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Centurion Industries, Inc. v. Naville- Saeger

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

October 17, 2019

CENTURION INDUSTRIES, INC.
v.
NAVILLE- SAEGER et al. CENTURION INDUSTRIES, INC.
v.
SMITHWICK.

          BARNES, P. J., MERCIER and BROWN, JJ.

          MERCIER, JUDGE.

         While on unpaid leave from work, Jeremy Carter drove from a work site in Arabi, Louisiana to Valdosta, Georgia. As Carter was driving in Lowndes County, Georgia, he caused a motor vehicle collision when he hit a vehicle containing Kyle Naville and Logan Shelly. Tragically, both Naville and Shelly died as a result of the collision. The parents of Naville brought an action against Centurion Industries, Inc. (Carter's employer) and Carter, and the mother of Shelly filed a separate action against Carter and Centurion.

         Centurion filed motions for summary judgment in both lawsuits, arguing that Carter was not acting in the course and scope of his employment when the collision occurred, and therefore Centurion could not be held liable under theories of respondeat superior or negligent hiring and retention. The trial court denied Centurion's motions in the two cases in a single order. We granted Centurion's applications for interlocutory appeals[1] to review the trial court's order, and for the following reasons, we reverse.

         "On appeal from a trial court's grant [or denial] of summary judgment, our review of the record is de novo, and we construe the facts and all inferences drawn from them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Farzaneh v. Merit Constr., 309 Ga.App. 637 (710 S.E.2d 839) (2011) (citation omitted).

         In 2015, Carter lived in Valdosta and worked as a millwright for A-Lert Construction Services, a division of Centurion, out of its Valdosta, Georgia office.[2]Amongst other services, Centurion performed "shutdown work," where a factory would shut down for multiple weeks and Centurion would perform maintenance work at the factory. Carter was assigned to a "road crew," where he and other Centurion employees traveled to out-of-town job sites.

         In 2014, Centurion entered into a contract to perform construction work at a refinery in Arabi, Louisiana. Carter was assigned to work at the Arabi job site, along with four other Valdosta-based Centurion employees and a supervisor. He received hourly pay, mileage reimbursement for his travel to the Arabi job site from Centurion's office in Valdosta and a per diem payment for each day he worked at the Arabi job site. Due to the distance between the Arabi job site and Centurion's Valdosta office, the Centurion employees secured temporary housing near the job site and were expected to remain near the job site for the duration of the assignment.

         Prior to arriving in Arabi, Carter requested and received permission to take unpaid leave from work for February 25, 2015 through February 27, 2015. Carter wrote on the request form that he needed the leave for "[c]ourt." Centurion did not request that Carter perform any tasks during the leave period.

         Carter drove from Valdosta to Arabi in his own vehicle and began working at the site on February 2, 2015. Some of the other Centurion employees carpooled to the Arabi job site. At the time, Carter did not have a valid driver's license, and due to requirements issued by the refinery he was unable to drive a vehicle onto the refinery property in Arabi. As a result, he rode to the site with another Centurion employee.

         While he was in Arabi, Carter told his field supervisor that he had to take leave to return to Valdosta "because of a DUI refusal in North Carolina." Carter did not receive any compensation, including per diem, travel allowances, or mileage reimbursement, while he was on leave. On February 25, 2015, the first day of Carter's unpaid leave, Carter drove his personal vehicle from Arabi to Valdosta, where he attempted to pass a school bus and hit the oncoming vehicle in which Naville and Shelly rode. After the collision, Carter's blood tested positive for alcohol content of .187 grams per 100 milliliters. Centurion did not terminate Carter's employment because he "hadn't been to trial," but it removed him from the road team and required him to work out of the Valdosta office. Carter eventually pled guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide in connection with the collision.

         Centurion appeals the trial court's denial of its motions summary judgment, arguing that Carter was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the collision, and therefore the Plaintiffs' respondeat superior claims fails; and that the trial court erred by denying its motions on the Plaintiffs' negligent hiring and retention claims because Carter's trip to Valdosta was wholly unrelated to his employment.

         1. Every master shall be liable for torts committed by "his servant by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily." OCGA § 51-2-2. "When a servant causes an injury to another, the test to determine if the master is liable is whether or not the servant was at the time of the injury acting within the scope of his employment and on the business of the master." Hicks v. Heard, 286 Ga. 864, 865 (692 S.E.2d 360) (2010) (citation omitted). "The test is not that the act of the servant was done during the existence of the employment, but whether the servant was at that time serving the master." Hargett's Telephone Contractors v. McKeehan, 228 Ga.App. 168, 169 (491 S.E.2d 391) (1997) (citation, emphasis and punctuation omitted).

While a jury frequently must resolve whether an employee acted in furtherance of his master's business and within the scope of his employment at the time an injury was inflicted, the evidence in some cases is so plain and undisputable that the court may resolve a respondeat superior claim as a matter of law.

Farzaneh, supra at 639 (citation omitted). "[S]ummary judgment for the master is appropriate when the evidence shows that the servant was not engaged in furtherance of his master's business but was on a private enterprise of his own." Lucas v.Beckman Coulter, Inc., 348 Ga.App. 505, 508 (2) (823 ...


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