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Fretts v. Gt Advanced Technologies Corporation

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

May 8, 2013

JENNIE M. FRETTS, Plaintiff,
v.
GT ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION, formerly known as GT SOLAR INTERNATIONAL, INC., and MICHAEL CHALLEEN, Defendants.

ORDER

DONALD W. MOLLDY, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Defendant Challeen, an employee of Defendant GT, struck Plaintiff Fretts in a vehicle while she was walking across Pine Street in Missoula. On November 8, 2011, Fretts filed a complaint against GT for negligence, under a respondeat superior theory, and emotional distress. GT removed the case to federal court, and Fretts added Challeen as a defendant in May 2012. On December 11, 2012, Fretts filed a motion for partial summary judgment asking the Court to determine as a matter of law that GT is liable, pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior, for the tortious conduct of its employee, Challeen. On the following day, December 12, 2012, GT filed a motion for summary judgment as to all claims in the complaint requesting that the Court find as a matter of law that GT is not liable for Fretts's injuries because Challeen was not acting in the course and scope of his employment with GT at the time of the collision. Because the record reveals material factual disputes, both motions are denied.

BACKGROUND & FACTS

Jennie Fretts ("Fretts") brings negligence and emotional stress claims against GT Advanced Technologies, Inc. ("GT") and Michael Challeen ("Challeen") for injuries she sustained at roughly 7:37 a.m. on October 22, 2009, when Challeen struck her with a vehicle while she was walking across the street at the corner of Pattee and Pine Streets in Missoula. Fretts's injuries included a complex skull fracture, left orbital fracture with entrapment and vision loss in her left eye, optic nerve neuropathy, left second rib fracture, ankle fracture requiring open reduction with internal fixation, and a stellate laceration over her left eye. (Plaintiff's Statement of Facts, doc. 34 at 8.) Fretts bases her claims against GT on a respondeat superior theory.

GT hired Challeen in 2007 as an applications engineer, which requires him to travel often to various customer sites overseas. GT's only office in Montana is located in Missoula. Challeen lived in Butte when GT hired him, and he originally planned to relocate to Missoula. But, he changed his mind and decided to remain in Butte, and GT agreed that Challeen could remain in there and commute when required. Regardless of where he lives, Challeen's position is located in Missoula, although he does not have a desk space in the Missoula office. When he is not working overseas, he works either from his home in Butte or from the office in Missoula; he does not work five days a week in Missoula. GT provides Challeen with a computer, printer, and cell phone to allow him to perform his work from anywhere. GT utilizes technology that allows its employees to access its main frame computer and video conference for meetings remotely. Challeen is a salaried employee, expected to work as many hours as necessary to perform his job. Challeen's supervisor is Mike Brown ("Brown"), and the General Manager of GT's Missoula operation is David Keck ("Keck").

GT expected Challeen to work in the Missoula office one or two days a week as needed when he was not overseas. (Brown Depo., doc. 54-2 at 12-13; Challeen Depo., doc. 54-1 at 4; Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 3; Keck Depo., doc. 36-5 at 2-3; Brown Depo., doc. 36-4 at 5.) When he worked in the Missoula office, Challeen met with his supervisor, performed tasks he could not perform remotely, and supported or met with other co-workers. ( Id. ) GT attempted to allow Challeen to attend meetings by telephone, but this was ineffective, so Brown wanted Challeen to work in the Missoula office regularly. (Brown Depo, doc. 54-2 at 12-13.) GT admits that Challeen's presence in the Missoula office serves its business purposes, is "pretty critical, " and adds value to its operation. (Brown Depo., doc. 54-2 at 12-13; Keck Depo, doc. 54-3 at 10-11.) GT maintains this type of out-of-town work schedule with other employees as well. The days Challeen works in Missoula are not strictly scheduled or documented by GT even though they occur regularly. (Brown Depo., doc 54-2 at 18; Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 3.) When Challeen works in the Missoula office, he does so sometimes at the request of GT and sometimes for his own convenience. (Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 5; GT Discovery Responses, doc. 36-2 at 5, 7; Challeen Discovery Responses, doc. 36-3 at 4.)

At the time of the collision, GT expressed its expectation for employees to work one or two days per week in the Missoula office informally by verbal communication. But in January 2010 (after, but not related to, the collision), in an effort to provide a more structured work schedule, GT formalized in writing its expectation that employees work in the Missoula office five days during each three-week period they are in the U.S. (GT Letter, doc. 34 at 10; Brown Depo., doc. 54-2 at 15-18; Challeen Depo., doc. 54-1 at 13; Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 3; Keck Depo., doc. 36-5 at 2-3.)

Brown scheduled, via Outlook, a 1:00 meeting in the Missoula office on October 21, 2009, which Brown expected Challeen to attend. (Outlook calendar, doc. 34 at 13; doc. 54-2 at 21-24.) Challeen's Outlook calendar also shows a meeting at 11:00 in the Missoula office on October 21, 2009, and meetings at 9:30, 10:30, and 2:00 in the Missoula office on October 22, 2009. (Doc. 34 at 13-14.) If applications engineers were scheduled for a meeting in the Missoula office, and they were not out of the country or had not very recently arrived back in the country, Brown expected them to be in Missoula for the meeting. (Doc. 54-2 at 23-24.) However, Challeen does not remember whether he attended the meetings on October 21 and 22, and he says that while GT at times requires him to be in the Missoula office, he doesn't believe those days were such a requirement. (Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 4-5.)

GT's workday is informally 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. When Challeen works in Missoula, he is not obligated to GT other than the hours he is in the office, and GT has no direction over Challeen's time outside his office hours. (Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 13.) GT does not direct Challeen as to when he drives from Butte to Missoula or how he gets there. ( Id. ) He does not need to seek permission from Brown to approve his driving plans. ( Id. ) Challeen did not have to stay in Missoula the night of October 21; he could have driven back to Butte if he had chosen to. ( Id. ; Challeen Depo., doc. 45-2 at 6.)

GT reimburses employees for overseas travel expenses, including mileage, meals, lodging, laundry, and some entertainment. (Brown Depo., doc. 54-2 at 3-6; Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 12.) Employees are reimbursed via an expense report, and Brown approves expenses that, in his judgment, were incurred in furtherance of the employee's work and benefit GT. (Doc. 54-2 at 3-6.) If Challeen travels, he must submit an expense report once a month. (Doc. 36-1 at 9.) When Challeen works in Missoula, however, GT only reimburses him for lodging as well as meals that are related to work. (Brown Depo., doc. 36-4 at 5; Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 9, 12.) Challeen agrees that GT is not obligated to pay for his lodging in Missoula, but he thinks it is nice that they do. (Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 12; doc. 45-2 at 6.) Challeen had a deal with GT that it would pay for his hotel rooms in Missoula while he was still considering relocating to Missoula; he later decided to remain in Butte, but GT continued to pay for his rooms. ( Id. ) According to Keck, Challeen's Missoula days are not defined as business trips, and if his room is paid for by GT, then it was simply a nice thing for Brown to do for Challeen. (Keck Depo., doc. 36-5 at 4.)

Challeen drove from Butte to Missoula on October 21, 2009, for work and to fulfill GT's expectation that he work in the Missoula office one or two days that week. (Challeen Depo., doc. 54-1 at 4.) Challeen drove his personal vehicle. GT did not reimburse Challeen's mileage costs. (Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 12.) After working that day, Challeen stayed in the DoubleTree Hotel, where GT maintains a corporate rating plan. Challeen made his own arrangements for lodging, but GT paid for Challeen's room. (GT Discovery Responses, doc. 36-2 at 8.) That evening, Challeen had a "project meeting" with Brown over dinner at Finn & Porter, where they primarily socialized, but discussed some businessrelated issues. (Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 6, 9.) GT did, nevertheless, reimburse Challeen for the dinner, and Brown approved Challeen's expense report for the expense. (Expense Report & Receipts, doc. 34 at 15-16.) GT did not reimburse Challeen for any other expenses on October 21 or 22.

After dinner and unrelated to their work, Challeen and Brown exchanged their personal vehicles for the night so that Brown could test drive Challeen's new car. They agreed to trade back the vehicles the next morning at work, and Challeen told Brown he would see him in the morning. On October 22, on his drive from the hotel to work at GT's office, Challeen was driving Brown's truck northbound on Pattee Street when he initiated a left turn onto Pine Street and struck Fretts while she was crossing Pine Street in a southerly direction. The Missoula Police Department cited Challeen for failing to yield the right of way to Fretts. The collision occurred one-half block from GT's offices at that time. GT did not hold any formal discussions about the collision. (GT Discovery Responses, doc. 36-2 at 11-12.) According to Challeen, his workday had not yet begun at the time of the collision, as he was merely commuting to work. (Challeen Depo., doc. 36-1 at 11.)

SUMMARY CONCLUSION

While most of the less-critical factors for respondeat superior liability point to employer liability, the parties dispute the two most-critical, material factors: whether the employer created the need for travel and whether the collision occurred during the employee's on-duty or travel time hours. It is reasonable to find that GT created the need for Challeen's travel, but it is less clear whether Challeen was on official travel time on the morning of the collision. Due to the disputed evidence, the Court cannot as a matter of law reach the question of respondeat superior ...


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