ROBERT A. JAMES, JR. and DAWN M. JAMES, Plaintiffs,
ROBERT WILLIAMS, PETE STORE-DELAWARE, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, and PETE STORE-SEAFORD, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Defendants.
Submitted: November 17, 2017
the Defendant Pete Store Delaware, LLC's Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment - GRANTED
E. Chambers, Esquire & Gary E. Junge, Esquire,
SCHMITTINGER & RODRIGUEZ, P.A., Dover, Delaware,
Attorneys for Plaintiffs.
P. Leff, Esquire, CASARINO, CHRISTMAN, SHALK, RANSOM &
DOSS, P. A., Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendant
Benjamin C. Wetzel, III, Esquire, WETZEL & ASSOCIATES,
Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the Defendants, Pete
Store-Delaware, LLC & Pete Store-Seaford, LLC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREV J. CLARK JUDGE.
Pete Store Delaware, LLC (hereinafter "Pete Store"
or the "Company") moves for partial summary
judgment regarding Plaintiff Robert A. James, Jr's
(hereinafter "Mr. James'") claim against it for
punitive damages. Mr. James sues Pete Store and its employee,
Defendant Robert Williams (hereinafter "Mr.
Williams") for automobile accident related injuries
allegedly caused by Mr. Williams' negligence and
recklessness. Mr. James alleges that Pete Store is
vicariously liable for both compensatory and
punitive damages. The Company's potential liability for
punitive damages is at issue. Although such a claim is
generally decided as one of fact, in this case, the factual
record does not generate a triable issue of fact that would
permit a reasonable jury to hold the tortfeasor's
employer vicariously liable for punitive damages. For that
reason and those outlined herein, Pete Store's motion for
partial summary judgment is GRANTED.
in this case has concluded. The facts recited herein are
those of record, and are viewed in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party. Pete Store is a Peterbuilt truck
dealer in Seaford, Delaware where Mr. Williams was employed
as a service manager. The extent of the record regarding Mr.
William's duties evidences that he was to make sure work
was performed in a timely manner and that he collected
payment from customers. In an affidavit submitted in
support of the motion, Douglas Cole (hereinafter "Mr.
Cole"), the Vice President of Finance for Pete Store,
described Mr. Williams duties as "supervising the
service department and collecting payments from customers in
the service department". However, according to Mr.
Cole, Mr. Williams was not considered a principal or
managerial agent of Pete Store. The same affidavit
provided that Mr. Williams reported to a Regional Service
Manager, who reported to a Vice President and General
Manager, who in turn reported to the President and
about April 21, 2016, Mr. James arrived at Pete Store to pick
up his son's truck after repairs. The repair cost was
$17, 298.52. After a test drive, Mr. James provided Mr.
Williams with a check for the cost of the repairs. Pete Store
alleges that Mr. James was unhappy with how long it took the
repairs to be completed. Based on the parties' history,
Mr. Williams was eager to get Mr. James out of the shop as
quickly as possible. At some point, Mr. James became
irritated that his check was taking a long time to process.
He accordingly left the store and took the truck. Mr. James
alleges that he informed Mr. Williams that he was leaving
with the truck and to call him if there were any problems.
Mr. James took his son's truck, Pete Store's check
guarantee center advised Mr. Williams that the check could
not be certified. Mr. Williams then left the Pete Store in
his personal vehicle to chase Mr. James. After Mr. Williams
caught up with Mr. James, Mr. James pulled onto a median on
the highway. Despite demand, Mr. James refused to return to
the store because he needed to return the truck to his son.
Mr. James told Mr. Williams that he could call him if there
were any problems with his check because he had more than
sufficient funds in his account to cover the check.
point, in an apparent attempt to force Mr. Jones to return to
the store, Mr. Williams reached into Mr. James' vehicle,
grabbed his cell phone, and returned to his car. Mr. James
then approached Mr. Williams car to recover his cell phone.
While the facts about what happened next remain in dispute,
for the purposes of summary judgment, as Mr. James reached
into Mr. Williams vehicle to retrieve his phone, Mr. Williams
recklessly pulled away with Mr. James caught on the outside
of the vehicle. Mr. James suffered injuries as a result.
judgment may only be granted if the record shows that there
is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Court must view
the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. The burden of proof is initially on
the moving party. However, if the movant meets his or
her initial burden, then the burden shifts to a non-moving
party to demonstrate the existence of material issues of
fact. If the non-moving party is the party
who will bear the burden of proof at trial, then to survive
summary judgment, that party is obliged to point to facts in
the record that will support its prima facie case at
trial. The non-movant's evidence of
material facts in dispute must be sufficient to withstand a
motion for judgment as a matter of law and must support the
verdict of a rational jury. The non-movant may not
simply rest on his on her allegation that there are genuine
issues of material fact without referencing such facts in the
courts consistently look to the Restatement (Second) of
Torts § 909 (1979) to determine whether a jury may
award punitive damages against an employer for the act of an
employee. The Restatement (Second) of
Torts provides that:
[p]unitive damages can properly be awarded against a master
or other principal because of an act by agent if, but only
(a)The principal or a managerial agent authorized the doing
and the manner of the act, or
(b)The agent was unfit and the principal or a managerial
agent was reckless in employing or retaining him, or
(c)The agent was employed in a managerial capacity and was
acting the scope of his employment, or (d) The principal of a
managerial agent of the principal ratified or approved the
b. to this same provision provides that "[a]lthough
there has been no fault on the part of a corporation or other
employer, if a person acting in a managerial capacity either
does an outrageous act or approves of the act by a
subordinate, the imposition of punitive damages upon the
employer serves as a deterrent to the employment of unfit
persons for important positions."
James primarily argues that Pete Store is liable for punitive
damages arising from Mr. Williams' tortious acts pursuant
to Restatement (Second) of Torts § 909(c).
Namely, he argues that Mr. Williams was employed in a
managerial capacity and that he was acting in the scope of
his employment when he injured Mr. James. While the
main dispute focuses on whether Mr. Williams was acting in a
managerial capacity, the Restatement ...