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Parker v. Domino's Pizza - 629 So. 2d 1026 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1993)

Rule:

The nature and extent of the relationship of parties said to occupy the status of principal and agent presents a question of fact, and is not controlled by descriptive labels employed by the parties themselves.

Facts:

Jeffrey Todd Hoppock (Hoppock), while within the course and scope of his employment delivering pizza for J&B Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Domino's Pizza (J&B Enterprises), operated a vehicle in a reckless, negligent and careless manner, causing it to strike another vehicle. Appellants, Ralph and Ricky Parker, who were both pedestrians at the time of the incident, attempted to provide aid to the victims injured in the automobile accident; however, they were injured when a third vehicle hit them while they were helping the victims of the accident. Thereafter, the Parkers sought damages for the injuries they sustained. In their complaint, the Parkers alleged that at the time of the accident, J&B Enterprises and Hoppock, employer and employee, were operating as the agents, apparent agents, servants and/or employees of Domino’s Pizza, Inc. (Domino’s), and that Domino’s exercised control over all of the activities of its franchisee, J&B Enterprises, and thus, was vicariously liable for the negligence of J&B Enterprises and Hoppock. Domino’s moved for summary judgment based upon its position that at the time of the accident, Hoppock was an employee of J&B Enterprises, not Domino’s, and that neither J&B Enterprises nor Hoppock were employees of Domino's nor acting within the scope of any employment or agency relationship with Domino's. The trial court granted summary judgment, holding that, as a matter of law, J&B Enterprises was an independent contractor, as provide in paragraph 45 of the franchise agreement between the parties. Consequently, the trial court held that Domino’s could not be held vicariously liable for the negligence of J&B Enterprises, its agent and employees. The Parkers challenged the decision, arguing that genuine issues of fact concerning the legal relationships among Domino’s, J&B Enterprises and Hoppock precluded summary judgment.

Issue:

Were there genuine, material issues of fact regarding the nature and extent of the relationship of the defendants that precluded summary judgment?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court reversed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants, holding that the nature and extent of the relationship of parties said to occupy the status of principal and agent presented a question of fact, and was not controlled by descriptive labels employed by the parties themselves. The Court held that it was error to determine as a matter of law that Domino’s did not retain the right to control the means to be used by its franchisee to accomplish the required tasks. The Court averred that, at the very least, the franchise agreement and operating manual between parties raised a genuine and material question of fact. Hence, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion.

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