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Cannon v. Bolden

Superior Court of Delaware, Sussex

January 3, 2018

Cannon
v.
Bolden, et al,

          Date Submitted: October 16, 2017

         On Defendant Neal's Motion for Summary Judgment: GRANTED.

         Dear Counsel, There are a number of outstanding motions for summary judgment pending before the Court in the instant litigation. At the moment, only the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Jason Neal individually and d/b/a/ C&C Repair (collectively, "Defendant Neal") is ripe for decision. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court grants Defendant Neal's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Factual Background

         This action arises out of a motor vehicle collision that took place at the intersection of Brickyard Road and Sussex Highway on February 21, 2013, in Sussex County, Delaware. Thorrhonda E. Cannon (hereinafter, "Plaintiff) was operating her 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier and traveling eastbound on Brickyard Road. Plaintiff alleges she came to a full stop on Brickyard Road at its intersection with Sussex Highway. When Plaintiff proceeded into the intersection, she was struck by a 2012 Ford Focus traveling northbound on Sussex Highway and operated by Melva N. Bolden (hereinafter, "Bolden"). Plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of this accident.

         The Ford was a rental car owned by EAN Holdings, LLC, Enterprise Leasing Company of Philadelphia, LLC, and Enterprise Holdings, LLC, collectively ("the Enterprise Defendants").[1] On February 21, 2013, Defendant Neal agreed to arrange and pay for Bolden's rental car while he serviced her personal vehicle. They agreed to meet at the rental car company's location. Sometime near close-of-business at 6 p.m. on that date, Defendant Neal went to Enterprise Rent-A-Car's Seaford location ("Enterprise") and filled out the rental agreement form on Bolden's behalf. Bolden arrived as the paperwork was being completed and provided her driver's license to an Enterprise employee. Bolden was listed as an additional driver on the rental agreement and drove the vehicle off the lot.

         Plaintiff alleges she was unable to see Bolden's vehicle at the time of the collision because Bolden was operating the Ford in the dark without headlights. Bolden testified under oath at her deposition that the car's headlights came on when she turned on the vehicle. Defendant Neal has submitted an affidavit wherein he avers that the car's headlights were on when he observed Bolden driving out of Enterprise's parking lot.

         Following the accident, Plaintiff filed suit against Bolden, the Enterprise Defendants, and Defendant Neal.

         Discussion

         This Court will grant summary judgment only when no material issues of fact exist, and the moving party bears the burden of establishing the non-existence of material issues of fact.[2] Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to establish the existence of material issues of fact.[3] Where the moving party produces an affidavit or other evidence sufficient under Superior Court Civil Rule 56 in support of its motion and the burden shifts, the non-moving party may not rest on its own pleadings, but must provide evidence showing a genuine issue of material fact for trial.[4] If, after discovery, the non-moving party cannot make a sufficient showing of the existence of an essential element of his or her case, summary judgment must be granted.[5]If, however, material issues of fact exist, or if the Court determines that it does not have sufficient facts to enable it to apply the law to the facts before it, summary judgment is inappropriate.[6]

         "In order to prevail in a negligence action, a plaintiff must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a defendant's negligent act or omission breached a duty of care owed to plaintiff in a way that proximately caused the plaintiff injury."[7]Liability depends upon whether the defendant was "under a legal obligation - a duty - to protect the plaintiff from the risk of harm which caused his injuries."[8] "[I]n appropriate situations, a trial court is authorized to grant judgment as a matter of law because no duty exists."[9] Whether a duty exists is a question of law to be determined by the trial court.[10]

         In Plaintiffs complaint, she lumps Defendant Neal and the Enterprise Defendants together when alleging liability on the basis of (1) agency, (2) negligent entrustment, and (3) failure to instruct Plaintiff on how to use the Ford's headlights. The agency and negligent entrustment theories of liability clearly do not apply to Defendant Neal. Indeed, Plaintiff seems to have abandoned these theories as her answering brief is silent as to Defendant Neal's positions on these issues. For the sake of clarity, however, the Court will address all three theories.

         1. Agency

         Plaintiff alleges the Enterprise Defendants and Defendant Neal "each failed to exercise reasonable oversight of their respective employees and/or authorized agents, acting within the scope of their employment or agency, who failed to ensure that Defendant Bolden was ...


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