In Moura v. Cannon, No. 4:17-40166-TSH, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184736, at *1-3 (D. Mass. Sep. 27, 2021), Judge Hillman dismissed a personal injury claim against a lessor based on Graves Amendment pre-emption.
The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise stated. On December 14, 2016, John Cannon (“Cannon”) was driving a tractor-trailer on Interstate 35 in Oklahoma when he crashed into a tractor-trailer stopped in front of him. Jose Moura, Jr. (“Moura”) was resting in the sleeper compartment of Cannon’s tractor at the time. Due to injuries stemming from the collision, both Cannon and Moura died. Cannon, who lived in Pennsylvania, and Moura, who lived in Massachusetts, were drivers for New Prime, Inc. (“Prime”). Prime is a transportation company that contracts with customers to haul freight by tractor-trailer. Prime hired Cannon as an independent contractor in 2009. His independent contractor operating agreement (Docket No. 98-1) stated that he could refuse any load offered to him by Prime, subject to certain conditions. The agreement also required Cannon to procure workers’ compensation insurance, or a suitable alternative, for himself and any other driver of his vehicle. Cannon did not own the tractor he drove; he leased it from Success. Success is a company that leases tractors primarily to Prime and its independent contractors. While Success and Prime are separate legal entities, they are owned by the same individual. Both are incorporated in Nebraska and headquartered in Missouri, and they share certain employees.
The District Court found Graves Amendment pre-emption.
The amendment preempts state laws that impose vicarious liability on businesses that rent or lease motor vehicles. Flagler v. Budget Rent A Car Sys., Inc., 538 F.Supp.2d 557, 558 (E.D.N.Y. 2008). Here, it is undisputed that Success was the owner of tractor at the time of the accident, and that Success was engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing tractors. See Garcia v. Vanguard Car Rental U.S.A., Inc., 540 F.3d 1242, 1246 (11th Cir. 2008). Moreover, the record is devoid of evidence that Success engaged in any direct negligence or criminal wrongdoing. While Plaintiffs allege that Success was negligent in entrusting the tractor to Cannon, and in hiring, training, and supervising Cannon, those claims, as discussed supra, fail as a matter of law. See Berkan v. Penske Truck Leasing Canada, Inc., 535 F.Supp.2d 341, 345 (W.D.N.Y. 2008). Plaintiffs argue, however, that the Graves Amendment does not apply due to the entangled relationship between Success and Prime. Plaintiffs cite Stratton v. Wallace, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105816, 2014 WL 3809479 (2014) in support of this point. In Stratton, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105816, 2014 WL 3809579 at *4, the court concluded that subpart (a)(2) of the Graves Amendment encompasses negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner of the motor vehicle and the owner’s affiliate. Thus, there, because there was an allegation that the owner’s affiliate (a subsidiary of the same parent company as the owner of the vehicle) was negligent — a point the court found “critical” — the amendment did not preclude liability for the owner. 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105816, [WL] at *1, 4 n.3. Here, by contrast, even assuming that Success and Prime are affiliates within the meaning of the amendment, Plaintiffs no longer allege that Prime itself was negligent; nor is there any such evidence in the record. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ reliance on Stratton is misplaced, and the Graves Amendment operates to preclude liability. Thus, summary judgment is appropriate on Plaintiffs’ vicarious liability claims against Success as well.
Moura v. Cannon, No. 4:17-40166-TSH, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184736, at *13-15 (D. Mass. Sep. 27, 2021)