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Esterling v. McGehee

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

March 25, 2015


For Marvin Esterling, Iona Jean Duerfeldt-Esterling, Plaintiffs: Nathan R. Oviatt, Terence R. Quinn, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Goodsell Quinn, LLP, Rapid City, SD.

For Jake Robert McGehee, Defendant: Jeffrey L. Bratkiewicz, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kathryn Jean Hoskins, Siegel, Barnett & Schutz, L.L.P., Sioux Falls, SD; Patrick L. Sealey, LEAD ATTORNEY, Heidman, Redmond, Fredregill, Patterson, Plaza & Dykstra, Sioux City, IA.



Plaintiffs Marvin Esterling and Iona Jean Duerfeldt-Esterling (individually " Marvin" and " Iona," collectively " the Esterlings" ) sued Defendant Jake Robert McGehee (" McGehee" ) after being injured in a motor vehicle accident. After discovery closed, the Esterlings filed a motion for partial summary judgment regarding liability. Doc. 21. McGehee opposed the motion, maintaining his denials of negligence and legal cause of injury and also his affirmative defense of contributory negligence. Doc. 23-3; Doc. 25. For the reasons explained below, this Court grants partial summary judgment on McGehee's liability and on the absence of contributory negligence of the passenger Marvin, but reserves ruling on whether there exists a jury issue on driver Iona's alleged contributory negligence until the jury trial.

I. Undisputed Material Facts

The Esterlings reside in or near Herrick, South Dakota. McGehee resides in Jackson, Mississippi. Given the nature of Marvin and Iona's injuries from the motor vehicle accident, more than $75,000.00, exclusive of interest and costs, is at issue, this Court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

This case arises out of a motor vehicle accident which occurred on April 24, 2012, in rural Gregory County, South Dakota. Iona was driving a 2000 Ford Taurus eastbound on United States Highway 18 with Marvin as her passenger. McGehee was driving a 1993 GMC Suburban on an intersecting road known as 354th Avenue. McGehee failed to stop for a stop sign, and the Esterling Taurus struck the side of the McGehee Suburban. According to the Complaint and the Esterlings' submitted Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, McGehee was driving southbound on 354th Avenue in rural Gregory County before the motor vehicle accident. Doc. 1 at ¶ 6; Doc. 22 at ¶ 2. The motor vehicle accident report, however, indicates that McGehee was traveling northbound on 354th Avenue, Doc. 23-1, and McGehee has denied that he was driving southbound as the Esterlings maintain. Doc. 24 at ¶ 2. Both Iona and Marvin sustained injuries from the motor vehicle accident. Doc. 22 at ¶ 6; Doc. 24 at ¶ 6.

Nevertheless, it is undisputed that McGehee had a stop sign for his entry onto Highway 18 and failed to stop at the stop sign. Doc. 22 at ¶ 5; Doc. 24 at ¶ 5. McGehee was cited under South Dakota Codified Law (SDCL) § 32-29-2.1 for a stop sign violation in relation to the accident. Doc. 22 at ¶ 5; Doc. 24 at ¶ 5. McGehee pleaded guilty to that citation. Doc. 22 at ¶ 5; Doc. 23-2; Doc. 24 at ¶ 5.

The Esterlings sued McGehee on a negligence claim. Doc. 1. McGehee answered denying negligence and liability and raising an affirmative defense putting at issue Iona's alleged " failure to avoid the collision by maintaining a proper lookout and/or through her failure to possess and employ objectively-reasonable driving skills." Doc. 8 at ¶ ¶ 9, 10. The Esterlings filed requests for admissions asking McGehee to admit negligence, which McGehee refused. McGehee acknowledged pleading guilty to a stop sign violation in connection with the accident and stated that he had no recollection of the accident and thus could not admit or deny fault. Doc. 22 at ¶ 10; Doc. 23-2; Doc. 23-3; Doc. 23-4; Doc. 24 at ¶ 10. In an accompanying interrogatory inquiring as to why negligence was being denied and contested, McGehee responded that he could not answer the interrogatory due to the early stages of discovery. Doc. 23-3. Upon the close of discovery, McGehee's counsel declined to alter or supplement those discovery responses. Doc. 22 at ¶ ¶ 12-13; Doc. 24 at ¶ ¶ 12-13.

McGehee continues to contest liability in his opposition to the Esterlings' motion for summary judgment. McGehee attached to a pleading limited excerpts of the deposition testimony of Marvin and Iona, Doc. 26-1; Doc. 26-2, and pointed to a possible contradiction between testimony of Marvin and Iona. Marvin testified[1] to seeing the McGehee Suburban one-quarter mile from the intersection and to not knowing whether the Suburban was going to stop. Doc. 26-1 at 4. In Iona's deposition testimony of which only one page of testimony is in the record, she described seeing a white vehicle coming and nothing further. Doc. 26-2 at 2. From this testimony, McGehee asserts that Iona failed to keep a proper lookout for McGehee's vehicle, which was visible for a quarter of a mile and did not show signs of stopping.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper " if 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). Rule 56(a) places the burden initially on the moving party to establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met that burden, the nonmoving party must establish that a material fact is genuinely disputed either 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)(A), (B). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the facts and inferences fairly drawn from those facts are " viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.. 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962) (per curiam)).

III. Discussion

A. Defendant's Negligence as a Matter of ...

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