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Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's v. Southern Pride Trucking, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

September 27, 2017

SOUTHERN PRIDE TRUCKING, INC., et al., Defendants.


          John M. Gerrard, United States District Judge

         This dispute involves an accident between two tractor trailers on Interstate 80 near Wood River, Nebraska. The accident resulted in significant damage to a Boeing airplane engine, which has led to this multi-party dispute. Specifically, Boeing's insurers, "Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's and Those Companies Severally Subscribing to Boeing Policy Number MARCW150053 and Related Policies Governing The Cargo" (collectively, "Certain Underwriters"), are suing four entities which, they claim, caused or contributed to the accident: Southern Pride Trucking, Thunder Rolls Express, Bauer Built, and Road Star Carrier.

         Several motions for summary judgment are currently before the Court-each raising complex issues of law and fact. The Court has spent significant time reviewing those motions, and is fully aware of the parties' arguments with respect to each pending request. But as discussed in more detail below, the Court cannot, at least at this stage of the proceedings, resolve those disputes on the merits. Indeed, none of the defendants have answered the plaintiffs' amended complaint, and each of the pending motions responds to, or otherwise relies on, pleadings that are no longer operative in this case. So, the Court will deny the pending motions for summary judgment without prejudice to reassertion. The Magistrate Judge shall promptly confer with the parties and set an amended progression order consistent with this Memorandum and Order.


         The facts of this case, generally summarized, are as follows. Southern Pride, a trucking company, agreed to transport a Boeing airline engine from Ohio to Washington. Filing 115 at 3-4. Rather than using its own fleet of tractor trailers, Southern Pride subcontracted the job to defendant Thunder Rolls, a trucking company based in Indiana. Filing 115 at 3. Joseph Womack, Thunder Rolls' owner and sole proprietor, picked up the engine from a General Electric plant in Ohio. After loading the engine onto his trailer, Womack set out for Everett, Washington. See filing 124-1 at 6. Womack's route took him through Wood River, Nebraska, as he headed west on Interstate 80. Filing 117 at 8.

         Approximately an hour and a half before Womack reached Wood River, a different westbound tractor trailer had pulled over to the side of Interstate 80 with a flat tire. Filing 117 at 10; filing 118-4 at 5. That tractor trailer was owned by defendant Road Star. Filing 118-4 at 5. Road Star contacted defendant Bauer Built, which provides roadside assistance to the interstate trucking industry. Soon after, a Bauer employee arrived to replace the tire. Filing 117 at 12. Both were still there as Womack approached.

         Womack, driving in the right lane, was approximately 100 feet away from Road Star's disabled truck when he first saw it on the side of the road directly ahead of him. Filing 118-2 at 17. Womack attempted to move into the left lane to avoid any potential contact with the vehicles. Filing 118-2 at 9. But as he began to move over, Womack noticed a pickup truck in his side-view mirror. Filing 124-1 at 40. So, Womack "came back to the right to get [to the] center of [his] lane." Filing 124-1 at 40. Womack collided with Road Star's truck. The airplane engine dislodged from Womack's trailer, landing on the road. See filing 124-1 at 11. According to Certain Underwriters, the engine is no longer functional, resulting in approximately $18, 000, 000 in damages. Filing 115 at 6. Certain Underwriters allege various theories of liability against the defendants under both state and federal law. Each defendant has moved for summary judgment.


         The procedural history of this case is straightforward: the plaintiffs filed a complaint, the defendants answered with counterclaims, and parties began moving for summary judgment. But on January 26, 2016, while three motions for summary judgment were pending, Certain Underwriters-with leave from the Magistrate Judge-filed an amended complaint. See filing 115. And that complaint includes substantive changes to Certain Underwriters' theories of recovery. In particular, Certain Underwriters added a claim against Bauer and Road Star, and removed Thunder Rolls from their first claim for relief, which alleges a violation of the Carmack Amendment of the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 13101 et seq. Compare filing 1 with filing 115.

         The amended complaint also had procedural implications. As the Eighth Circuit has recognized, an amended complaint supersedes an original complaint and renders the original complaint without legal effect. In re Wireless Tel. Fed. Cost Recovery Fees Litig., 396 F.3d 922, 928 (8th Cir. 2005). So, when an amended complaint has been filed, a defendant generally has 14 days to file an amended answer. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(3). As noted, once an amended pleading is interposed, "the original pleading no longer performs any function in the case[.]" Charles A. Wright & Arthur Miller, 6 Federal Practice & Procedure § 1476 (3d ed. 2017).

         None of the four defendants in this case have filed answers to Certain Underwriters' amended complaint. And that oversight is not insignificant. Indeed, each of the pending motions for summary judgment are premised, in whole or in part, on an affirmative defense or counterclaim. For example, defendants Southern Pride and Thunder Rolls have moved for partial summary judgment, seeking the enforcement of a $250, 000 limitation on liability "pursuant to [their] eleventh affirmative defense[.]" Filing 90 at 1. Those defendants also seek judgment on Bauer and Road Star's cross-claims, arguing that they are preempted under the Carmack Amendment. Filing 90 at 2. Similarly, Bauer moves for summary judgment on its third affirmative defense, filing 57 at 6, arguing that Thunder Rolls' driver was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Filing 123 at 18. And defendant Road Star, relying on its seventh affirmative defense, makes the same argument- claiming that "intervening" and "superseding" forces proximately caused the plaintiffs' losses. Filing 47 at 8.

         But as noted above, those arguments derive from previously filed-and now legally inoperative-pleadings. Thus, to renew those arguments, the defendants must, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, file an amended answer. "No option is given to merely stand on preexisting pleadings made in response to an earlier complaint." Bremer Bank, Nat. Ass'n v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co., 2009 WL 702009, at *12 (D. Minn. 2009); see General Mills, Inc. v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc., 495 F.3d 1378, 1381 (8th Cir. 2007) (previously asserted counterclaims are "no longer . . . pending" upon the filing of an amended complaint). Until such answers are filed, the Court cannot, and will not, address the merits of the parties' dispositive motions.

         And there's another problem: as alluded to above, three of the five parties moved for summary judgment before Certain Underwriters had filed their amended complaint. See filing 90; filing 111. As a result, those motions and accompanying briefs are not fully responsive to the claims currently before the Court. For instance, defendant Thunder Rolls argues that, as a Carmack defendant, it is protected by a $250, 000 limitation on liability pursuant to the Carmack Amendment. See filing 90 at 1. But pursuant to the amended complaint, Certain Underwriters are no longer pursuing their Carmack claim against Thunder Rolls, suing Thunder Rolls instead for breach of contract, breach of bailment obligations, and negligence. Filing 115 at 7-9. And it is not entirely clear how, if at all, that change affects Thunder Rolls' position. Similarly, Bauer and Road Star refer to defendant Thunder Rolls in their briefing as being sued "under the Carmack Amendment." See filing 123 at 37. But again, under the amended complaint, it is not. See filing 115 at 7.

         To be clear: the Court is in no way suggesting that the parties should alter their position or arguments based on the amended complaint. Rather, the Court is advising the parties to directly address how, if at all, Certain Underwriters' ...

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