Pursley v. Messman, NO. 11-18-09

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtWILLAMOWSKI, J.
Citation154 N.E.3d 602,2020 Ohio 2985
Docket NumberNO. 11-18-09
Decision Date18 May 2020
Parties Billy E. PURSLEY, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. ESTATE OF Ashley Ann MESSMAN, et al., Defendants-Appellees, and Russell D. Williams, Defendant-Appellant.

154 N.E.3d 602
2020 Ohio 2985

Billy E. PURSLEY, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
ESTATE OF Ashley Ann MESSMAN, et al., Defendants-Appellees,
Russell D. Williams, Defendant-Appellant.

NO. 11-18-09

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Paulding County.

Date of Decision: May 18, 2020


{¶1} Appellant Russell D. Williams ("Williams") appeals the judgment of the Paulding County Court of Common Pleas, granting summary judgment against Williams. For the reasons set forth below, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Facts and Procedural History

{¶2} On February 5, 2013, Dale Janssens ("Janssens") was driving a tanker truck ("Secord Tanker") for Secord Farms, LLC, ("Secord Farms") eastbound on U.S. Highway 24 through "dense fog." Janssens Deposition, 61, 70. This stretch of U.S. Highway 24 has two eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes that are divided by a median. Id. at 62. Ashley Messman ("Messman") was driving northbound on County Road 87. Gray Deposition, 40. At 7:53 A.M., Messman drove into the intersection of County Road 87 and U.S. Highway 24, pulling in front of the Secord Tanker. Janssens Deposition, 73, 88, 130. The Secord Tanker broadsided Messman's vehicle, came to a stop, and obstructed the left eastbound lane of U.S. Highway 24. Doc. 68, Ex. B, C. Moments later, Billy Pursley ("Pursley"), who was driving a semi-truck for Marten Transport ("Marten Transport Vehicle") eastbound on U.S. Highway 24, crashed into the Secord Tanker. Janssens Deposition, 103, 148. Cusick Deposition, 22, 32. The Marten Transport Vehicle jackknifed, slid off of the roadway, and came to rest in the median. Doc. 68, Ex. C.

{¶3} After the Secord Tanker and Messman's vehicle had come to a rest, Gary Schleinkofer ("Schleinkofer"), who was driving a Nissan Altima eastbound on U.S. Highway 24, saw the tanker truck obstructing the left lane of the road and began braking. Doc. 68, Ex. D. Doc. 68, Ex. B., Black Statement. Schleinkofer then began steering his vehicle left towards the median to avoid the Secord Tanker. Doc. 68, Ex. D. At this point, Schleinkofer's vehicle was then hit from behind by a

154 N.E.3d 607

GMC Sierra Pickup Truck ("Pickup") that was driven by Williams. Doc. 68, Ex. D. Upon impact, the Pickup pushed Schleinkofer's vehicle into the Secord Tanker and then into the median. Doc. 68, Ex. D. Gray Deposition, 52. Williams's Pickup, which was pulling a Bobcat on a trailer, then struck the Secord Tanker. Doc. 68, Ex. D, E.

{¶4} By the time the police arrived on the scene, a total of eight collisions had occurred. Doc. 128, Ex. F. The first collision was between the Secord Tanker and Messman. Doc. 128, Ex. G. The second collision was between the Marten Transport Vehicle and the Secord Tanker. Doc. 68, Ex. C. The third collision was between Williams's Pickup, Schleinkofer's vehicle, and the Secord Tanker. Doc. 128, Ex. F. The remaining five collisions that the police investigated are not relevant to this appeal.

{¶5} The police conducted an investigation into the causes of the collisions that morning. Sergeant Jonathan Gray ("Sergeant Gray") stated in his deposition that the investigation concluded that Williams was going too fast; that Williams did not maintain an assured clear distance ahead ("ACDA") of his vehicle; and that Williams was at fault for his collision with Schleinkofer's vehicle. Gray Deposition, 48-49. Ohio State Trooper Chad Spallinger ("Trooper Spallinger") similarly stated that their investigation concluded that Williams failed to maintain an ACDA. Spallinger Deposition, 82-84. Trooper Spallinger also stated that their investigation did not find any evidence that indicates that Schleinkofer's actions caused any of the collisions. Id. at 68-70.

{¶6} On January 26, 2015, Pursley and his wife, Barb Pursley, filed a complaint, seeking damages. Doc. 1. Among other parties, this complaint named Janssens; Secord Farms; and Williams as defendants. Doc. 1. At the time of the collision, Williams was driving a company vehicle. Doc. 6. On February 4, 2015, Williams filed a pleading that contained a counterclaim against the Pursleys, alleging that he was injured due to the negligence of Pursley. Doc. 6. He also made crossclaims against Messman, Schleinkofer, and Janssens, alleging that these individuals operated their vehicles in a negligent manner that led to his injuries. Doc. 6. Williams also requested the joinder of the insurer of his company vehicle: Progressive Southeastern Insurance Company ("Progressive"). Doc. 6, 128. He also claimed that he might be entitled to underinsured benefits. Doc. 6. Progressive filed their third-party answer on March 9, 2015, and alleged that Williams had not established the conditions precedent to obtaining underinsured benefits. Doc. 44.

{¶7} On September 1, 2016, Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment. Doc. 128. In this motion, Progressive argued that Williams had not shown that another party was responsible for the accident that caused his injuries. Doc. 128. Progressive then argued that Williams's collision with Schleinkofer's vehicle and the Secord Tanker was a separate accident from the collision between Messman and the Secord Tanker and from the collision between the Secord Tanker and Pursley's Martin Transport Vehicle. Doc. 128. Thus, according to Progressive's argument, the cause of Williams's collision was not these earlier accidents but Williams's failure to maintain an ACDA of his vehicle. Doc. 128. On these grounds, Progressive argued that he was not legally entitled to underinsured motorist coverage under the terms of the insurance policy. Doc. 128.

{¶8} On September 14, 2016, Janssens and Secord Farms filed a motion for summary judgment that also argued that Williams failed to maintain an ACDA of

154 N.E.3d 608

his vehicle. Doc. 136. Williams filed his response to the motions for summary judgment on October 11, 2016. Doc. 139. On January 10, 2017, the trial court granted the motions for summary judgment filed by Progressive, Secord Farms, and Janssens as to Williams's cross claim. Doc. 148. The appellant filed his notice of appeal on July 13, 2018.1 Doc. 165. On appeal, Williams raises the following three assignments of error:

First Assignment of Error

The Trial Court erred in granting the Defendant Janssens's Motion for Summary Judgment based on the finding that Appellant Williams violated ORC 4511.21(A), and the accident scene was not reasonably discernible from Appellant's vehicle prior to the accident.

Second Assignment of Error

Appellant is entitled to an analysis of Comparative Fault regardless of whether he violated the Assured Clear Distance Ahead statute, and the trial court erred in finding that summary judgment was appropriate.

Third Assignment of Error

Appellee Progressive Southeastern Insurance Company owes a duty to provide underinsured/uninsured coverage to Appellant for his injuries, and the trial court erred in finding that Progressive was not required to provide coverage.

First Assignment of Error

{¶9} Williams argues that the trial court erred by finding that he violated R.C. 4511.21(A) and by granting summary judgment on the basis of this finding.

Legal Standard

{¶10} Under the Ohio Rule of Civil Procedure 56(C), a trial court may grant a motion for summary judgment when

(1) [n]o genuine issue as to any material fact remains to be litigated; (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law; and (3) it appears from the evidence that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion, and viewing such evidence most strongly in favor of the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, that conclusion is adverse to that party.

M.H. v. Cuyahoga Falls , 134 Ohio St.3d 65, 68, 2012-Ohio-5336, 979 N.E.2d 1261, quoting Temple v. Wean United, Inc. , 50 Ohio St.2d 317, 327, 364 N.E.2d 267 (1977), citing Civ.R. 56(C).

"The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden ‘to inform the trial court of the basis for the motion, identifying the portions of the record, including the pleadings and discovery, which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.’ " Middleton v. Holbrook , 3d Dist. Marion No. 9-15-47, 2016-Ohio-3387, 2016 WL 3223956, ¶ 8, quoting Reinbolt v. Gloor , 146 Ohio App.3d 661, 664, 767 N.E.2d 1197 (3d Dist.2001).

Williams v. ALPLA, Inc. , 2017-Ohio-4217, 92 N.E.3d 256 (3d Dist.).

154 N.E.3d 609
‘The burden then shifts to the party opposing the summary judgment.’ "In order to defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party may not rely on mere denials but ‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’ "

(Citations omitted.) Bates Recycling, Inc. v. Conaway , 2018-Ohio-5056, 126 N.E.3d 341, ¶ 10-11 (3d Dist.), quoting Byrd v. Smith , 110 Ohio St.3d 24, 2006-Ohio-3455, 850 N.E.2d 47, ¶ 10, quoting Civ.R. 56(E).

{¶11} Appellate courts consider a summary judgment order under a de...

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