United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER DENYING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court on “Plaintiff's
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Negligence and
Causation” (Dkt. # 14) and the “United
States' Motion for Summary Judgment” (Dkt. # 15).
Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no
genuine issue of material fact that would preclude the entry
of judgment as a matter of law. The party seeking summary
dismissal of the case “bears the initial responsibility
of informing the district court of the basis for its
motion” (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986)) and “citing to particular parts of
materials in the record” that show the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). Once
the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to
summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to designate
“specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.
The Court will “view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party . . . and draw all
reasonable inferences in that party's favor.”
Krechman v. County of Riverside, 723 F.3d 1104, 1109
(9th Cir. 2013). Although the Court must reserve for the jury
genuine issues regarding credibility, the weight of the
evidence, and legitimate inferences, the “mere
existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
non-moving party's position will be insufficient”
to avoid judgment. City of Pomona v. SQM N. Am.
Corp., 750 F.3d 1036, 1049 (9th Cir. 2014). In essence,
the Court must determine “whether the evidence presents
a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Judgment should be
entered where the nonmoving party fails to offer evidence
from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in its
favor. Freecycle Sunnyvale v. Freecycle Network, 626
F.3d 509, 514 (9th Cir. 2010).
reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted
by the parties and taking the evidence in the light most
favorable to plaintiff, the Court finds as follows:
evidence in this case supports two distinct story lines. In
the first story, the driver of a U.S. Postal Service truck
stopped wholly within the lane of southbound traffic to
deliver mail at 15124 Euclid Avenue NE on Bainbridge Island.
Her hazard lights were flashing. Plaintiff, who was on a
motorcycle, either failed to see the vehicle stopped in the
road ahead of him or attempted to pass the Postal Service
truck but misjudged the distance between the left rear bumper
and the center line. When the Postal Service driver finished
delivering the mail, she pulled straight forward from the
mailbox: moments later, plaintiff crashed into the left rear
of the vehicle.
second story line starts much the same way, except that the
driver pulled off the road to get easier access to the
mailbox, placing the right wheels of the Postal Service
vehicle one to two feet across the white fog line. Plaintiff,
approaching from the rear, attempted to pass the truck in the
approximately five feet of space between the left rear bumper
and the center line. His headlamp was lit. The Postal Service
driver did not look in her mirrors or use her turning signal
before pulling away from the mailbox, crossing the fog line,
and centering her truck within the lane of traffic. She never
saw plaintiff before the accident. The Postal Service vehicle
moved laterally approximately three feet within a few
seconds: the gap between the truck and the yellow line
through which plaintiff was intending to pass closed.
Plaintiff applied his brakes and attempted to adjust course,
but collided with the left rear corner of the truck. He was
thrown forward across the center line and into the northbound
lane of traffic.
Washington law, when two vehicles are traveling in the same
direction, “the primary duty of avoiding a collision
rests with the following driver” who has a “duty
to keep such distance from the car ahead and maintain such
observation of that car that an emergency stop may be safely
made.” Miller v. Cody, 41 Wn.2d 775, 778
(1953). To satisfy the duty of care imposed on the following
driver, he or she must “allow for those actions which
should be anticipated under the circumstances.”
Ryan v. Westgard, 12 Wn.App. 500, 505 (1975).
Crashing into a car from behind raises an inference,
presumption, or prima facie showing of negligence that can be
overcome “by evidence that some emergency or unusual
condition not caused or contributed to by the following
driver caused the collision, in which event the liability of
the following driver becomes a jury question.”
Vanderhoff v. Fitzgerald, 72 Wn.2d 103, 106 (1967).
outcome of this case depends in large part on whether the
U.S. Postal Service vehicle was off the side of the road and
had to swerve to the left, into the roadway, when it left the
mailbox at 15124 Euclid Avenue NE. The evidence in the record
could support findings that favor either party on this issue.
The driver has stated that she remained entirely in the lane
of traffic and was merely pulling forward from the mailbox
when plaintiff ran into her. If that were the case, she would
owe no duty of care as a merging driver and plaintiff would
not be able to show an emergency or unusual condition to
overcome the following driver presumption of negligence.
Measurements taken at the scene and the calculations of
defendant's expert throw doubt on the driver's
contention, however. The final resting place of the vehicle
was more than 4 feet west of the face of the mailbox, the
front of the vehicle was angled back toward the side of the
road, and the driver's reach, including a reasonable
adjustment of her torso angle, was calculated to be too short
to span a distance of 4 feet. In addition, there are tire
tracks at the mailbox suggesting that the owners, the Postal
Service, or both pull off the roadway to access the box.
There is, therefore, evidence from which one could conclude
that the Postal Service vehicle was partially off the road
and moved left into and upon the roadway after it left the
mailbox. This dispute must be resolved by the fact finder. If
the facts show that plaintiff simply ran into an essentially
static object that was blocking the road in front of him
through inattention or because he misjudged the location of
the vehicle, he would be negligent under the following driver
rule. If, however, the facts show that plaintiff was making
an attempt to pass a vehicle that had pulled off the side of
the road when the driver of that vehicle, without looking or
warning, pulled back into the lane of traffic, the fact
finder could find that the Postal Service driver did not
exercise reasonable care and that the failure proximately
caused the accident.
of the foregoing reasons, the parties' motions for
summary judgment (Dkt. # 14 and #15) are DENIED. The Clerk of
Court is directed to set this matter for trial on September
 The Court has not considered the
Washington State Department of Licensing Driver Guide.
Plaintiff's request to strike the entire Declaration of
Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes (Dkt. # 17) on the ground
that it lacks foundation is denied.
 Both parties mention potential
statutory violations on the part of the drivers. Plaintiff
may have been passing a vehicle in the same lane in violation
of RCW 46.61.608(2) and the U.S. Postal Service driver may
have moved left upon the roadway before it was reasonably
safe and without giving an appropriate signal in violation of
RCW 46.61.305. The underlying factual disputes regarding
whether the Postal Service truck was off the side of the road
and whether/how much it moved laterally on the roadway must
be resolved before it can be determined whether these
violations occurred and whether they establish negligence per
The parties do not address whether comparative fault
principles apply if both plaintiff and defendant were