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Rock v. Smith

United States District Court, S.D. Iowa, Davenport Division

July 15, 2013

AUSTIN ROCK, Plaintiff,

Page 1067


For State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, Defendant: Benjamin Michael Weston, LEAD ATTORNEY, LEDERER WESTON CRAIG PLC, WEST DES MOINES, IA; Kimberly K Hardeman, LEAD ATTORNEY, LEDERER WESTON CRAIG PLC, Cedar Rapids, IA.

For John Chadwick Smith, Defendant: Robert T Park, CALIFF & HARPER PC, MOLINE, IL.

For U-Haul Co. of Indiana, Inc., U-Haul International, Inc., Defendants: Anthony N. Kirwin, Randall J. Pattee, PRO HAC VICE, LINDQUIST & VENNUM PLLP, MINNEAPOLIS, MN; Megan Flynn, William J Miller, DORSEY & WHITNEY LLP, DES MOINES, IA.


Page 1068


JAMES E. GRITZNER, Chief United States District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment brought by Defendants U-Haul Co. of Indiana, Inc. and U-Haul International, Inc. (collectively, U-Haul). Plaintiff Austin Rock (Rock) resists, and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) joins that resistance. The Court held a hearing on the Motion on May 10, 2013. Attorneys James E. Shipman and Robert E. Konchar appeared on behalf of Rock; attorney Robert Park appeared on behalf of Smith; attorney Kimberly Hardeman appeared on behalf of State Farm; and attorneys Anthony Kirwin and Randall Pattee appeared in person on behalf of U-Haul, with attorney William Miller appearing by phone. The matter is fully submitted and ready for disposition.


The following facts are either not in dispute or taken in the light most favorable to Rock as the nonmovant. See Glorvigen v. Cirrus Design Corp., 581 F.3d 737, 739 (8th Cir. 2009). Smith rented a U-Haul truck and a tow dolly from a U-Haul store in Indianapolis, Indiana, on January 25, 2009. A tow dolly is a two-wheeled piece of equipment that attaches to a towing vehicle and provides a platform where the front wheels of the vehicle-in-tow rest. The front wheels of the vehicle-in-tow are supposed to be secured to the tow dolly with straps equipped with ratchets, and the tow dolly also has security chains that are intended to connect the tow dolly to the vehicle-in-tow if that vehicle's wheels come off of the tow dolly. Smith

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was moving from Indianapolis to California and planned to use the tow dolly to transport his Jeep. Smith drove the rented truck with the empty tow dolly attached to a friend's house where he loaded his Jeep onto the tow dolly. Smith testified that when he loaded his Jeep onto the tow dolly, he affixed the security chains on the tow dolly and checked the chains at each stop. Smith and a friend left Indianapolis for California on January 26. Smith had stopped two or three times for food or gas, and at each stop, including a stop thirty to forty miles east of the exit for West Branch, Iowa, Smith checked the tow dolly to make sure it was secure. The tow dolly and Jeep appeared to be secure each time. On Interstate 80, near the exit for West Branch, Smith watched in the mirror as his Jeep rolled off the tow dolly, traveled across the highway, and hit Rock's car as it traveled east, injuring Rock.

Rock filed a petition in the Iowa District Court for Johnson County on November 15, 2010, and U-Haul removed the case on December 21, 2010. Rock filed a First Amended Complaint (Amended Complaint) on April 19, 2012. The Amended Complaint alleges U-Haul provided a defective tow dolly and negligently failed to do the following: provide adequate training for its personnel, properly instruct and warn its customers regarding the proper use of the tow dolly, maintain the tow dolly, and adequately investigate the " national epidemic of accidents" resulting from vehicles detaching from tow dollies and take proper remedial action. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 17-18, ECF No. 74. U-Haul moved for summary judgment on November 16, 2012, claiming Rock was unable to produce evidence to support his claims and U-Haul was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[1]


A. Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction in this case is based on diversity. Rock is a citizen of Iowa, Smith is a citizen of California, U-Haul of Indiana is an Indiana corporation with its principal place of business in Indiana, U-Haul International is a Nevada corporation with it principal place of business in Arizona, and State Farm is an Illinois corporation with its principal corporation in the state of Illinois. Complete diversity exists. Rock has alleged severe and disabling personal injuries, including brain and leg injuries that could exceed $75,000.00 as required by statute. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Diversity jurisdiction is appropriate.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

" Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence presents no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Merriam v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins., 572 F.3d 579, 583 (8th Cir. 2009). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court " 'must view the evidence, and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'" Weitz Co., LLC v. Lloyd's of London, 574 F.3d 885, 892 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Carraher v. Target Corp., 503 F.3d 714, 716 (8th Cir. 2007)). A summary judgment motion should be interpreted by the trial court to dispose of factually unsupported claims and defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Therefore, the trial judge is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255,

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106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

While the moving party must initially make a showing of the basis for its motion and the portions of the record that support the party's assertion that there is no issue of material fact, the moving party is not required by Rule 56 to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Hartnagel v. Norman, 953 F.2d 394, 395 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). When the moving party has carried its initial burden, the nonmoving party must proffer specific facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue for trial and may not rely on mere allegations. Vaughn v. Roadway Express, Inc., 164 F.3d 1087, 1089 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). The nonmoving party must make a satisfactory showing on every element of its case for which it has the burden of proof at trial. Wilson v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 55 F.3d 399, 405 (8th Cir. 1995); See also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. " [T]o survive the defendant's motion, [the plaintiff] need only present evidence from which a jury might return a verdict in his favor. If he does so, there is a genuine issue of fact that requires a trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257. " Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id. at 248. It is thus the task of the trial court to " assess the adequacy of the non-movant['s] response and whether that showing, on admissible evidence, would be sufficient to carry the burden of proof at trial." Hartnagel, 953 F.2d at 396 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322).

Against this disciplined legal analysis, the Court has examined and reexamined this unusual case as the essential facts intuitively suggest some flaw or misstep must have been involved for the Jeep to become free from the restraints on the dolly and collide with Rock's vehicle. This essential challenge for both counsel and the Court on the available record ultimately collides with the necessary legal analysis and ...

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