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In/Ex Systems, Inc. v. Masud

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

October 30, 2019

MASUD et al.

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

          MERCIER, JUDGE.

         This appeal arises from two lawsuits filed by Tahsin Masud ("Masud"), one as personal representative and administrator of the estate of Aila Masud and the other as father and next friend of Sana Masud, regarding a car collision that tragically caused Aila's death and Sana's injuries.[1] Aila was killed and Sana was injured after a tire became separated from the vehicle Michael Green was driving, and then crossed the median on Interstate 85 and struck the vehicle Aila was driving. Masud filed the lawsuits against Green, Green's employer, In/Ex Systems, Inc., and other parties.[2]In/Ex filed a motion for summary judgment in the both lawsuits, which the trial court denied. We granted In/Ex's application for interlocutory appeal to review the trial court's order and, for the following reasons, we reverse.

         1. As an initial matter, certain allegations of facts stated by Masud in his appellate brief are supported only by citations to his trial court briefs, and he fails to cite to evidence in the record to support these allegations. Of course, "[f]actual assertions in appellate briefs and in briefs in the trial record and not otherwise supported by evidence of record cannot be considered on appellate review." Dover Realty v. Butts County Bd. of Tax Assessors, 202 Ga.App. 787 (1) (415 S.E.2d 666) (1992) (citation omitted). "[B]riefs cannot be used in lieu of the record or transcript to add evidence to the record." Fidelity Enterprises v. Heyman & Sizemore, 206 Ga.App. 602, 603 (1) (426 S.E.2d 177) (1992) (citation omitted). Furthermore, "exhibits attached to an appellate brief but not appearing in the record transmitted by the trial court cannot be considered by this court[.]" Bennett v. Moody, 225 Ga.App. 95, 96 (483 S.E.2d 350) (1997) (citation and punctuation omitted). Failure of Masud to cite to parts of the record or transcript deemed material shall "constitute consent to a decision based on [In/Ex's] statement of facts. Except as controverted, [In/Ex's] statement of facts may be accepted by this Court as true." Court of Appeals Rule 25 (b) (1). While it is possible that the evidence relied upon exists somewhere in the appellate record's 39 volumes, "[w]e have repeatedly held that it is not the function of this court to cull the record on behalf of a party." Rolleston v. Cherry, 226 Ga.App. 750, 753 (1) (b) (487 S.E.2d 354) (1997) (citation and punctuation omitted). This rule is particularly true in cases, such as this one, with a voluminous record. See id.

2. In order to prevail on a motion for summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, In/Ex, as the moving party,

must show that there exists no genuine issue of material fact, and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demand judgment as a matter of law. Moreover, on appeal from the denial or grant of summary judgment the appellate court is to conduct a de novo review of the evidence to determine whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact, and whether the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law.

Dougherty Equip. v. Roper, 327 Ga.App. 434 (757 S.E.2d 885) (2014) (citation omitted).

         So viewed, the evidence shows the following. At the time of the collision, Green worked for In/Ex as a technician, primarily in commercial construction. On April 26, 2013, the date of the collision, Green drove a Dodge Ram truck owned by his mother to the In/Ex warehouse at 4:45 a.m. He and a co-worker, Dan Neal, then traveled in the Dodge Ram to their first job site for In/Ex, where they worked until 7:30 a.m. They left the first job site and began traveling to Guitar Center "to get guitar parts," before they were due at their next job site. As Green was driving northbound on Interstate 85, at approximately 7:45 a.m., a vehicle suddenly entered his travel lane. Green quickly changed lanes to avoid colliding with the vehicle, and the front driver's side tire came off of his vehicle, traveled across the median and struck Aila's vehicle as she was driving southbound on Interstate 85. Neither Green nor Neal had noticed anything wrong with the truck on the day of the collision. Green pled guilty to driving an unsafe vehicle. See OCGA § 40-8-7.

         Masud filed the lawsuits against In/Ex (and other parties not subject to this appeal) asserting a vicarious liability claim against In/Ex.[3] Specifically, Masud claimed that Green failed to maintain the truck in safe operating condition and that Green's actions are imputed to In/Ex.

         At his deposition, Green testified that he worked on trucks "as a hobby" and considered himself to be experienced in truck maintenance. Sometime in January 2013, Green took a day off of work to replace the truck's rotors and brake pads, during which time he removed the wheels. Green testified that he "had no idea" that something was wrong with the vehicle.

         In/Ex filed a motion for summary judgment in both lawsuits, arguing, inter alia, that Green had not been driving negligently at the time of the collision. The trial court denied In/Ex's motion for summary judgment. In/Ex argues that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment because there was no negligent act by Green at the time of the injury for which vicarious liability could attach.[4] We agree.

         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. Green pled guilty to violating OCGA § 40-8-7 (a), which states that "[n]o person shall drive or move on any highway any motor vehicle . . . unless the equipment upon any and every such vehicle is in good working order . . . and the vehicle is in such safe mechanical condition as not to endanger the driver or other occupant or any person upon the highway." OCGA §40-8-7 is a "strict criminal liability statute," "which can be violated and enforced of necessity through a criminal sanction without a showing of mens rea or guilty knowledge on the part of the violator." Nelson v. State, 224 Ga.App. 623, 624 (5) (481 S.E.2d 605) (1997) (citations and punctuation omitted).

         "A violation of the Uniform Rules of the Road prima facie establishes negligence per se in the absence of a valid defense. The burden then shifts to the defendant to show that the violation was unintentional and in the exercise of ordinary care." Harden v. Burdette, 204 Ga.App. 733, 735 (4) (420 S.E.2d 626) (1992) (citations and punctuation omitted). In a civil action, "[f]or an owner of a vehicle to be held liable for injuries that occur due to an unsafe or defective condition of his vehicle, the plaintiff must show not only that the vehicle was being operated with the owner's consent, but that the owner knew of its defective or unsafe condition." Wilson v. Ortiz, 232 Ga.App. 191, 195 (2) (501 S.E.2d 247) (1998) (citation omitted) (overruled on other grounds by Giles v. State Farm Mut. Ins., 330 Ga.App. 314, 319 (2) (fn. 2) (765 S.E.2d 413) (2014); see generally Jacobs v. Felmet, 105 Ga.App. 234, 236 (124 S.E.2d 307) (1962) (affirming grant of directed verdict to driver on negligence claim when no proof was presented that the driver had any "knowledge or notice of any defect in his brakes until they suddenly gave way[.]") (citation omitted); Robinson v. MARTA, 197 Ga.App. 628, 629 (4) (399 S.E.2d 252) (1990) (trial court did not err in refusing to give plaintiff's requested jury charge on negligence per se pursuant to OCGA § 40-8-7 (a) regarding a collision with a stalled bus because, inter alia, the evidence did not demonstrate that the bus driver had any reason to suspect anything was wrong with the bus before it broke down); Almassud v. Mezquital, 345 Ga.App. 456, 458-460 (1) (811 S.E.2d 110) (2018) (reversing denial of motion for new trial where trial court refused to give jury instruction regarding the driver's lack of knowledge or notice of the vehicle's steering defect); Brown v. Shiver, 183 Ga.App. 207, 207-208 (1) (358 S.E.2d 862) (1987) (affirming grant of summary judgment to driver where plaintiff crashed into defendant's stalled car because defendant had no notice that the car was likely to stall); compare Fouts v. Builders Transp., 222 Ga.App. 568, 577-578 (5) (474 S.E.2d 746) (1996) (trial court did not err by denying motion for directed verdict to driver and his employer, the owner of the commercial tractor-trailer truck at issue, who claimed to have no knowledge of the truck's faulty brakes when a State inspector testified that three of the truck's nine brakes were out of adjustment and that the truck should have been out of service, and the jury thus could have concluded that the driver and employer could or should have known of the defect).

         Both Green and Neal testified that they did not notice anything wrong with the truck on the day of the collision. To create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Green should have known that the tire was loose while he was driving, Masud points to deposition testimony from the Defendants' engineering expert. When asked if he would "expect the driver to notice vibration from [the hub cap] wobbling," the expert responded: "It probably, if it was your Mercedes, you probably would, but if it were this . . . [i]t probably self-corrects, aligns going around corners. Yeah, it was bad." In response to whether he would have expected there to have been some vibration and wobbling of the wheel, he stated: "I'm sure there was. And, again, you feel that in this type of truck with these big knobby tires. I'd probably feel it in my Mustang, but I don't know if you would feel it if - - yeah, it happened for a long time. There's a lot of wear and a lot of holes and a lot of damage to those bolts. ...

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