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Gilley v. Ch Robinson Worldwide, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

March 28, 2019

CLINTON EUGENE GILLEY, as Administrator of the Estate of CARL DAVID GILLEY, Nicole Leigh Lee, As Administrator of the Estate of CHRISTINE TARA WARDEN GILLEY, and Clinton Eugene Gilley and Nicole Leigh Lee as Co-Administrators of the Estates Of J.G. and G.G., minor children. Plaintiffs,
v.
C.H. ROBINSON WORLDWIDE, INC., J&TS TRANSPORT EXPRESS, INC., and BERTRAM COPELAND Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID A. FABER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the court is the defendant, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.'s (hereinafter “CHR”) Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 13. Specifically, CHR moves to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against it because CHR contends that the claims are preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 and otherwise fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Id.

         For the reasons that follow, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.'s motion (ECF No. 13) is DENIED.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of a motor vehicle wreck in which a tractor-trailer driven by defendant Bertram Copeland collided into a vehicle driven by Christine Gilley, resulting in the death of Christine Gilley, and her family, Carl David Gilley, J.G., and G.G. See ECF NO. 1.

         Prior to the incident, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.[1](hereinafter “CHR”) engaged J&TS Transport Express, Inc.[2](hereinafter “J&TS”) to transport goods from Bay Valley Foods, LLC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Aldi, Inc. in Salisbury, North Carolina. Id. J&TS hired Copeland to transport the shipment via a tractor-trailer, which was leased to J&TS. Id. On April 13, 2017, Copeland picked up a load for transport. Id. Plaintiffs' allege that the brakes on the tractor-trailer were not properly maintained. Id. While traveling on I-77 in Mercer County, West Virginia, Copeland allegedly “burned up” the brakes on the tractor-trailer, failed to maintain control of the tractor-trailer, crossed over the median into oncoming traffic, and collided with the Gilley family's vehicle. Id.

         Plaintiffs assert wrongful death claims against CHR for negligently selecting J&TS to transport the CHR Load and vicarious liability for the alleged negligence of defendants J&TS and Copeland. ECF No. 1. Defendant CHR has moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against it. ECF Nos. 13, 14. First, CHR argues that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (hereinafter “FAAAA”) preempts plaintiffs' negligent selection claim. See id. at p. 2. CHR contends that the FAAAA preempts state laws, including common law tort claims, that have any relation to or connection with a broker's prices, routes or services. Id. CHR argues that the plaintiffs' claim goes to the heart of CHR's services and would have a significant economic impact on those services, and thus are preempted by the FAAAA. Id. Second, CHR argues that the court should dismiss the plaintiffs' common law claim of vicarious liability because J&TS was an independent contractor, and CHR had no relationship, contractual or otherwise, with J&TS driver, Copeland. Id.

         In Count V against CHR[3], the plaintiffs allege that CHR negligently selected J&TS to carry the load; specifically, because J&TS was a “new entrant” that had been operating for a month and had not yet been rated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, when selected by CHR. ECF Nos. 1, 33. Because the plaintiffs' specific complaint is pertinent to the motion to dismiss analysis, the complaint is as follows:

At all relevant times, Defendant CH Robinson owed the Gilley family, and the public at large, a duty to exercise ordinary care and act reasonably in arranging transportation on public roadways, in investigating the fitness of J&TS prior to hiring the company to carry the Load on public highways and not to hire or retain a trucking company that CH Robinson knew or should have known posed a risk of harm to others and which was otherwise not competent or fit to operate CMVs on public roadways.
J&TS was a brand new, inexperienced and incompetent truck company that hired an incompetent driver, Defendant Copeland.
J&TS inexperience and incompetence, and hiring and retention of an incompetent and unfit driver, were direct and proximate causes of this fatal collision.
Defendant CH Robinson, a sophisticated transportation services provider that is regularly engaged in the business of shipping, knew or should have known that J&TS was a new entrant, that J&TS did not have a “satisfactory” safety rating, that J&TS was an unrated motor carrier and as such, the reasonably safe course of action for CH Robinson would have been to conduct further investigation and otherwise exercise due caution with respect to J&TS, which was unfit to operate safely and provide competent transportation.
Defendant CH Robinson negligently and recklessly breached each of these duties, which it owed to the motoring public, including the Gilley family, by failing to exercise due care in arranging the transportation for the Load, by hiring and/or retaining J&TS when CH Robinson either knew or should have known that J&TS posed a risk of harm to others and was otherwise incompetent and unfit to perform the duties of an interstate motor carrier, or intentionally chose not to know.
As a foreseeable and proximate result of Defendant CH Robinson's negligent and reckless or intentional actions and omissions, in breach of its duties, the Gilley family and/or their heirs and survivors suffered and/ or will continue to suffer damages for which their estates and survivors are entitled to recover, as set forth above.
Defendant CH Robinson's [sic] acted willfully, wantonly and recklessly-a willful blindness to the well-known dangers with respect to inexperienced new entrant and unrated trucking companies-and their actions and omission demonstrate a conscious disregard for the safety of others.
Defendant CH Robinson is liable for the above-described actions and omissions, the damages proximately caused, and any ...

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