United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
E. SELF, III, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
the Court for consideration is a Motion for Summary Judgment
[Doc. 20] filed by the United States of America. Defendant
argues that the United States, as an allegedly vicariously
liable employer, effectively merged with its employee to form
a single tortfeasor under Georgia law so that Plaintiffs'
release of its employee released the United States. See
generally [Doc. 20-3]. After consideration of the
arguments presented by both parties, the Court rules as
facts of this case are straightforward. Joseph Lee
Phillips, a United States Postal Service employee, and
Plaintiff Christina Rodriguez-Densley, had a car accident.
[Doc. 1, at ¶¶ 5-9]; [Doc. 8, at ¶¶ 5-7];
see also [Doc. 20-1, at ¶ 1]. Plaintiffs allege
that Phillips is at fault for the injuries Rodriguez-Densley
sustained as a result of the accident, for which she and her
husband now sue Philips' employer-the United States of
America, under the sole theory of vicarious liability. [Doc.
1, at ¶ 13].
time of the accident, Phillips, while in the course and scope
of his employment as an employee of the United States Postal
Service,  was driving a “tan 2000 Chevrolet
truck” [Doc. 1, at ¶¶ 6-7]; [Doc. 8, at
¶¶ 6-7], and carried personal automobile insurance
through Georgia Farm Bureau. See [Doc. 20-2, at
¶ 1]. Plaintiffs made a claim for damages arising from
the accident and ultimately settled with Phillips. See
generally [id.]. As a part of the settlement,
Plaintiffs executed a Limited Liability Release discharging
Plaintiffs' claims against Phillips and Georgia Farm
Bureau for the consideration of $100, 000.00. [Id.
at ¶ 1]. This case turns on the interpretation of this
See [Doc. 20-2]. (“Release”) portion of
This Limited Release shall not operate as a release of any
other persons of entities not specifically named herein and
shall not operate as a release of the undersigned's
claims against any other tortfeasor or insurance carrier not
named herein. . . . The parties hereto agree that the
consideration paid to Releasors does not fully compensate
them for their injuries.
See [Doc. 20-2].
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “[t]he court shall
grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In this case,
there are no disputed questions of material fact, therefore
the only question before the Court is a question of law. If
the Court agrees with Defendant's argument that
Plaintiffs' release of its employee releases the United
States, then this case is over. Conversely, if the Court
disagrees, then the Plaintiffs' vicarious liability
claims against the government will proceed. Therefore, the
decisive issue for determination is dispositive in nature and
clearly a question of law.
reviewing these types of issues, the Court must look to the
law of the state in which the district court sits. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1346(b)(1). Three other circuit court decisions take
this direction, looking to local law to determine the effect,
as to a successor FTCA action against the United States, of a
release provided by a government employee whose allegedly
negligent operation of a motor vehicle resulted in prior
litigation. See Scoggin v. United States, 444 F.2d
74, 74-75 (10th Cir. 1971) (per curiam) (no claim against the
United States under Oklahoma law); Land v. United
States, 342 F.2d 785, 786 (10th Cir. 1965) (per curiam)
(same); Bacon v. United States, 321 F.2d 880, 883-84
(8th Cir. 1963) (no claim against United States under
Missouri law). “This accords with the general rule . .
. that the legal effect of a release upon the
government's FTCA liability is to be determined by local
law, following the mandate of § 1346(b).”
Branch v. United States, 979 F.2d 948, 951 (2d. Cir
1992). In its brief, Defendant concedes that there is no
Eleventh Circuit interpretation of Georgia law on the narrow
question currently presented to the Court.
in opposition to Defendant's Motion [Doc. 20], Plaintiff
cites to the Georgia Supreme Court case of Miller v.
Grand Union Co. 512 S.E.2d 887 (Ga. 1999).
Miller involved a security company, Grand Union
Company, who employed two individuals as security guards at
one of its retail stores. Id. at 887. One security
guard purportedly observed shoplifting by Plaintiff Miller.
Id. Eventually, the shoplifting charges against
Miller were nolle prossed because of an exculpatory
affidavit given by the security guard. Id. In
exchange for the affidavit, Miller executed a covenant not to
sue the security guard, but instead, she sued Grand Union for
false imprisonment, assault, and battery based on a theory of
vicarious liability. Id.
Georgia Supreme Court, in Miller, concluded that
“the execution of a covenant not to sue or
a release in favor of an employee does not
discharge an employer who is alleged to be vicariously
liable for the tortious acts or omissions of that
employee, unless the instrument names the employer.”
Id. at 888 (emphasis added). The Georgia Supreme
Court took extra efforts to ensure the clarity and strength
of Miller's holding by expressly overruling
Posey v. Med. Ctr.-W., Inc., 354 S.E.2d 417 (Ga.
1987) and Harris v. Hanna Creative Enter., 430
S.E.2d 846 (Ga. 1993). In its penultimate paragraph, the
court stated, “To the extent that Harris v. Hanna
Creative Enterprises,  or any other case suggests that
a release which names only the employee has the effect of
also releasing the employer from liability, such a holding is
premised upon a misinterpretation of Posey and is
hereby specifically overruled.” Id. at 888-89
case, the Release does not expressly name Phillips'
employer, the United States Postal Service, i.e., the United
States itself. For the reasons that follow,
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 20] ...