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Schrant v. Flevares

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

December 19, 2014

DUSTIN SCHRANT, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE JOHN FLEVARES, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING MOTIONS FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING MOTION TO BIFURCATE TRIAL

KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Dustin Schrant, brought a negligence claim against defendant, George John Flevares, following an automobile accident in Yankton, South Dakota. Schrant seeks recovery for actual and punitive damages. Flevares had admitted negligence in causing the accident, but the parties dispute the damages issue. The parties have filed cross motions for partial summary judgment with respect to Schrant's punitive damages claim. Alternatively, Flevares has moved this court to bifurcate the issues of actual and punitive damages. Schrant resists the motion to bifurcate. For the following reasons, the court denies Flevares's motion for partial summary judgment, denies Schrant's motion for partial summary judgment, and denies Flevares's motion to bifurcate trial.

BACKGROUND

The facts, as viewed in the light most favorable to Schrant, the nonmoving party on the partial summary judgment motion, [1] are as follows:

Schrant is a citizen of Nebraska, and Flevares is a citizen of South Dakota. On April 7, 2011, Schrant was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Cody Straub. Straub's vehicle was traveling northbound on U.S. Highway 81, near its intersection of 23rd Street in Yankton, South Dakota. An accident occurred around 5:42 p.m., when Flevares's vehicle collided with the vehicle driven by Straub. Flevares was traveling southbound on Highway 81 when he attempted to make a left hand turn in front of the other car. Docket 22-1 at 5.

Prior to the accident, Flevares was at the Yankton Elks Club where he met with friends and had several drinks. Docket 20 at ΒΆ 8. Flevares, who was 76 at the time of the accident, would frequent the Elks Club, the local Moose Lodge and the VFW. He enjoyed going to the Elks Club on Thursdays, however, because the bartender there is the son of a friend of his. Docket 14-4 at 9. On the day of the accident, which occurred on a Thursday, the Elks Club opened at 4 p.m.

During days when the Flevares went to the Elks Club for drinks, he would drive himself to the lodge. Additionally, Flevares would drive himself home afterwards when he "felt in control." Id. at 10. Approximately an hour and a half after the accident, Flevares's blood alcohol content (BAC) was determined to be.133 percent. An estimate prepared by a forensic chemist computed Flevares's BAC at the time of the accident to be between.141 percent and.156 percent. Docket 14-2.

On October 18, 2012, Schrant filed a complaint alleging negligence and seeking actual and punitive damages. Docket 1. Flevares admitted that he acted negligently in the operation of his vehicle, which caused the accident. Docket 5. The parties dispute the extent of the damages Schrant suffered and dispute whether punitive damages are appropriate in this case. Flevares alternatively requests that, should the court find the issue of punitive damages appropriate to submit to a jury, then the court should bifurcate the issues of actual and punitive damages. Docket 17.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment on all or part of a claim is appropriate when the movant "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). The moving party must present admissible evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact or that the nonmoving party has not presented admissible evidence to support an element of the case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Once the moving party has met its burden, "[t]he nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but must demonstrate on the record the existence of specific facts which create a genuine issue for trial.'" Mosley v. City of Northwoods, Mo., 415 F.3d 908, 910 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Krenik v. Cnty. of he Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995)).

Summary judgment is not appropriate if there is a dispute about a material fact that could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When deciding a summary judgment motion, the court views the facts and the inferences drawn from such facts "in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 588 (1986).

DISCUSSION

Federal jurisdiction in this action is predicated on diversity of citizenship. Therefore, the substantive law of South Dakota governs this case. Hammonds v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 501 F.3d 991, 996 n.6 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)) ("We apply South Dakota substantive law because this diversity action was brought in the District of South Dakota, and the ...


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