HERRERA v. MURPHY et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Stanley R. Chesler on 11/17/2020. (ams, )
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NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
JOSE A. HERRERA,
QUINLAN L. MURPHY, et al.,
Civil Action No. 17-4293 (SRC)
CHESLER, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by
Defendant Steven V. Murphy, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiff Jose A.
Herrera opposes the motion. The Court has reviewed the papers submitted and proceeds to rule
without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons that
follow, Defendant Steven Murphy’s motion for summary judgment will be granted.
This negligence action arises from a motor vehicle accident. On July 3, 2015, at
approximately 2:15 a.m., a 2004 Ford Explorer (hereinafter, the “Explorer”) driven by Plaintiff
Jose Herrera collided with a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta (the “Jetta”) driven by Defendant Quinnlyn
Murphy (pled as “Quinlan Murphy”) in Jersey City, New Jersey. Defendant Steven Murphy is
Quinnlyn’s father. Steven Murphy was not involved in the car accident. He did, however, own
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At the time of the accident, Quinnlyn Murphy and three friends were on their way to
Watchung, New Jersey, after leaving a concert they had attended in New York City. As the Jetta
entered the intersection of Center and Grand Streets in Jersey City, Ms. Murphy observed the
Explorer approaching at what she has described as a high rate of speed. Ms. Murphy asserts that
she applied the brakes and brought the Jetta to a stop, but the Explorer continued moving. Ms.
Murphy further asserts that the Explorer entered the intersection and struck the front of the Jetta.
Mr. Herrera, a resident of New Jersey, filed this lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court on
or about January 23, 2017, seeking relief for personal injuries, property damage, and lost wages
he allegedly sustained as a result of the accident. The Complaint pleads two causes of action: a
negligence claim against Quinnlyn Murphy and a negligent entrustment claim against Steven
Murphy. Defendants, who are both residents of Vermont, thereafter removed the action to this
Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).
Defendant Steven Murphy now moves for summary judgment on the negligent
A. Legal Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) sets the standard the Court must apply to the
motion for summary judgment. Rule 56(a) provides that a “court shall grant summary judgment
if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986) (construing the similarly worded Rule 56(c), predecessor to the
current summary judgment standard set forth in Rule 56(a)). It is well-established that a factual
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dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant and material if,
under the substantive law, the dispute would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district
court “must view the evidence ‘in the light most favorable to the opposing party.’” Tolan v.
Cotton, 134 S. Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157
(1970)). It may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir.
2004) (holding same).
Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the nonmoving party must establish
the existence of a genuine issue as to a material fact in order to defeat the motion. Jersey Cent.
Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Twp., 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). To create a genuine
issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must come forward with sufficient evidence to allow
a jury to find in its favor at trial. Gleason v. Norwest Mortg., Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir.
2001), overruled on other grounds by Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Cent. Pension Fund of the Int’l
Union of Operating Eng’rs and Participating Emp’rs, 134 S. Ct. 773 (2014). The party opposing
a motion for summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations; instead, it must present actual
evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see
also Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990) (holding that
“unsupported allegations in [a] memorandum and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary
judgment”). Indeed, Rule 56(c)(1) expressly requires a party who asserts that a fact is genuinely
disputed to support that assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including
depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion
only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B)
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showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence
of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible
evidence to support the fact.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1) (emphasis added). If the non-movant fails to “properly support an
assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party’s assertion of fact as required by Rule
56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
B. Negligent Entrustment
In his motion for summary judgment, Steven Murphy argues that his mere ownership of
the Jetta and his family relationship with his daughter are insufficient to establish a prima facie
claim of negligent entrustment against him. He maintains that, to prevail on the claim, Plaintiff
must prove both (1) that Quinnlyn Murphy was acting as an agent of her father, Steven Murphy,
at the time of the accident and (2) that he was negligent in entrusting Quinnlyn with the use of
the Jetta. Mr. Murphy contends that Plaintiff has proffered no evidence of either essential
Mr. Murphy is correct. It is well-established under New Jersey law that “the owner of a
motor vehicle is not liable for the negligence of the operator the vehicle, unless the operator is
acting as the owner’s agent or employee.” Haggerty v. Cedeno, 279 N.J. Super. 607, 609 (App.
Div. 1995). Agency cannot be based on the mere fact that owner and operator have a family
relationship, even when the vehicle owner has given his or her relative permission to use the
vehicle. See Willet v. Ifrah, 298 N.J. Super. 218, 220 (App. Div. 1997); see also Guzy v. Gandel,
95 N.J. Super. 34, 36 (App. Div. 1967) (holding that “[t]he mere existence of the relationship of
parent and child does not render a parent liable for his child’s torts.”). Rather, an agency
relationship arises only if one family member is acting for another, that is, if the alleged
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tortfeasor was engaged in an action for a “family purpose.” Willet, 298 N.J. Super. at 220. New
Jersey courts have held that “when one is on his own business, convenience or pleasure, he is
acting solely for himself and not for any ‘family purpose.’” Id. (citing various cases holding
same). Accordingly, in Willet, the Appellate Division applied the family purpose test in a motor
vehicle accident action to find that there was no basis for holding the defendant vehicle owner
liable for his son’s negligent operation of the vehicle. Id. The Willet court held that an agency
relationship was not created by the parent’s mere furnishing of the vehicle to his son for use as
his transportation to and from school. Id. Because the Willet plaintiff had failed to proffer
evidence of that the vehicle owner’s son was acting for a family purpose, the Appellate Division
held that the plaintiff had failed to establish an agency relationship and accordingly reversed
summary judgment for the plaintiff. Id. Likewise, in this action, Mr. Herrera fails to proffer
evidence that Quinnlyn Murphy was acting for a family purpose when operating the Jetta at the
time of the subject accident. Indeed, the uncontroverted evidence belies any assertion that an
agency relationship existed between Steven Murphy and his daughter with respect to her
operation of the vehicle. Plaintiff concedes that at the time of the accident, that is, approximately
2:15 a.m. on July 3, 2015, Quinnlyn Murphy and her friends were on their way to Watchung,
New Jersey after leaving a concert they attended in New York City. Based on the evidence in the
record, no reasonable juror could conclude that Ms. Murphy was acting for a family purpose
while operating Mr. Murphy’s vehicle. Thus, as a matter of law, there is no genuine issue of fact
concerning Mr. Murphy’s lack of liability for Quinnlyn Murphy’s alleged negligence.
Moreover, insofar as Plaintiff is asserting that Steven Murphy’s wrongdoing was not
merely vicarious, but rather based on the theory that he was actively negligent in entrusting
Quinnlyn Murphy with the Jetta, the claim fails for lack of evidence. The New Jersey Supreme
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Court recognized this theory of liability in a case involving a motor vehicle accident which
occurred while the vehicle was in the possession of an employee of the vehicle owner defendant.
See Mead v. Wiley M.E. Church, 4 N.J. 200 (1950). The Mead Court held as follows: “The
owner of an automobile may be liable for injury from the operation of that car placed in the
hands of one he knows or ought reasonably to know is incompetent to operate it so that the
owner ought reasonably to anticipate that in its operation injury will be done to others.” Id. at
206 (emphasis added). Thus, to prevail on a negligent entrustment claim, a plaintiff must, at a
minimum, come forward with evidence of the vehicle operator’s incompetence. Id. In this case,
Mr. Herrera does not proffer evidence creating a genuine dispute as to this material fact. He
argues that a reasonable jury could find that Steven Murphy was negligent in light of the fact that
Quinnlyn Murphy was, at the time of the accident, only 17 years old, an inexperienced driver,
and, as resident of Vermont, unfamiliar with the roads in New Jersey. However, the driver’s age
and inexperience, without more, cannot support a conclusion of incompetence. As Defendant
points out, the record indisputably shows that, at the time of the accident, Quinnlyn Murphy had
a valid driver’s license, demonstrating her legal qualification to drive. Further, Plaintiff comes
forward with no evidence that Ms. Murphy suffered from any medical conditions that would
interfere with her ability to drive or that she had a history of motor vehicle violations, such that a
jury could arguably conclude that Mr. Murphy knew or should have known she was incompetent
to operate a motor vehicle.
Additionally, the Court must draw attention to the utter deficiency of Plaintiff’s
opposition, which lacks citations to evidence in the record indicating a factual dispute. Plaintiff
fails to comply with Local Civil Rule 56.1, which requires the party opposing summary
judgment to “furnish, with its opposition papers, a responsive statement of material facts,
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addressing each paragraph of the movant’s statement, indicating agreement or disagreement and,
if not agreed, stating each material fact in dispute and citing to the affidavits and other
documents submitted in connection with the motion.” L. Civ. R. 56.1(a). The local rule proceeds
to warn that “any material fact not disputed [in such a responsive statement] shall be deemed
undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment motion.” Id. Indeed, this consequence echoes
Rule 56, which similarly provides that “if a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or
fails to properly address another party’s assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may
. . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).
In spite of the opposition’s deficiencies, the Court has searched the record before it and
considered all facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Even so, it finds no genuine dispute of
material fact. Defendant Steven Murphy has demonstrated that he is entitled to summary
judgment, pursuant to Rule 56(a).
For the reasons discussed, Defendant Steven Murphy’s motion for summary judgment
will be granted. An appropriate order will be filed.
s/ Stanley R. Chesler
STANLEY R. CHESLER
United States District Judge
Dated: November 17, 2020
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