United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge
December 14, 2017, the Plaintiffs, Janet Crowe, Phillip
Crowe, and Faye Crowe (the “Crowes” or the
“Plaintiffs”) were involved in an automobile
collision with Defendant, Ian A. Johnson (“Johnson or
the “Defendant”), a Michigan resident, in Bowling
Green, Kentucky. Johnson rear-ended the Crowes vehicle when,
while accelerating forward in moderate to heavy traffic, a
water bottle fell onto the floor of his vehicle, prompting
him to reach down, take his eyes off the road, and attempt to
secure the bottle.
parties have each moved for partial summary judgment. [DE 27,
28]. The Crowes move for summary judgment on the issue of
liability. [DE 27]. Johnson moves for summary judgment on the
issue of punitive damages. [DE 28]. The parties have
responded in opposition to the applicable motions. [DE
29-30]. Additionally, the parties have replied in support of
their motions or the time to reply has expired. [DE 32]. As a
result, this matter is ripe for review and consideration and
all pending motions for summary judgment will be consolidated
in this memorandum opinion and order.
reasons that follow, the Crowes motion for partial summary
judgment [DE 27] as to liability is GRANTED
and Johnson's motion for partial summary judgment [DE 28]
as to punitive damages is GRANTED.
Procedural and Factual Background
evening of December 14, 2017, the Plaintiffs, Janet Crowe,
Phillip Crowe, and Faye Crowe set out from their home in
Perryville, Kentucky, intent on visiting the home of
Janet's daughter, Elizabeth Waters, in Alabama to
celebrate the Christmas holiday. [DE 29-5 at 9, 35-37, PageID
#718, 744-46]. The Crowes loaded up their 2015 Buick Regal
with their dog, Christmas presents for the children, and even
packed a twenty-five-pound turkey for the occassion.
[Id. at 35-37, PageID #35-7].
an hour and a half of driving, the Crowes decided to stop for
supper at a Steak ‘n Shake restaurant in Bowling Green,
Kentucky. [Id. at 37-8, PageID #746-47]. Upon
finishing their meal, the Crowes piled back into the car to
complete the remaining three and a half hours of their
journey. [Id.]. Janet Crowe was driving, with her
husband, Phillip, seated in the front passenger seat, and her
mother, Faye sitting directly behind Phillip in the
right-rear passenger seat. [Id. at 35, PageID #
744]. All dutifully fastened their seatbelts and the Crowes
pulled out of the Steak ‘n Shake, headed eastbound on
Scottsville Road toward the I-65 intersection. [Id.
at 39-40, PageID #748-49]. At the time, the weather was fair
and the road conditions were good. [DE 27-1 at 16, PageID
#364; DE 29-5 at 35-36, PageID #744-45].
on their way to I-65 southbound interchange, the Crowes
encountered moderate to heavy traffic. [DE 29-5 at 38-39,
PagedID #747-48]. After making it a little way down
Scottsville Road toward I-65 South, the Crowes encountered a
stoplight at an intersection. [Id. at 49-50, PageID
#758-59]. Ms. Crowe's vehicle was in the right hand-lane,
as she was preparing to take the ramp onto I-65 south.
[Id. at 50, PageID #759]. The Crowes' vehicle
was stopped at the light approximately one car length behind
a 2015 white Nissan, occupied by Jackson and Rachel
Daugherty. [DE 27-3 at 5, 22, PageID #472, 489; DE 29-5 at
51, PageID #760].
Defendant, Ian Johnson, who was staying at a nearby Microtel,
was returning from his own supper that night in his 2018
Chevrolet Camaro. [DE 27-1 at 15, PageID #363]. Johnson
proceeded towards intersection on Scottsville Road and came
up behind the Crowes' Buick. [Id. at 14-15,
stop-light at the intersection turned green and the
Daughertys, who were in the lead vehicle of the three,
accelerated forward through the intersection. [DE 27-3 at 5,
PageID #472; DE 32-1 at 2, PageID #823]. Janet Crowe also
began accelerating forward into the intersection and
proceeded beyond the stoplight. [DE 29-5 at 49-450, PageID
began to accelerate as well. [DE 27-1 at 21, PageID #372]. As
the cars proceeded to move, Johnson's water bottle, which
had been sitting near his shifter, fell on the floor of his
car. [Id. at 14, PageID #362]. He went to reach for
the water bottle while continuing to accelerate forward.
[Id.] In doing so, Johnson admits that he made a
mistake by taking his eyes off the road, reducing his ability
to slow down. [Id. at 14, 22-29, 44, 57-58, PageID
#362, 370-77, 392, 405-06].
the off-ramp, traffic was backed-up and moving slowly. [DE
29-5 at 40, PageID #759]. As a result, Ms. Crowe slowed her
car to a stop just after she passed through the intersection.
[Id. at 40, PageID # 749]. Ms. Crowe then glanced at
her rear-view mirror. [Id. at 40, 50, PageID #749,
759]. As she did, she saw a flash of light and the rear of
the Crowes' car was impacted by Johnson's vehicle.
[Id. at 40, PageID #749]. Other than the lights she
saw behind her, Ms. Crowe never saw the Defendant, Ian
Johnson, in his vehicle prior to the collision nor was she
aware of what he was doing in his vehicle. [Id. at
52, PageID #761]. Ms. Crowe estimates that Johnson was
“going pretty fast.” [DE 29-5 at 40, 52, PageID
this same time, Jackson Daugherty, who was planning on
merging into the left lane, checked his rearview mirror. [DE
27-3 at 6, 18 PageID #473, 485]. At that time, his vehicle
had already moved through the intersection at approximately
10 to 15 miles per hour. [DE 27-3 at 27, PageID #494].
Daugherty looked at his rear-view mirror and believes he saw
either lights from Johnson's vehicle or glare off the
Crowes' vehicle. [Id. at 10, 23, and 31, PageID
#477, 490, and 498]. Then, his car was, in turn, impacted
from the rear by the Crowes' vehicle. [Id. at
31, PageID #498].
had not previously noticed Johnson's vehicle.
[Id. at 22-23, PageID #488-89]. Nor had he heard a
horn prior to the impact. [Id. at 21-22, PageID
#488-89]. In his testimony Daugherty estimated that
Johnson's vehicle was moving at the speed limit, which he
estimated to be “[m]aybe 40, 45[, ]” miles per
hour. [DE 29-3 at 10, PageID #676]. However, though he claims
to have seen Johnson's vehicle, Daugherty admits he could
only guess as to its speed at prior to the collision.
[Id. 25-26, PageID #691-92].
March 2018, the Crowes filed this lawsuit. [DE 1]. The
Crowes' Complaint generally alleges that Johnson's
negligent operation of his motor vehicle was a breach of duty
owed to the Crowes and a direct and proximate cause of the
collision and any resulting injuries and economic losses
suffered by the Crowes. [Id. at 1-2, PageID #1-2,
¶¶ 5, 7].
Crowes seek compensatory damages for their personal injuries,
emotional distress, medical expenses, rehabilitation,
physical therapy expenses and medical devices, living and
transportation accommodations, pain and suffering, loss of
enjoyment of life, the cost of implementing a reasonably
adequate life care plan, and any other compensatory damages.
[Id. at 2, PageID #2]. The Crowes further seek
punitive damages against Johnson, stemming from their claim
that his alleged behavior was willful and wanton.
[Id. at 1 and 3, PageID #1 and 3].
judgment is appropriate only when no genuine dispute exists
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material
fact is one “that might affect the outcome of the suit
under governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party has the
burden to show that “there is an absence of evidence to
support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). “A
dispute about a material fact is genuine if the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Smith v. Perkins Bd. of
Educ., 708 F.3d 821, 825 (6th Cir. 2013) (internal
quotations omitted). The Court construes the facts in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all
reasonable inferences in the non-moving party's favor.
See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Hamilton Cty.
Educ. Ass'n v. Hamilton Cty. Bd. of Educ., 822 F.3d
831, 835 (6th Cir. 2016).
diversity action like this one, the Court must apply the
substantive law of the forum state and federal procedural
law. Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, Inc., 518
U.S. 415, 427-28 (1996); Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S.
460, 465-66 (1965); Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304
U.S. 64, 78-80 (1938); Hoven v. Walgreen Co., 751
F.3d 778, 783 (6th Cir. 2014). Thus, “where a federal
court is exercising jurisdiction solely because of the
diversity of citizenship of the parties, the outcome of the
litigation in the federal court should be substantially the
same . . . as it would be if tried in a State court.”
Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 109 (1945).
Ultimately, to determine whether summary judgment should be
granted here, the Court must look to state law and court
decisions, as well as other relevant materials. Meridian
Mut. Ins. Co. v. Kellman, 197 F.3d 1178, 1181 (6th Cir.
The Crowes' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
Crowes ask the Court to grant summary judgment for them on
the issue of Johnson's alleged negligence. [DE 27 and
30]. The Crowes argue that summary judgment is appropriate
because Johnson has “repeatedly and consistently
admitted that he was the sole cause of the collision”
with the Crowes. [DE 27 at 5, PageID #346]. In particular,
the Crowes cite to Johnson's testimony that he was not
watching the road and was reaching for a water ...