In Lynch v. Collins, No. 20 C 02477, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106700, at *5-7 (N.D. Ill. June 15, 2022), Judge Durkin held that the Graves Amendment does not immunize employer/employee relationships, but you’ve actually got to have facts to support the claim.
Plaintiffs argue their vicarious liability claims for negligence and loss of consortium are also outside the Graves Amendment because they do not seek to impose liability on 19th Capital solely, in the terms of the Amendment, “by reason of being the owner of the vehicle.” Instead, they premise liability on an employer-employee relationship. The court in Johnke endorsed this view of the interplay between vicarious liability claims and the Graves Amendment, and this Court agrees. A claim premised on an employment or agency relationship between a driver and vehicle owner does not seek to impose liability on the latter merely because it is the owner of the vehicle. Johnke, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14057, 2016 WL 454333, at *8. Therefore, the Graves Amendment does not apply to these claims either. The common thread in all of Plaintiffs’ claims against 19th Capital is the existence of an employer-employee relationship. Because it has converted the motion into one for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether the evidence, taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that 19th Capital was Collins’s employer at the time of the crash. The Court finds no evidence in the record to support this conclusion. Plaintiffs have cited to no evidence gathered in discovery that supports their claims, instead referencing their “allegations” of an employment relationship between 19th Capital and Collins while citing to the motion to dismiss standard in which a court accepts as true any facts alleged in the complaint. See R. 79, at 2-3. As noted, Plaintiffs had months to conduct discovery on this issue, and knew the basis for 19th Capital’s motion well before even the December 2021 status conference. They cannot now turn back to the plaintiff-friendly pleading standard because no helpful evidence seems to have emerged. Because Plaintiffs had notice and a fair opportunity to present additional material they deemed pertinent, the summary judgment standard applies here. Dovenmuehle v. Gilldorn Mortg. Midwest Corp., 871 F.2d 697, 699 n.1 (7th Cir. 1989). Under that standard, the Court is not required to credit a plaintiff’s bare accusations, and the plaintiff must come forward with “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Johnson v. Advocate Health and Hosps. Corp., 892 F.3d 887, 894, 896 (7th Cir. 2018). The evidence in the record shows that prior to the date of the accident, 19th Capital leased the subject trailer to TTML Enterprises, a commercial entity and a defendant in this case, which in turn leased it to Old South Freight Service, another defendant. Further, on the day of the accident, Collins was operating the truck under the motor carrier authority of Old South. Clipper’s affidavit states unequivocally that Collins was not and has never been an employee of 19th Capital, and Plaintiffs did not challenge that statement during her deposition—indeed, Collins was barely even mentioned. As such, nothing in the record disputes 19th Capital’s assertions that it was not Collins’s employer and that its only connection to the crash and other parties in this case is as lessor of the trailer.