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Tarr v. USF Reddaway, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 7, 2017

WILLIAM TARR, as Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF CONNOR WILLIAM TARR, Plaintiff,
v.
USF REDDAWAY, INC., Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          HBNORA LE PAUL PAPAK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff William Tarr brings this wrongful death and personal injury action as personal representative of the estate of his son, Connor William Tarr (Tarr). The defendant is USF Reddaway, Inc., which is in the business of transporting goods. 1st Am. Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 44.[1]

         Tarr was killed when a truck owned by Defendant and driven by Defendant's employee rear-ended the SUV in which Tarr was a passenger. There is diversity jurisdiction because the accident occurred in California, Tarr was domiciled in Washington, and Defendant is domiciled in Oregon.

         Plaintiff brings a claim for negligence, alleging that Defendant failed to adequately train and supervise its truck driver, Gerald Truelove; negligently hired Truelove; failed to adequately incorporate a safety system allowing real-time monitoring of the truck's speed; and is liable as Truelove's employer for Truelove's alleged negligence (known as respondeat superior liability). Plaintiff also brings a claim of negligence per se against Defendant, alleging that Truelove was driving at an unsafe speed and with impaired alertness through fatigue or illness.[2]

         Defendant now moves for partial summary judgment, contending that (1) Oregon's statutory cap limiting non-economic damages to $500, 000 applies here; (2) Plaintiff has presented insufficient evidence to support punitive damages; and (3) Plaintiff may not recover economic damages in federal court based on lost future earnings from a cannabis business because cannabis is illegal under federal law. In its reply brief, Defendant also moves to strike six exhibits submitted by Plaintiff with his response brief.

         For the following reasons, I recommend denying Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment on the application of Oregon's statutory cap on non-economic damages; granting the motion on punitive damages; and denying the motion as to damages for loss of income from the cannabis business. I deny Defendant's motion to strike as moot.

         BACKGROUND

         On December 19, 2014, at 2:15 in the morning, Tarr was a passenger in an SUV driven by Daniel Jones, heading north on 1-5 in an unincorporated area of Merced County, California. See Segal Decl., Ex. B (Cal. Highway Patrol Traffic Collision Report (CHP Report)), ECF No. 54-2. According to the CHP Report, Jones slowed to 15 m.p, h. as he entered a construction area. Immediately behind Jones's SUV, Truelove was driving 60 m.p.h. in a tractor-trailer owned by Defendant. The CHP Report stated that Truelove was driving at "an unsafe speed for conditions (Heavy traffic, slower traffic, construction zone)." Id., Ex. B, at 18. Truelove "failed to stop [the truck] as it came upon slowed traffic ahead of the SUV, and the front of the truck collided with the rear of the SUV. Id. The collision forced the SUV into the rear of a tractor-trailer in front of it, "causing [the SUV] to be fully compressed between" Defendant's truck and the second trailer of the truck ahead of the SUV. Tan- was pronounced dead at the scene. Truelove and Jones survived the collision.

         Tarr was domiciled in Washington when he was killed. 1st Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Truelove is a citizen of California who was employed by Defendant as a truck driver in California for about twenty years. See PL's Resp. 15 n.17. Truelove had not traveled to Oregon or made a delivery there since 1999. PL's Resp. 3 (citing Truelove's Mot. Dismiss 2, ECF No. 36), ECF No. 57. Defendant's principal place of business is in Oregon. 1st Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6.[3] According to Plaintiff, Defendant "maintains a substantial corporate presence in California." PL's Resp. 3 (footnote omitted).

         LEGAL STANDARDS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         The court must grant summary judgment if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). If the moving party shows that there are no genuine issues of material fact, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and designate facts showing an issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23(1986).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Does Oregon's $500, 000 Cap on Non-Economic Damages Apply?

         Defendant contends that Oregon law applies to Plaintiffs claims, so Plaintiffs prayer for non-economic damages is limited to $500, 000 by Or. Rev. Stat. § 31.710(1). Plaintiff responds that under the Oregon choice of law statute, Or. Rev. Stat. § 15.440(3), California law applies, and California does not cap non-economic damages.

         "Federal courts sitting in diversity look to the law of the forum state .. . when making choice of law determinations." Nguyen v. Barnes & Noble Inc., 763 F.3d 1171, 1175 (9th Cir. 2014). I apply Oregon choice-of-law rules, which Oregon codified effective in 2010. See Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 15.300 to 15.460 (originally codified as Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 31.850 to 31.890)).

         A. Does California Law Apply Under Or. Rev. ...


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