United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Defendant Helena Chemical
Co.'s motion for partialsummary judgment (ECF No. 42). At
this time, the Court also addresses Plaintiff Jody
Holcombe's motion to determine the sufficiency of Helena
Chemical's objection to one of his requests for admission
(ECF No. 33). For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants
in part and denies in part Helena Chemical's motion for
partial summary judgment, and it denies Holcombe's
negligence action arises out of a 2012 collision between a
tractor-trailer driven by Holcombe and another driven by
Helena Chemical employee Michael Rogers. The collision
occurred on Long Point Road, a four-lane road in Mount
Pleasant, South Carolina. Rogers was making a delivery to a
landscaping store that, as he headed westward in the
left-hand lane, was located off the road to his right. Thus,
to make the delivery, Rogers needed to make a right-hand
turn. Rather than move into the right lane to begin the
right-hand turn, Rogers steered his rig left onto the paved
median and then turned back sharply to the right across both
westward lanes of Long Point Road. As Rogers crossed into the
westward right-hand lane, he collided with Holcombe, who had
been driving in that lane a short distance behind Rogers.
Holcombe alleges he has sustained substantial injuries from
turn Rogers made is known as the jug-handle maneuver.
Materials in the record indicate that the maneuver is unsafe
and that tractor-trailer drivers should instead make
right-hand turns from the right lane, using what is called
the button-hook maneuver. Rogers has said he learned the
jug-handle maneuver during his on-the-job training with
Helena Chemical. According to Rogers, another Helena Chemical
driver taught him to perform the maneuver on Long Point Road
and did so for the specific purpose of showing Rogers how to
make deliveries to the landscaping store.
has sued Helena Chemical for his personal injuries. He
asserts a variety of negligence theories, including that
Helena Chemical failed to enact rules and policies to
properly investigate truck driver applicants; failed to enact
rules and policies regarding the hiring, training, and
supervision of drivers; and negligently hired, trained, and
supervised Rogers. Helena Chemical denies all of
Holcombe's negligence allegations and asserts he is at
fault for the collision.
Chemical seeks summary judgment on several specific portions
of Holcombe's negligence cause of action. As explained
below, the Court is dismissing Holcombe's negligent
hiring theory, but others survive Helena Chemical's
motion. As the Court also explains, the dismissal of that one
theory affects the disposition of Holcombe's sufficiency
Helena Chemical's Motion for Partial Summary
sole cause of action is one for negligence. His complaint
divides that claim into seventeen subparts, in which he
asserts theories of respondeat superior liability
for Rogers' conduct as well as the direct-liability
theories of negligent hiring, supervision, and training.
Helena Chemical seeks summary judgment on those
direct-liability theories and on several of the
respondeat superior theories.
judgment is an important mechanism for weeding out
“claims and defenses [that] have no factual
basis.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 327 (1986). To grant a motion for summary judgment, a
court must find that “there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The judge may
not weigh the evidence but rather must determine if there is
a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). All evidence should be
viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121,
124 (4th Cir. 1990). “[I]t is ultimately the
nonmovant's burden to persuade [the court] that there is
indeed a dispute of material fact. It must provide more than
a scintilla of evidence-and not merely conclusory allegations
or speculation-upon which a jury could properly find in its
favor.” CoreTel Va., LLC v. Verizon Va., LLC,
752 F.3d 364, 370 (4th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted).
“[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a
rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party,
disposition by summary judgment is appropriate.”
Teamsters Joint Council No. 83 v. Centra, Inc., 947
F.2d 115, 119 (4th Cir. 1991).
Chemical first seeks summary judgment on Holcombe's claim
that it negligently hired Rogers. “[W]here an employer
knew or should have known that its employment of a specific
person created an undue risk of harm to the public, a
plaintiff may claim that the employer was itself negligent in
hiring . . . the employee.” James v. Kelly Trucking
Co., 661 S.E.2d 329, 330 (S.C. 2008). “Negligent
hiring cases ‘generally turn on two fundamental
elements-knowledge of the employer and foreseeability of harm
to third parties.'” Kase v. Ebert, 707
S.E.2d 456, 459 (S.C. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Doe v. ATC,
Inc., 624 S.E.2d 447, 450 (S.C. Ct. App. 2005)); see
also Williams v. Preiss-Wal Pat III, LLC, 17 F.Supp.3d
528, 538 (D.S.C. 2014) (“The issue of an employer's
knowledge concerns the employer's awareness that the
employment of a specific individual created a risk of harm to
the public.” (citing Kase, 707 S.E.2d at
459)). In Doe, the South Carolina Court of Appeals
explained that these two elements
are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as a fact bearing on
one element may also impact resolution of the other element.
From a practical standpoint, these elements are analyzed in
terms of the number and nature of prior acts of wrongdoing by
the employee, and the nexus or similarity between the prior
acts and the ultimate harm caused. Such factual
considerations-especially questions related to proximate
cause inherent in the concept of foreseeability-will
ordinarily be determined by the factfinder, and not as a
matter of law. Nevertheless, the court should dispose of the
matter on a dispositive motion when no reasonable factfinder
could find the risk foreseeable or the employer's conduct
to have fallen below the acceptable standard.
624 S.E.2d at 450 (citations omitted).
record before the Court lacks information about Rogers'
pre-hiring driving history. It reveals only that one of
Rogers' prior jobs involved driving pick-up trucks in
rural settings and that he may have lacked prior experience
driving tractor-trailers in high-traffic areas. The record
contains no evidence of any pre-hiring acts of wrongdoing by
Rogers, let alone acts that might be similar to the incident
here. That scant evidence of Rogers' past is not
sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that Helena
Chemical should have foreseen the risk Rogers posed.
maintains Helena Chemical was negligent in hiring someone who
lacked the training and experience needed to safely operate a
tractor-trailer. As part of that theory, Holcombe faults
Helena Chemical for not adequately investigating Rogers'
driving experience and qualifications before it hired him.
Holcombe has provided some evidence that Helena Chemical
failed to thoroughly vet Rogers and that, in so failing, it
may have violated its own hiring policies and at least one
federal regulation relating to the hiring of tractor-trailer
drivers. However, nothing in the record shows how that
failure proximately caused Holcombe's injuries. See
Peterson v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 618 S.E.2d
903, 908 (S.C. 2005) (affirming summary judgment for
defendants due to lack of evidence that defendants'
failure to comply with their internal safety policies caused
plaintiffs' injuries); Seals ex rel. Causey v.
Winburn, 445 S.E.2d 94, 96 (S.C. Ct. App. 1994) (per
curiam) (“The violation of a statute, while negligence
per se, will not support a recovery for damages unless such
violation proximately caused or contributed to the injury
complained of.”). Rather, as Holcombe has stressed
throughout this case, a Helena Chemical driver taught Rogers
the jug-handle maneuver-the act that Holcombe asserts
directly caused his injuries-as part of his post-hire
training. Helena Chemical cannot be liable for negligent
hiring based on something it taught Rogers after it hired
Holcombe has not provided evidence that would allow a
reasonable jury to find Helena Chemical liable for negligent
hiring, the Court grants ...