARD WARD BRYANT, individually on behalf of the estate of KIRA BRYANT, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMISON K. TURNEY, DEDRA K. TURNEY, and PADUCAH NISSAN, LLC, d/b/a NISSAN OF PADUCAH, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS B. RUSSELL, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on a number of dispositive motions. Defendant Paducah Nissan, LLC, first moved for summary judgment. (Def.'s Mot., Docket Number ("DN") 64.) Plaintiff Richard Bryant responded. (Pl.'s Resp., DN 70.) In the interim, Bryant filed an amended complaint adding, or at least clarifying, his claim for negligent entrustment against Paducah Nissan. (Am. Compl., DN 79.) He then moved for summary judgment on all claims. (Pl.'s Mot., DN 68.) Paducah Nissan responded. (Def.'s Resp., DN 84.) Bryant replied. (Pl.'s Reply, DN 88.) Paducah Nissan also moved for summary judgment on the amended complaint. (Def.'s Mot., DN 89.) Bryant responded. (Pl.'s Resp., DN 90). Paducah Nissan replied. (Def.'s Reply, DN 93.) Fully briefed, the motions are now ripe for adjudication. For all of the following reasons, the parties' motions are DENIED.

I.

On June 13, 2011, 14-year-old Kira Bryant ("Kira") was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in Paducah, Kentucky. At the time of the accident, Kira was a passenger on a motorcycle driven by her stepfather, and defendant in this action, Jamison Turney ("Jamison"). Tragically, Kira succumbed to her injuries and died the day after the accident. Plaintiff Richard Bryant ("Bryant"), Kira's biological father, instituted this wrongful death action against Jamison, Kira's mother, Dedra Turney ("Dedra"), and Paducah Nissan, LLC ("Paducah Nissan"). For a discussion of the procedural background of this action, including the Court's decision to allow Bryant to maintain his claims in this Court despite a similar action brought by Dedra in state court, see Bryant v. Turney, No. 5:11-CV-00128-TBR, 2012 WL 4471589, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Sept. 26, 2012).

Blood and urine tests administered to Jamison after the accident revealed that his blood alcohol content exceeded Kentucky's legal limit, indicating that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident. (Laboratory Report, DN 68-10.) As a result, criminal charges were brought against Jamison in state court for Kira's death. (Uniform Citation, DN 68-11.) Although Jamison initially pleaded not guilty to Kira's wanton murder, he subsequently admitted guilt to the lesser offense of second degree manslaughter. (Mot. to Enter Guilty Plea, DN 68-2; Order & J. on Plea of Guilty, DN 68-3.) He is currently serving a prison term as part of his plea agreement.

Jamison did not own the motorcycle involved in the accident. It was owned by his employer and co-defendant, Paducah Nissan. (Paducah Nissan's Resps. to Reqs. for Admiss., DN 68-15, p. 2.) Richard Kelley ("Kelley"), Kira's grandfather and Jamison's father-in-law, is the majority owner of Paducah Nissan. At all times pertinent to this action, Jamison was employed as the business's general manager. Because Kelley was often out of state, he granted Jamison substantial authority over Paducah Nissan's daily operations, including control over the dealership's inventory. (Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 68-12, pp. 24:8-25:18, 60:17-24.) As part of inventory control, Jamison was authorized to allow Paducah Nissan employees, including himself, to drive certain vehicles home over night. ( Id. at p. 25:6-13; Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 84-2, pp. 110:17-111:7.)

Paducah Nissan did not sell motorcycles at retail. It did, however, accept them for tradein value toward vehicle purchases. (Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 68-12, p. 36:2-17.) If Paducah Nissan accepted a motorcycle as part of a trade, the company's unwritten policy was to sell or trade the vehicle within 24 hours. ( Id. at p. 36:2-11.) Although the record is unclear as to whether it was acquired as part of a trade or through outright purchase, Paducah Nissan obtained the motorcycle at issue on July 29, 2010. (Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 84-3, pp. 41:20-42:11.) Jamison was responsible for the acquisition and instructed Paducah Nissan employees to title the motorcycle in the business's name. (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 84-2, p. 29:8-25.) Even though the motorcycle was owned by Paducah Nissan, the record reveals that Jamison exercised exclusive control over it. He was the only employee that rode it. (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 68-5, p. 63:17-19.) When not riding it, the motorcycle was stored at Jamison's house. ( Id. at p. 63:20-64:1.) Jamison described it as "his bike" during his deposition and agreed to it being called his "prize[d] possession." (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 84-2, p. 127:4-9.)

Although Paducah Nissan's policy was to immediately sell all motorcycles in inventory, Jamison did not abide by that policy. After acquiring it in July of 2010, Jamison rode the motorcycle periodically until September of that year. (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 68-5, p. 64:16-18.) After the winter months, he resumed riding it in March of 2011 until the date of the accident. ( Id. at pp. 64:19-65:5.) Although he rode the motorcycle multiple times a week, Jamison only rode it to the dealership on Saturdays. ( Id. at p. 65:6-10.) Richard Kelley never saw Jamison ride the motorcycle in 2010, and only learned in March of 2011 that it was in Paducah Nissan's inventory and that Jamie rode it frequently. ( Id. at p. 65:14-19; Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 84-3, p. 43:2-14.) Jamison admits that he did not tell Kelley about the motorcycle prior to March of 2011. (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 84-2, p. 31:5-9.) As Jamison acknowledged in his deposition, if, at any point, Kelley learned that the motorcycle was in inventory it would either have to be sold or Jamison would have to buy it for himself. ( Id. at p. 111:8-22.)

Kelley instructed Jamison to sell the motorcycle after learning that it was in Paducah Nissan's inventory. ( Id. at p. 31:8-9; Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 84-3, pp. 43:3-44:2.) Rather than sell it to a third party, Jamison told Kelley that he would buy the motorcycle. (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 84-2, pp. 31:18-32:6; Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 84-3, pp. 43:20-44:2.) Despite agreeing to buy it, and although he went so far as to complete some initial paper work, Jamison never actually purchased the motorcycle from Paducah Nissan. Due to his wife's health issues, Kelley remained in Florida and never followed up on Jamison's promise to purchase the motorcycle. (Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 84-3, pp. 44:5-45:25.) It is undisputed that Jamison never took title to the motorcycle and that it was owned by Paducah Nissan at the time of Kira's death.

Because alcohol was involved in the accident, the parties thoroughly investigated Jamison drinking habits. Jamison admitted to consuming alcohol at his home approximately 30 minutes before the wreck. (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 68-5, pp. 57:14-58:3.) But he denied drinking alcohol on the job at Paducah Nissan during May and June of 2011. ( Id. at p. 55:7-9.) Testimony in the record is mixed as to whether Jamison ever drank on the job or would drive Paducah Nissan's vehicles after consuming alcohol. Paducah Nissan's owners, Richard Kelly and James Meade had no knowledge as to whether Jamison would drink at the dealership or drive dealership vehicles after drinking. (Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 84-3, p. 48:5-25; Pl.'s Mot, DN 89-1, p. 9 (quoting Dep. James Meade, p. 39:9-24).) Kelley observed Jamison consuming alcohol on social occasions but never on the job. (Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 84-3, pp. 47:19-48:4). John Day, a former salesman at Paducah Nissan, never saw Jamison drink at the dealership during work hours, but in May of 2010 he did drink beer with Jamison on the premises after hours. (Dep. John Day, DN 84-4, p. 13:4-17.) Steven Lance, another employee, only saw Jamison drink on the business premises twice in the three years he worked at Paducah Nissan, but both occasions were after hours. (Dep. Steve Lance, DN 84-5, p. 13:19-23.) John Day also testified that Jamison would frequently drink a pint of alcohol in the three months prior to the accident. (Dep. John Day, DN 68-7, p. 42:16-19.) David Phillips, another salesman, never saw Jamison intoxicated at work and never saw him drink alcohol. (Dep. David Phillips, DN 84-6, pp. 12:20-13:4.) Phillips did, however, buy alcohol for Jamison three times during work hours at a liquor store across the street from Paducah Nissan. (Dep. David Phillips, DN 68-8, p. 11:11-15.) Phillips drove Jamison's truck to the store and used Jamison's credit card to make the purchases. ( Id. at p. 11:21-25.) He bought alcohol for Jamison approximately one week before Kira's death. ( Id. at p. 11:5-10.) Jamison admitted that he asked Paducah Nissan employees to purchase alcohol for him on occasion. (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 68-5, p. 35:18-23.)

Mike Allen, a former sales manager at Paducah Nissan, testified at length about Jamison's drinking habits. He believed that Jamison had a drinking problem. (Dep. Mike Allen, DN 68-6, p. 49:11.) In March of 2011 he often saw Jamison send employees to the liquor store for a pint of vodka. ( Id. at p. 51:9-14.) In the beginning Jamison sent employees once a week, but "it just kept getting worse and worse." ( Id. at p. 51:17-18.) When Allen confronted Jamison about his drinking, Jamison represented that he was purchasing the alcohol for consumption at home. ( Id. at p. 51:22-23.) In April and May of 2011, Jamison's habit progressed to where he sent salesmen to the liquor store twice a day. ( Id. at pp. 51:24-52:2.) Furthermore, Allen testified that Jamison began drinking on the job during May. ( Id. at pp. 52:18-53:13.) Allen personally observed Jamison drinking in Richard Kelley's office at Paducah Nissan. ( Id. at p. 53:13-15.) According to Allen, Jamison was out of control and needed help for his drinking by June of 2011. ( Id. at p. 84:3-6.) Despite his knowledge of Jamison's alcohol use, Allen did not act to curtail his drinking. He gave two reasons for this. First, Jamison was his supervisor. ( Id. at p. 72:20.) Second, Allen would have reported the problems to Richard Kelley, Jamison's father-in-law, and Allen was concerned about causing family problems or losing his job. ( Id. at pp. 72:23-73:1.) At one point Allen tried to contact Paducah Nissan's minority owner, Jim Meade, but did not talk to him about these events until after Kira's death. ( Id. at p. 73:6-11.)

The events leading up to the accident on June 13, 2011, were also subject to substantial discovery. On the morning of Friday, June 10, 2011, Jamison and salesman John Day loaded the motorcycle onto a trailer at Paducah Nissan in anticipation of a weekend trip that Jamison and his family were taking to Nashville. (Dep. John Day, DN 84-4, pp. 38:18-39:5.) Steve Lance testified that he saw Jamison at the dealership on Saturday, June 11, 2011, but that Jamison was wearing civilian clothes, was not on duty, and was not working on that day. (Dep. Steve Lance, DN 84-5, p. 39:3-10.) Mike Allen testified that Jamison left Paducah Nissan around 2 p.m. on Friday, June 10, and was not at the dealership on the following Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. (Dep. Mike Allen, DN 84-1, p. 152:7-19.) Regardless of whether he left Friday or Saturday, Jamison traveled with his family and the motorcycle to Nashville over the weekend of June 10 for the purpose of participating in a charity motorcycle ride sponsored by Richard Kelley's son and Jamison's brother-in-law. ( Id. at p. 153:1-11; Dep. Dedra Turney, DN 84-8, p. 67:3-10.)

The family remained in Nashville over the weekend and traveled back to Paducah during the afternoon of Monday, June 13, 2011. (Dep. Debra Turney, DN 84-8, pp. 78:20-79:2.) Jamison did not work at Paducah Nissan on that Monday because the family did not return to Paducah until the late afternoon. (Dep. Richard Kelley, DN 84-3, pp. 58:20-59:10.) Upon returning home, Dedra unpacked suitcases, washed dishes and clothes, and performed other household chores. (Dep. Dedra Turney, DN 68-4, p. 87:2-8.) During this time, Jamison asked RJ, his stepson, to buy some gin. (Dep. Id. at pp. 85:22-86:11.) Jamison consumed two gin drinks before going on the motorcycle ride with Kira. (Dep. Jamison Turney, DN 68-5, p. 57:17-25.)

The record reflects differing reasons for the motorcycle ride. According to Jamison, he and Kira rode to the local Harley-Davidson store to look at motorcycles at Kira's request. ( Id. at p. 73:13-16.) Apparently Kira no longer liked the motorcycle Jamison normally rode and wanted Jamison to replace it with a yellow one. ( Id. ) After the accident, Dedra gave a different reason for the ride. According to Dedra, Jamison and Kira drove to the Harley-Davidson store because Jamison planned to upgrade the motor on the motorcycle and ...


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