RAFFERTY v. CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE DINER FAMILY RESTAURANT, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Denying Defendant's 27 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider on 1/8/2021. (rss, )
Case 1:18-cv-12540-JS Document 32 Filed 01/08/21 Page 1 of 9 PageID: 262
[Doc. No. 27]
THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil No. 18-12540 (JS)
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE DINER
FAMILY RESTAURANT, INC.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on the “Motion for Summary
Judgment” (“motion”) [Doc. No. 27] filed by defendant Slades, Inc.
(“Restaurant” or “defendant”). The Court received the opposition
filed by plaintiff Theresa Rafferty [Doc. No. 30] and defendant’s
reply [Doc. No. 31]. Defendant seeks summary judgment on all claims
raised in plaintiff’s complaint. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
the parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court to hear
the case. [Doc. No. 17]. The Court exercises its discretion to
decide the motion without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78;
L. Civ. R. 78.1. For the reasons to be discussed, defendant’s
motion is DENIED.
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Plaintiff Theresa Rafferty filed this personal injury action
on August 8, 2018 against defendant. See Compl. [Doc. No. 1]; see
also Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 6]. Plaintiff’s cause of action arises
out of an alleged trip and fall that occurred on July 16, 2017 in
the parking lot of defendant’s restaurant. See Def.’s Statement of
Material Facts (“SMF”) ¶¶ 1-9 [Doc. No. 27-1]; Pl.’s Resp. to
Def.’s SMF [Doc. No. 30-2]. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that,
upon parking her car and preparing to enter defendant’s restaurant,
plaintiff “tripped and fell on a misaligned, misplaced, crooked,
unsecured parking [block] bumper in the parking lot and was caused
to sustain severe, multiple and permanent injuries attempting to
get out of her vehicle.” Pl.’s Suppl. Statement of Disputed Facts
(“SDF”) ¶ 3 [Doc. No. 30-3]. Defendant concedes that, in general,
it is responsible for maintaining the parking lot in a good state
of repair for the safety of prospective patrons such as plaintiff.
See Def.’s Reply at 3 [Doc. No. 31]. Defendant contends, however,
that plaintiff offers no evidence to demonstrate the existence of
a dangerous condition. See Mot. Br. at 3-7. In addition, while the
parties generally agree on the factual allegations underlying the
incident, plaintiff disputes certain contentions related to her
thereof, of the subject parking block bumper at the time she
tripped and fell. See Pl.’s Resp. to Def.’s SMF ¶¶ 5, 7.
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Defendant now seeks summary judgment on plaintiff’s complaint
contending plaintiff is unable to prove (1) that the parking block
bumper or the parking lot contained a dangerous condition and/or
(2) that defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the
condition that allegedly existed in the parking lot that caused
plaintiff’s injuries. See Mot. Br. at 2 [Doc. No. 27-2]. Defendant
also contends expert testimony is required to show the existence
of a dangerous condition and to prove its negligence, adding that
plaintiff has obtained no such expert. Id. at 4-7. Defendant avers
it purchased the restaurant in 1997 and that “[n]o changes were
made to the two side parking lots since the purchase,” which is
where the incident occurred. Def.’s SMF ¶¶ 10-11. Defendant further
avers that it received no complaints, before or after the incident,
regarding the position of its parking block bumpers. Mot. Br. at
3-7; Def.’s SMF ¶¶ 10-14. As such, defendant contends even if a
dangerous condition existed its motion should be granted, as the
record demonstrates defendant had no actual or constructive notice
of the dangerous condition alleged. Mot. Br. at 7-10.
Plaintiff opposes defendant’s motion contending it should be
denied as untimely. 1 See Pl.’s Opp’n at 2, 3-4 [Doc. No. 30].
Alternatively, plaintiff contends that the motion should be denied
because the record demonstrates there is a genuine question of
In the interests of justice, the Court will excuse defendant’s
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defendant’s parking lot, including the parking block bumper that
crooked, unsecured, and/or constituted a dangerous condition. Id.
at 2, 4-6. Last, plaintiff asserts that defendant is incorrect in
its assertion that an expert is required to prove its negligence,
and that the record demonstrates defendant had knowledge of an
alleged dangerous condition but failed to correct it. Id. at 1011.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate when, drawing all reasonable
inferences in the non-movant’s favor, there exists “no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). Summary judgment is
not appropriate, however, if the dispute over a material fact is
“genuine,” that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248. “[T]he substantive law will identify which facts
are material.” Id. at 248. Only disputes over facts that weigh on
the case’s outcome “will properly preclude the entry of summary
judgment.” Id. The Court must view all evidence and draw all
reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving
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party. See Startzell v. City of Philadelphia, 533 F.3d 183, 192
(3d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).
The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the
Court of the basis for its motion and demonstrating the absence of
a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once satisfied, the burden shifts to the
non-moving party to demonstrate “a genuine issue for trial.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (“[W]hether, in other words, there are
any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by
a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor
of either party.”). The party opposing summary judgment may not
“rest upon mere allegation[s] or denials of his pleading,” but
must set forth specific facts and evidence demonstrating a genuine
dispute for trial. Id. at 256; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A).
To establish a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must prove:
(1) a duty of care, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) proximate cause,
and (4) actual damages. See Weinberg v. Dinger, 524 A.2d 366, 373
(N.J. 1987). Accordingly, “in any case founded upon negligence,
the proofs ultimately must establish that defendant breached a
duty of reasonable care, which constituted a proximate cause of
the plaintiff’s injuries.” Brown v. Racquet Club of Bricktown, 471
A.2d 25, 29 (N.J. 1984). In a case such as this, based on premises
liability, the duty of care owed will depend on both defendant’s
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and plaintiff’s status. See, e.g., Kelly v. Beauty Sys. Grp., LLC,
C.A. No. 17-7480, 2019 WL 6696265, at *4 (D.N.J. Dec. 9, 2019).
Here, there is no dispute that defendant is the proprietor of
commercial premises, and plaintiff its invitee. Hopkins v. Fox &
Lazo Realtors, 625 A.2d 1110, 1113 (N.J. 1993) (stating an invitee
is an individual “invited on the premises for purposes of the owner
that often are commercial or business related”). “Business owners
owe to invitees a duty of reasonable or due care to provide a safe
environment for doing that which is within the scope of the
invitation.” Nisivoccia v. Glass Gardens, Inc., 818 A.2d 314, 316
(N.J. 2003). This duty “requires a business owner to discover and
eliminate dangerous conditions, to maintain the premises in safe
condition, and to avoid creating conditions that would render the
premises unsafe.” Id. (citing O’Shea v. K. Mart Corp., 701 A.2d
475 (N.J. Super Ct. App. Div. 1997)). As to the issue of breach,
“an injured plaintiff asserting a business owners breach of duty
of care must prove, as an element of the cause of action, that the
defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous
condition that caused the accident.” Nisivoccia, 818 A.2d at 316.
The pertinent issues here are whether the parking block bumper
constituted a dangerous condition and if so, whether defendant had
actual or constructive knowledge of the danger that it posed. While
defendant “admits knowledge of the existence of the yellow parking
blocks,” it denies its condition was dangerous or defective, and
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alleges that plaintiff fails to offer any proof to demonstrate the
existence of a dangerous condition. Def.’s Reply at 7. Defendant
further contends that, because the alleged dangerous condition has
not changed since it purchased the restaurant and because defendant
received no complaints regarding the condition, it could not have
had notice of the dangerous condition alleged. Id.; see Mot. Br.
at 7-10. The Court finds defendant’s arguments are unpersuasive.
In addition to the deposition testimony of defendant acknowledging
that the subject parking block bumper was positioned at a different
angle than those adjacent to it, plaintiff also submits numerous
photographs depicting the alleged condition. See Pl.’s Opp’n at 6.
These photographs, taken together with defendant’s testimony that
the alleged condition was in existence at the time the restaurant
was purchased, suggest the alleged defect was not only present at
the time of the incident but existed for a significant period of
This being the case, a jury may fairly infer that defendant
misaligned bumper created a dangerous condition.
A jury may
conclude that it was dangerous for a bumper to be located in an
area where a driver may exit from a vehicle. The issue is certainly
not so clear that its resolution should be taken away from the
jury. Further, whether plaintiff’s alleged comparative negligence
bars her claim is for the jury to decide.
Accordingly, the Court
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demonstrate a genuine question of material fact as to whether the
parking block bumper constituted a dangerous condition and whether
defendant knew or should have known of the danger that it posed.
See Bozza v. Vornado, Inc., 200 A.2d 777, 779 (N.J. 1964) (“Where
invitees have been injured by a dangerous condition on the premises
of a proprietor, our cases have stressed the proposition that the
proprietor is liable for injuries to an invitee . . . if the
condition had existed for such a length of time that he should
have known of its presence.”). The Court acknowledges defendant
served an expert report. However, focusing just on the substance
of the report, the jury will determine whether a defect existed,
not Dr. Cohen.
The Court also finds plaintiff does not need an expert in
order to prove defendant’s negligence. “The test of need of expert
testimony is whether the matter to be dealt with is so esoteric
that jurors of common judgment and experience cannot form a valid
judgment as to whether the conduct of the party was reasonable.”
Anand v. Club III at Mattix Forge Condo. Ass’n, Inc., C.A. No. A4684-16T3, 2018 WL 3893030, at *3 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Aug.
16, 2018) (citation omitted). Whether an expert witness is required
depends on whether the specific situation warrants it. See Scully
v. Fitzgerald, 843 A.2d 1110, 1118 (N.J. 2004) (“A jury does not
need a fire expert to explain to it the dangers that might follow
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when a lit cigarette is thrown into a pile of papers or other
regarding defendant’s premises does not warrant expert testimony.
technical and, as such, does not require an expert explanation in
order to be understood by jurors of common judgment and experience.
Further, contrary to defendant’s argument in its reply brief, this
defendant’s bumper was misaligned and should not have been present
in a location where a driver exiting a vehicle could trip and fall.
Accordingly, for all the foregoing reasons,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED this 8th day of January 2021, that
defendant’s “Motion for Summary Judgment” [Doc. No. 27] is DENIED. 2
s/ Joel Schneider
United States Magistrate Judge
To be clear, the Court is not weighing in on the merits of the
underlying claim. The Court is merely ruling that defendant’s
motion for summary judgment is denied.
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