Sidman v. Saje Builds, L.L.C. et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 109 MOTION for Summary Judgment Signed by Honorable James M. Munley on 1/12/18. (sm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
SAJE BUILDS, LLC and EZCADI
DESIGNS, LLC, a/k/a EZCADI
FURNITURE DESIGNS, LLC,
EZCADI DESIGNS, LLC, a/k/a
EZCADI FURNITURE DESIGNS, LLC, :
Third-Party Plaintiff :
ALAN AMERAL and COACHLIGHT
CONSTRUCTION INC. a/k/a
COACH LIGHT CONSTRUCTION,
Before the court for disposition is a motion for summary judgment filed by
Third-Party Defendants Alan Ameral and Coachlight Construction Inc. a/k/a
Coach Light Constriction in this negligence action. The motion is fully briefed and
ripe for disposition.
During the summer of 2012, Pocmont Resort and Conference Center
(hereinafter “Pocmont Resort”), a business facility located in Bushkill,
Pennsylvania, constructed a plan to fully renovate its conference center. (Doc. 1,
Compl. ¶ 8). In doing so, Pocmont Resort contracted with Saje Builds, LLC
(hereinafter “Saje Builds”). (Id. ¶ 9). Saje Builds was hired to design and install
moldings, cabinets, and general furnishings within the center. (Id.) In turn, Saje
Builds subcontracted with Ezcadi Designs, LLC to assist with these renovations.
(Id. ¶ 10). Due to the extensiveness of the renovations, Ezcadi Designs, LLC
later contacted Coachlight Construction, a company owned by Alan Ameral, to
also assist with the project. (Doc. 111, Def. Stmt. of Mat. Facts (hereinafter
“SOF”) ¶ 1).
One of the renovation projects was the remodeling a bar at Pocmont
Resort. (Id. ¶ 3). The remodeling involved installing wooden roll-up panels on
each side of the bar so that the liquor shelf could be closed when the bar was not
in use. (Id.) It is not established whether employees of Saje Builds, Ezcadi
Designs, or Coachlight Construction actually installed the panels; however, the
parties agree that bartenders of Pocmont Resort, Crystal Zicardo and Carmen
“Millie” Melvin took the panels down at some point after they were originally
installed. (Id. ¶ 6). The panels were then reinstalled by maintenance personnel.
(Id. ¶ 7).
Approximately one year later, in June 2013, Plaintiff Sherry Sidman, an
employee of Pocmont Resort, was injured when one of the wooden panels fell
and struck her on the head. (Doc. 115, Third Party Pl.’s SOF ¶ 10). In light of her
injuries, Plaintiff Sidman initiated this lawsuit in December 2014 against Saje
Builds and Ezcadi Designs alleging the negligent “researching, testing,
designing, developing, manufacturing, importing, marketing, advertising,
distributing, assembling, installing, and/or selling” of the wooden panels. (Doc. 1,
Compl. ¶ 21).
In July 2015, Ezcadi Designs (hereinafter “plaintiff”) filed the instant thirdparty lawsuit against the third-party defendants, Coachlight Construction and its
owner, Alan Ameral (hereinafter collectively referred to as “defendants”), alleging
one count of negligence.1 (Doc. 32, Third Party’s Compl.). Specifically, Ezcadi
Designs alleges that “Mr. Ameral of Coachlight Construction . . . was responsible
for and had the duty to check that the spring clips on the panel were properly
installed and properly attached and to ensure that the panel was secure.” (Doc.
115, Third Party Pl.’s SOF ¶ 11 (citing Doc. 32, Third Party Compl. ¶ 12)).
After the close of discovery, the defendants filed the pending motion for
summary judgment, bringing the case to its current posture.
As this memorandum deals with a motion for summary judgment on the thirdparty complaint, for simplicity and clarity we will refer to Ezcadi Designs as the
plaintiff, and Coachlight Construction and Alan Ameral as the defendants.
This case is before us based upon diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a). Cases are properly brought in federal district court under the diversity
statute when the action involves citizens of different states and an amount in
controversy, exclusive of interest and costs, in excess of $75,000.00. See 28
U.S.C. § 1332(a). Instantly, Original Plaintiff Sidman is a citizen of Pennsylvania.
(Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 1). Original Defendant Saje Builds is incorporated in the State
of Delaware, with its principal place of business in New York. (Id.) Original
Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff Ezcadi Designs is incorporated in the State of
New Jersey, with its principal place of business also being in New Jersey. (Id.)
As a federal court sitting in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania shall
apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir.
2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).
Summary judgment “should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d
335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there
be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original); Brown v. Grabowski, 922 F.2d 1097,
1111 (3d Cir. 1990).
A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would
affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Id.; Gray v. York
Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). An issue of material fact
is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v. Local 514,
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 927 F.2d 1283, 128788 (3d Cir. 1991).
The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the
absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1366 (3d
Cir. 1996). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must go
beyond the pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or
the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a
genuine issue. FED. R. CIV. P. 56; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (stating that the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts”); Wooler v. Citizens Bank, 274 F. A'ppx. 177, 179
(3d Cir. 2008). The party opposing the motion must produce evidence to show
the existence of every element essential to its case, which it bears the burden of
proving at trial, because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts
immaterial.” Id. at 323; see also Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d
Cir. 1992). “[T]he non-moving party ‘may not rely merely on allegations or denials
in its own pleadings; rather, its response must ... set out specific facts showing a
genuine issue for trial.’ ” Picozzi v. Haulderman, 2011 WL 830331, *2 (M.D. Pa.
2011) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)(2)). “Inferences should be drawn in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's
evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true.
Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America. Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d
The defendants argue that their motion for summary judgment should be
granted because the plaintiff cannot point to sufficient evidence to establish that
the defendants acted negligently. In Pennsylvania, the elements necessary to
plead an action in negligence are: (1) the existence of a duty or obligation
requiring a certain standard of conduct; (2) a failure to conform to that duty, or a
breach thereof; (3) a causal connection between the breach and the harm and
(4) actual loss or damage suffered. City of Philadelphia v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp.,
277 F.3d 415, 422 n.9 (3d Cir. 2002).
The defendants argue that the evidence here establishes that the
defendants owed no duty because they were not involved in designing the
wooden panel, the installer of the panel is unknown, and Defendant Alan Ameral
was not an acting supervisor when the panels were installed. Moreover, even if
there was negligence involved in the original installation, because the panel was
taken down by Pocmont Resort employees and then reinstalled by maintenance
personnel, any liability of the original installers is cut off by that superseding
event. In response, the plaintiff argues that: (1) because Ezcadi Designs has
included a claim for contribution and/or indemnification against the defendants,
we must view the facts liberally to determine if recovery “would be possible[;]”
and (2) there is a sufficiency of disputed facts in this matter to go before the trier
of fact on the issue of whether the defendants owed and breached a duty to the
plaintiff. We will address these issues in turn.
I. Claim for Contribution and/or Indemnification
The plaintiff has presented case law which, it argues, stands for the
proposition that there is a legal right to assert claims of contribution by a thirdparty plaintiff against a third-party defendant. As plaintiff points out, such
“impleader” is proper so long as under some construction of facts, recovery by
the third-party plaintiff would be possible. FED. RULE CIV. PROC. 14(A). In this
case, however, we do not find contention surrounding plaintiff’s initial joining of
the defendants to this litigation matter. The defendants did not move to have the
third-party complaint dismissed, thus plaintiff has proceeded with this third-party
Plaintiff also argues that we must deny the pending motion for summary
judgment and simply wait to see how the facts are adduced at trial. Plaintiff cites
to Gartner v. Lombard Bros., Inc. 197 F.2d 53 (3d Cir. 1952), remarking that the
trial court in that case granted the third-party defendant’s motion to dismiss a
claim of contribution. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal, which it deemed
premature, holding that at the motion to dismiss stage, plaintiff simply had to
make out, in its pleadings, a case on which, if the facts were developed, it could
recover. Id. at 55-56.
Plaintiff argues that the defendants “could be found to be liable as joint
tortfeasor[s]” and “the trier of fact could find that [Defendant] Ameral failed in his
contractual duty.” (Doc. 114, Pl.’s Br. in Opp. at 4-5). Such an argument may
have been appropriate at the motion to dismiss stage, like in Garther. However,
as we discussed in the previous section, the legal standard for a motion for
summary judgment, like the one before us, requires us to examine the facts that
have been adduced, not merely the allegations. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(C). As
such, we will proceed using the appropriate, more stringent standard.
II. Genuine Issue of Material Facts
The defendants argue that the plaintiff has not produced sufficient evidence
to demonstrate liability on their part, as the defendants did not design the
wooden panel nor does the evidence demonstrate that they were involved with
the installation. After a careful review of the record, we agree with the
defendants. At this stage in the proceedings, facts must be viewed in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a “genuine” dispute as to
those facts. Id. As we have emphasized, “[w]hen the moving party has carried its
burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there
is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts .... Where the record taken
as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party,
there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’ ” Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S at 586–587. “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported
motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue
of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 247–248. Further,
“when opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly
contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court
should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for
summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
The record is clear that the wooden panel at issue was not designed by the
defendants. Ezra Berger, owner of Plaintiff Ezcadi Designs, testified that a
company who is not a party to this litigation, One World Design, “designed the
whole project.” (Doc. 109-2, Exhibit D, Dep. of Ezra Berger at 51:23). Berger
further specified that he was the one who “designed the way the panel [was]
made.” (Id. at 56:5-6). Plaintiff argues that it is possible that the defendants
affirmed changes to the design of the wooden panel. Defendants argue that the
record does not support plaintiff’s argument. We agree with the defendants.
Thus, any negligence claim against the defendants would be with respect to the
installation of the wooden panel, not the design.
The record also contains no evidence that the defendants installed the
panel that caused injury to Sherry Sidman. The parties appear to agree,
therefore, that whether Defendant Alan Ameral was acting in a supervisory
position when he and his company, Coachlight Costruction, were performing
renovations for Pocmont Resort is critical to the negligence claim. Plaintiff argues
that because the parties disagree on this issue, it should be viewed as a genuine
issue of material fact. We disagree.
After a careful review of the record, we find insufficient evidence supporting
plaintiff’s position that Ameral was hired in a supervisory role to perform
renovations. Plaintiff’s entire argument relies on the deposition testimony of Ezra
Berger. Berger made several statements in his deposition relating to the liability
of Ameral, which the plaintiff argues are sufficient to demonstrate a genuine
issue of material fact. Berger testified that although there was no contract
between he and Ameral, he “believe[s] [Ameral] was hired in a supervisory
role[,]” and he “probably assumed” that Ameral installed the wooden panel. (Doc.
109-2, Exhibit D, Dep. of Ezra Berger at 25:24-25). This seemingly uncertain
testimony is inadequate to create a genuine dispute of material fact.
Further, Ameral denies acting in a supervisory role, and denies that he was
told by Berger that he was going to be a supervisor on the job. (Doc. 115, Exhibit
A, Dep. of Alan Ameral at 36:14-16). When asked if he was present when the
wooden panel was installed, he replied in the negative. (Id. at 52:9-10). When
asked if he was responsible for supervising anyone pertaining to the installation
of the wooden panel, he again replied in the negative. (Id. at 52:17-20).
Moreover, testimony from Shimon Rosenberg, a representative from Saje Builds,
indicates that an individual named Ralph Shoemaker was actually the designated
project supervisor, responsible for inspecting the work that was done by
subcontractors to make sure it was done in a workmanlike manner. (Doc. 120,
Exhibit A, Dep. of Shimon Rosenberg at 30:5-14 and 61:11-23).
Finally, as the defendants point out, while not controlling, we find it
persuasive that Original Plaintiff Sidman’s expert witness concluded that it was
not the defendants, but both Saje Builds and Ezcadi Designs that caused this
incident to occur. (Doc. 116, Exhibit F, Expert Report of Walter E. Green at 1718). Additionally, Green opined that Ezcadi Designs “failed to provide a clear
program for adequate supervision or coordination and to come to a clear
understanding with Alan Ameral as to responsibilities on the project.” (Id. at 18).
This witness, who was hired by the plaintiff to examine the incident site and
circumstances to determine the nature and cause of the incident failed to find any
liability on the part of the defendants. Our own examination of the record has led
us to the same conclusion.
Accordingly, in the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, we will
grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. An appropriate order
Date: January 12, 2018
_s/ James M. Munley_____
JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY
United States District Judge
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