United States District Court, D. Oregon, Pendleton Division
MATTHEW ALLISON, individual; and TIM NAY as the personal representative for the ESTATE OF SARA E. ALLISON, Plaintiffs,
SMOOT ENTERPRISES INC., dba Smoot Brothers Transportation; JAMES DECOU; PETER BARNES; HORIZON TRANSPORT, INC.; and JONATHAN HOGABOOM, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
are two motions before me: Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial
Summary Judgement and defendant Horizon Transport's and
Mr. Hogaboom's (“Horizon-Defendants”) Motion
to Bifurcate Punitive Damages. Mr. Decou, Mr. Barnes, and
Smoot Enterprises (“Smoot-Defendants”) have not
filed any responsive pleadings with respect to these motions.
following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Partial
Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 50) and DENIES
Horizon-Defendants' Motion to Bifurcate Punitive Damages
(Docket No. 58). Thus, the Court does not need oral argument
from the parties.
Partial Motion for Summary Judgement
have filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No.
50) on the issue of whether Horizon is vicariously liable for
the negligence of Hogaboom, its employee. Horizon-Defendants
stipulate that Horizon will be vicariously liable for any
compensatory damage award against Hogaboom but dispute
whether vicarious liability extends to punitive damages.
Since Horizon-Defendants concede vicarious liability for the
purposes of establishing compensatory damages, the only
remaining issue on summary judgement is whether vicarious
liability should extend to punitive damages.
judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The
moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party
shows the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the
nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and identify
facts which show a genuine issue for trial. Id. at
324. “Summary judgment is inappropriate if reasonable
jurors, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party, could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's
favor.” Diaz v. Eagle Produce Ltd P'ship,
521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir. 2008).
argue that, in Oregon, the mere existence of an agency
relationship is not sufficient to establish principal
liability with respect to punitive damages-they are only
appropriate if the principal authorized or ratified the
tortious acts of the agent. Plaintiffs disagree and point to
two cases in support of the proposition that vicarious
liability can exist for punitive damages as long as the
employee was acting within the scope of their employment-even
without proving ratification or authorization.
first case is Stroud v. Denny's Restaurant, Inc.
532 P.2d 790 (Or. 1975). Plaintiffs cite that case for the
proposition that an employer is vicariously liable for
punitive damages arising from the wrongful actions of its
employee if the employee acts within the scope of his
employment. 532 P.2d. at 793. Defendants seemingly concede
that Stroud's holding indicates that
ratification or authorization are not prerequisites for
vicarious liability. But they argue that Stroud
conflicts with the clear language of the applicable statutes,
is distinguishable in a way that supports Horizon, and is
inconsistent with previous and subsequent case law.
with Plaintiffs. In Johannesen v. Salem Hospital,
the Oregon Supreme Court revisited Stroud's
holding. 336 Or. 211, 219 (2003). In that case, the defendant
argued it could not be vicariously liable for punitive
damages based on the conduct of another without evidence of
fault on its part. Id. The court noted that it had
“considered and rejected that theory” in
Stroud and “perceive[d] no reason to revisit
[Stroud] in this case.” Id. It is
irrelevant whether Stroud conflicts with previous
case law. The Oregon Supreme Court is free to depart from
prior precedent and the fact that Stroud was again
considered in Johannesen and left intact is
probative. While Horizon-Defendants state that
Stroud is inconsistent with case law that came after
it, they cite no cases subsequent to Johannesen, a
2003 case, which evidences a departure from
also argue that Stroud's holding is inconsistent
with the language of the relevant punitive damages statutes:
ORS 31.725 and 31.730. Specifically, they argue that under
subsection (1) of ORS 31.730, punitive damages are not
recoverable unless the plaintiff establishes that the party
against whom they are sought has acted with the requisite
degree of culpability. But that statute says nothing of
vicarious liability for punitive damages, and thus provides
no support for the rule that Horizon-Defendants want this
court to embrace, i.e., that vicarious liability for
punitive damages requires evidence of authorization or
ratification on the principal's part.
Court is therefore left to apply the rule in Stroud
to the present case. Namely, that if an agent commits a tort
within the scope of his employment that renders a corporation
liable for compensatory damages, and if the agent's act
renders him liable for punitive damages, then the corporation
is likewise liable for punitive damages. Stroud, 532
P.2d at 793. Horizon-Defendants concede that they would be
vicariously liable for any compensatory damages, and under
Stroud, this makes them potentially vicariously
liable for any punitive damages. There is no evidence that
the Oregon Supreme Court has departed from the rule in
Stroud so this Court is left with no choice but to
apply it faithfully. Plaintiffs' motion is therefore
Motion to Bifurcate
Horizon-Defendants have filed a Motion to Bifurcate Punitive
Damages (Docket No. 58).
decision on whether to bifurcate a trial is subject to the
discretion of the district court. See Hangarter v.
Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 373 F.3d 998,
1021 (9th Cir. 2004). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
allow district courts to order a separate trial of one or
more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or
third-party claims for convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to
expedite and economize the trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). The
moving party has the burden to prove that bifurcation is
appropriate. Benson Tower Condo. Owners Ass'n v.
Victaulic Co.,150 F.Supp.3d 1184, 1208 (D. Or. 2015)
(citing Clark v. I.R.S., 772 ...