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Lester v. C&J Well Services, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

May 10, 2018

TIMOTHY LESTER and ROBIN LESTER, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
C&J WELL SERVICES, INC., a corporation, NOBLE ENERGY, INC., a corporation, CONSOL ENERGY, INC., a corporation and CNX GAS COMPANY, LLC, a limited liability company, Defendants.



         I. Background

         This civil action was removed from the Circuit Court of Marshall County, West Virginia. The case arises out of injuries that plaintiff Timothy Lester (“Mr. Lester”) allegedly received while operating his employer's water truck on County Route 26 (“CR 26”) in Marshall County. Mr. Lester's employer was C&J Well Services, Inc. (“C&J”), a defendant in this civil action. Mr. Lester was driving the truck to deliver water to a gas well pad owned and operated by a joint venture consisting of defendants Noble Energy, Inc. (“Noble”), CONSOL Energy, Inc. (“CONSOL”), and CNX Gas Company, LLC (“CNX”) and, collectively with Noble and CONSOL, the “joint venturers.” C&J contracted with the joint venturers to provide them with oil and gas field services, including the transportation, delivery, and removal of equipment and materials to and from the sites of the gas well pads operated by the joint venturers. There are two counts asserted in the complaint: Count I is a deliberate indifference claim against C&J, and Count II is a negligence claim against the joint venturers. Each count includes a claim for loss of consortium as to Mr. Lester's wife and co-plaintiff, Robin Lester. All proceedings against C&J have been stayed pending an order regarding exemption from the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas. ECF No. 55. All claims against defendants CONSOL and CNX have been dismissed with prejudice by an agreed dismissal order with the plaintiffs. CONSOL and CNX had filed a motion for summary judgment, but that motion has been denied as moot pursuant to the dismissal order. Thus, the case is currently proceeding against only defendant Noble.

         The complaint states that Mr. Lester was driving uphill on CR 26 at the same time two other drivers were operating tanker trucks hauling fluids to the joint venturers' well pads. The plaintiffs allege that Mr. Lester moved his truck as far to the right as possible to avoid oncoming traffic but was run off the road by the two tanker trucks coming from the joint venturers' well pads in the opposite direction. The complaint states that the roadway and shoulder of CR 26 collapsed, which caused Mr. Lester's truck to roll over the guardrail and down a steep embankment, where the truck struck a tree.

         The complaint also states that the joint venturers' traffic plan for CR 26 required drivers driving uphill to call ahead over their radios and drivers driving downhill to respond by yielding to the uphill drivers. The complaint alleges, however, that the two downhill drivers did not yield to Mr. Lester when Mr. Lester indicated over his radio that he was driving uphill towards the well pad. The plaintiffs allege that the downhill drivers' failure to yield to him is what caused him to run off the road.

         The plaintiffs then allege that Mr. Lester sustained severe and permanent injuries as a result of the accident. The plaintiffs further allege that the joint venturers' traffic plan was dangerously deficient because it did not properly regulate the flow of heavy trucks on CR 26. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that the joint venturers were negligent in the maintenance and repair of CR 26, which allowed the roadway and shoulder to become undercut, soft, and subject to collapse.

         Noble filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which this Court granted in part and denied in part. Noble is named in Count II of the complaint, which alleged that the joint venturers were negligent both in the maintenance and repair of CR 26 and in the formulation and implementation of a traffic control plan for CR 26. The plaintiffs based these allegations on two separate duties of care. First, Count II alleged that the joint venturers had a duty to maintain and control CR 26 by virtue of the permits issued to them by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways (the “WVDOH”). Second, Count II alleged that the joint venturers had a duty under West Virginia law to provide Mr. Lester, an invitee, with a reasonably safe workspace. This Court granted the motion to dismiss as to any alleged duty of care owed by Noble to Mr. Lester as to CR 26 by virtue of permits to occupy the premises. This Court denied the motion to dismiss as to any alleged duty of care owed by Noble as to Mr. Lester by virtue of their independent contractor relationship.

         Noble has now filed a motion for summary judgment, which is fully briefed and ripe for review.[1] For the following reasons, this Court grants Noble's motion for summary judgment.

         II. Applicable Law

         Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). “The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with facts sufficient to create a triable issue of fact.” Temkin v. Frederick County Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1095 (1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). However, as the United States Supreme Court noted in Anderson, “Rule 56(e) itself provides that a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. “The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Id. at 250; see also Charbonnages de France v. Smith, 597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir. 1979) (“Summary judgment ‘should be granted only in those cases where it is perfectly clear that no issue of fact is involved and inquiry into the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law.'” (citing Stevens v. Howard D. Johnson Co., 181 F.2d 390, 394 (4th Cir. 1950))).

         In Celotex, the Supreme Court stated that “the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. In reviewing the supported underlying facts, all inferences must be viewed in the ...

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