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Cody v. Hardy

Superior Court of Delaware

October 31, 2017

THERESA M. CODY, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID N. HARDY, IAN SIMPKINS, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, ANTHONY J.M. MITCHELL, JR., and TRAVELERS CASUALTY INSURANCE CO. OF AMERICA, Defendants.

          Submitted: July 20, 2017

         Upon Consideration of Defendant Miami-Dade County's Motion for Summary Judgment. DENIED.

          Heather A. Long, Esquire, KIMMEL, CARTER, ROMAN, PELTZ & O'NEILL, Christiana, Delaware. Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Michael Busenkell, Esquire, GELLERT SCALI BUSENKELL & BROWN, LLC, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Defendant Miami-Dade County.

          Donald M. Ransom, Esquire and Michael J. Hendee, Esquire, CASARINO CHRISTMAN SHALK RANSOM & DOSS, P.A, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorneys for Defendants David N. Hardy and Ian Simpkins.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles E. Butler Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         This is a personal injury action arising from two separate motor vehicle accidents, only one of which is at issue here. Plaintiff Theresa Cody ("Plaintiff) alleges that she sustained personal injuries after her vehicle collided with a vehicle operated by Defendant David N. Hardy ("Hardy") and rented by Defendant Ian Simpkins ("Simpkins"). Plaintiff also named Hardy and Simpkins' employer, Miami-Dade County ("Miami-Dade County" or "the County"), as an additional defendant under the theory of respondeat superior[1]

         Miami-Dade County filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that Hardy was not acting within the course and scope of his employment when the accident occurred and therefore, the County could not be held liable for any alleged negligence.

         Because the Court finds that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Hardy was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Miami-Dade County at the time of the accident, Miami-Dade County's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On October 14, 2014, Plaintiff and Defendant Hardy were involved in a car accident on Center Meeting Road in New Castle County, Delaware.[2] According to Plaintiff, the collision occurred due to Defendant Hardy's negligence when he turned left into the lane Plaintiff was driving in.[3] Plaintiff alleges that as a result of the accident, she has sustained serious injuries and damages for which she seeks compensation.[4]

         Defendant Hardy is employed by Miami-Dade County as a Historic Landscapes Specialist at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Florida. At the time of the accident, Hardy was in Delaware to attend the American Public Gardens Association Historic Landscapes Symposium. Hardy's supervisor, Defendant Simpkins, was also in Delaware to attend the Symposium. Attendance at the Symposium was the sole purpose of Hardy and Simpkins' visit to Delaware.[5]

         Hardy and Simpkins' employment with the County involves traveling to and participating in relevant symposia like the one in question. In fact, attendance at such symposia is a recognized basis upon which Hardy and Simpkins are evaluated as a part of their employment with the County.[6]

         For their attendance at this particular Symposium, Miami-Dade County paid both Hardy and Simpkins "educational leave." According to the County's own leave manual, "[e]ducational leave may be approved for an employee to attend training and educational courses, conferences, and seminars, where such attendance is expected to benefit the County. Educational leave is considered as time worked."[7]

         The Symposium was held at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in New Castle County, Delaware. The County reimbursed Hardy and Simpkins for their travel expenses, including airfare, the rental vehicle involved in the accident at issue, fuel, and per diem for food and lodging. Both Hardy and Simpkins stayed in housing on the Winterthur property. Because of their attendance at the Symposium, Hardy and Simpkins (and ultimately, the County) received a reduced lodging rate.

         Because food was not available on-site for all meals, Hardy and Simpkins contend that buying groceries was necessary during their stay. The accident at issue occurred as Hardy was returning to the Winterthur property after picking up some groceries at a nearby grocery store.[8]

         PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         Defendant Miami-Dade County filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that as a matter of law, Hardy was not acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred and therefore, Miami-Dade County is not liable for any alleged negligence. In support of its position, the County points to the "undisputed" fact that at the time of the accident, Hardy "was on his way to buy groceries."[9] According to the County, "[i]t is also undisputed that buying groceries is not the kind of work that Hardy is employed by the County to perform."[10]Furthermore, the County contends that while it does encourage its employees to take such educational trips, the trip to this particular Symposium was not specifically required by the County as a part of Hardy or Simpkins' employment, but was instead a "voluntary trip to further professional development."[11]

         Defendants Hardy and Simpkins oppose the County's Motion for Summary Judgment for two reasons. First, Hardy and Simpkins argue that the County's motion is premature because the relevant parties-including Hardy, Simpkins, and the County pursuant to a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition-have not yet been deposed on these matters. Second, they contend that a reasonable juror could find that ...


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