Ellis v. Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110403

Ellis v. Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110403

Louisa R. Ellis, PPA Elizabeth Ellis and Elizabeth Ellis, Plaintiffs, v. Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., Defendant.

Civil No. 3:12cv515(AWT)

United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110403

August 11, 2014, Decided

August 11, 2014, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Louisa R. Ellis, ppa Elizabeth Ellis, Elizabeth Ellis, Plaintiffs: James V. Sabatini, Megan Leigh Piltz, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Sabatini & Associates, Newington, CT.

For Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., Defendant: Katherine L. Matthews, Renee Wocl Dwyer, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Gordon, Muir & Foley, Hartford, CT.

JUDGES: Alvin W. Thompson, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Alvin W. Thompson

OPINION

RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This action arises out of injuries suffered by the minor plaintiff, Louisa Ellis (the “Camper”), when she fell from a horse while participating in activities at a day camp operated by the defendant, Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc. (“Camp Mohawk”). The plaintiffs’ complaint consists of two counts, one for negligence and one for consequential damages. Camp Mohawk has moved for summary judgment on both counts. For the reasons set forth below, the defendant’s motion is being granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On July 18, 2011, the Camper participated in a horseback riding lesson while attending Camp Mohawk’s day camp in Cornwall, Connecticut. During this lesson, the Camper was assigned a pony, named Geri, to ride. The plaintiffs claim that the Camper was given a pony rather than a horse because Camp Mohawk [*2] did not have enough horses for all of the campers to ride. At some point during the lesson, the Camper lost control of the pony and was thrown over the pony’s shoulder or head. The Camper allegedly had her hands caught in the pony’s reins when she fell.

The complaint alleges that the Camper’s fall, as well as the injuries and losses the plaintiffs have suffered as a result of the fall, were caused by Camp Mohawk’s negligence. Specifically, the plaintiffs list 10 ways in which they believe Camp Mohawk was negligent with respect to the Camper’s horseback riding lesson:

(a) In that the pony was of an insufficient size for the plaintiff to properly and safely ride;

(b) In that the plaintiff’s weight and/or height exceed the reasonably safe riding weight for the pony assigned to the plaintiff;

(c) In that the riding equipment on the pony (the stirrups) were improperly installed or fitted thereby rendering the pony unsafe for the plaintiff to ride;

(d) In that the pony was not adequately and/or properly trained thus rendering the pony unsafe and hazardous for the plaintiff to ride;

(e) In [*3] that the pony was of a disobedient disposition thereby causing the pony to be unsafe for riding by the plaintiff;

(f) In that the defendant failed to properly or adequately train and instruct its employees;

(g) In that the defendant failed to properly and adequately supervise the camp students including the plaintiff;

(h) In that the defendant failed to properly or []adequately instruct or teach the camp students including the plaintiff on how to safely and properly ride on a pony;

(i) In that the defendant failed to warn the plaintiff of the dangers and hazards associated with riding the pony; and

(j) In that the defendant could not have reasonably assumed that the plaintiff, a minor, possessed the experience and judgment necessary to fully appreciate the dangerous condition of the pony and/or the full extent of the risk involved.

(Complaint (Doc. No. 1), at 3-4.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried and that the facts as to which there is no such issue warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); [*4] Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). Rule 56(a) “mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must respect the province of the jury. The court, therefore, may not try issues of fact. See, e.g., Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Donahue v. Windsor Locks Bd. of Fire Comm’rs, 834 F.2d 54, 58 (2d Cir. 1987); Heyman v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co., 524 F.2d 1317, 1319-20 (2d Cir. 1975). It is well-established that “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of the judge.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Thus, the trial court’s task is “carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined . . . to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution.” Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224.

Summary [*5] judgment is inappropriate only if the issue to be resolved is both genuine and related to a material fact. Therefore, the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment. An issue is “genuine . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (internal quotation marks omitted). A material fact is one that would “affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. As the Court observed in Anderson: “[T]he materiality determination rests on the substantive law, [and] it is the substantive law’s identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.” Id. Thus, only those facts that must be decided in order to resolve a claim or defense will prevent summary judgment from being granted. When confronted with an asserted factual dispute, the court must examine the elements of the claims and defenses at issue on the motion to determine whether a resolution of that dispute could affect the disposition of any of those claims or defenses. Immaterial or minor facts will not prevent summary [*6] judgment. See Howard v. Gleason Corp., 901 F.2d 1154, 1159 (2d Cir. 1990).

When reviewing the evidence on a motion for summary judgment, the court must “assess the record in the light most favorable to the non-movant and . . . draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co. v. Consol. Rail Corp., 902 F.2d 174, 177 (2d Cir. 1990)). Because credibility is not an issue on summary judgment, the nonmovant’s evidence must be accepted as true for purposes of the motion. Nonetheless, the inferences drawn in favor of the nonmovant must be supported by the evidence. “[M]ere speculation and conjecture is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Stern v. Trs. of Columbia Univ., 131 F.3d 305, 315 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Western World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d. Cir. 1990)). Moreover, the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant’s] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which [a] jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

Finally, the nonmoving party cannot [*7] simply rest on the allegations in its pleadings since the essence of summary judgment is to go beyond the pleadings to determine if a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. “Although the moving party bears the initial burden of establishing that there are no genuine issues of material fact,” Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 41, if the movant demonstrates an absence of such issues, a limited burden of production shifts to the nonmovant, who must “demonstrate more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, . . . [and] must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Aslanidis v. United States Lines, Inc., 7 F.3d 1067, 1072 (2d Cir. 1993) (quotation marks, citations and emphasis omitted). Furthermore, “unsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact.” Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 41. If the nonmovant fails to meet this burden, summary judgment should be granted.

III. DISCUSSION

Camp Mohawk argues that summary judgment is appropriate here because expert testimony is required to establish the standard of care and breach of duty with respect to instruction in horseback riding, and the plaintiff has not offered [*8] a relevant opinion from a qualified expert.

A. Whether Expert Testimony is Required

“In this diversity action, the question of whether or not expert testimony is required to prove negligence is a question of [Connecticut] State law.” Conte v. Usalliance Federal Credit Union, Civ. No. 3:01-cv-463(EBB), 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82908, 2007 WL 3355381, at *3 (D. Conn. Nov. 8, 2007) (citing Beaudette v. Louisville Ladder, Inc., 462 F.3d 22, 27 (1st Cir. 2006) (“In a diversity action, whether expert testimony is required is a matter of state law[.]”)). The Connecticut Supreme Court has stated on multiple occasions that “[e]xpert testimony is required ‘when the question involved goes beyond the field of the ordinary knowledge and experience of judges or jurors.'” LePage v. Horne, 262 Conn. 116, 125, 809 A.2d 505 (2002) (quoting Bader v. United Orthodox Synagogue, 148 Conn. 449, 454, 172 A.2d 192 (1961)) (emphasis in original); see also Santopietro v. City of New Haven, 239 Conn. 207, 226, 682 A.2d 106 (“If the determination of the standard of care requires knowledge that is beyond the experience of an ordinary fact finder, expert testimony will be required.”); State v. McClary, 207 Conn. 233, 245, 541 A.2d 96 (1988) (holding that expert testimony is required when a matter is [*9] “manifestly beyond the ken of the average trier of fact, be it judge or jury”).

Thus, the issue the court must resolve is whether the answers to the questions presented by the allegations of negligence in the plaintiffs’ complaint are beyond the ordinary understanding, knowledge, or experience of the average judge or juror. The court concludes that the questions at issue here are such that the answers are beyond such understanding, knowledge and experience. The Connecticut Appellate Court reached a similar conclusion in Keeney v. Mystic Valley Hunt Club, Inc., 93 Conn. App. 368, 889 A.2d 829 (2006). The court in Keeney found that

the proper method of teaching a novice rider, the qualification necessary to be a competent and qualified instructor of a novice rider, whether to instruct such a rider to remove her or his feet from the stirrups, [and] where those stirrups should then be placed . . . are not matters within the common knowledge of the jury but, rather, are specialized matters unique to the profession of those teaching novice riders.

Id. at 376. These questions are either the same as or substantially similar to the majority of those raised by the plaintiffs in their complaint. See also Raudat v. Leary, 88 Conn. App. 44, 868 A.2d 120 (2005) [*10] (holding that expert testimony was required on the issue of whether a horse was one “that is incompletely broken or trained”) (internal quotation marks omitted)). In Keeney the court explained that “[t]he plaintiffs’ allegations in the present case are akin to allegations of professional negligence or malpractice . . . . because the defendant was rendering specialized professional service to the plaintiff.” Keeney, 93 Conn. App. at 375. The court observed that “[w]e are well into the age of the automobile, and the general public in the twenty-first century is not generally as acquainted with horsemanship as it arguably was at the beginning of the twentieth century.” Id. Therefore, the court concluded, it was necessary “for the plaintiffs to produce expert testimony to establish both the standard of care to which the defendant was to be held and a breach of that standard.” Id. at 376.

The same reasoning is applicable here. The services being provided by the defendant, i.e. horseback riding lessons to minor children, are specialized and beyond the ordinary understanding, knowledge and experience of jurors. Since Keeny, the general public has not become more familiar with horsemanship or [*11] the appropriate method for teaching minors how to ride horses. Therefore, the issues raised by the plaintiffs’ contentions as to all the ways in which Camp Mohawk was negligent require expert testimony.

The plaintiffs’ arguments to the contrary are not persuasive. The plaintiffs point to three issues they claim do not require expert testimony: “whether [the Camper] was too big to be riding Geri the pony to begin with”; “whether [the Camper’s] stirrups were properly adjusted prior to beginning her lesson”; and “whether Geri the pony was disobedient.” (Pl.’s Mem. Opp. Mot. Summ. J. (Doc. No. 48) (“Pl.’s Mem.”), at 10-11.) In support of this contention, the plaintiffs point to excerpts of deposition testimony by a number of witnesses that included substantially similar statements. However, the mere existence of a lay opinion regarding a particular issue does not obviate the necessity of an expert opinion on that same issue, if an expert opinion is required in the first place. None of the deponents cited are the plaintiffs’ expert. Therefore, their testimony does not suffice to create a genuine issue of material fact as to these issues.

B. Whether the Plaintiffs’ Expert is Qualified

The defendants [*12] argue that because expert testimony is required on the issues raised by the plaintiffs’ contentions, summary judgment should be granted because the only expert the plaintiffs have identified is not qualified to give an expert opinion on those issues. The court agrees.

Under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 a witness may serve as an expert if he or she “is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” Among other requirements, “the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge [must] help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Id. The plaintiffs have disclosed Corey Andres of Robson Forensic as their expert. His expert report contains a description of his education and experience. He has no education, training, or experience related to horseback riding. In fact, there is no mention of “horses” or “horseback riding” anywhere in his curriculum vitae.

In 1998, Andres received a Bachelor’s of Education with a major in therapeutic recreation and a minor in psychology. He received a Master’s of Education with a major in therapeutic arts in 1999. In 2005, Andres received a Master’s of Arts in educational [*13] policy and leadership; in connection with that degree, he participated in the Principal Licensure Cohort Program. His work experience is comprised of working as a graduate teaching assistant from 1998 to 1999 (where his focus was community recreation programming), working as a 4th and 5th grade teacher from 2001 to 2002, and working as an intervention specialist teacher at a high school in Ohio from 2002 to the present; in that capacity he leads a department of 36 professionals that serve special needs students. Since 2010 he has also been an associate at Robson Forensic, Inc.

In high school and college, Andres was involved with football, lacrosse, track, tennis and various intramural sports, in addition to being a certified lifeguard. He worked at a summer camp in 1995 instructing skills and techniques of golf, basketball, baseball, waterfront activities and tennis. He subsequently worked at camps in a number positions during the period from 1995 to 2008 and taught weightlifting and lacrosse. He has coached lacrosse and also served as a weight room supervisor, giving instructions on proper lifting techniques and exercises.

His resume indicates that his work for Robson Forensic, Inc. [*14] has involved providing technical investigations, analysis reports and testimony in connection with commercial and personal injury litigation involving: school administration, child supervision, recreation and sports programing, coaching, camp supervision and administration, weight training and athletic conditioning.

The only indication that he has had any involvement whatsoever with horseback riding is the fact that at page 6 of his report he cites in footnotes three publications on which he has relied in preparing his report.

At issue in Keeney was whether the plaintiff’s riding instructor was negligent in providing an unsafe instruction to a novice rider. The court concluded that the trial court had not abused its discretion in precluding the proposed expert witness from testifying about the appropriate standard for a riding instructor to teach a young novice rider, explaining

The issue in this case, however, was whether Heather Keeney’s riding instructor was negligent in providing an unsafe instruction to this novice rider. The expert, although having been a certified horse riding instructor since 1973, testified that she had not trained young novice riders in more than twenty years, [*15] had taken no refresher courses in training students, had no specialized training in the use of lunge lines with novice riders, had never prepared any instructional or training materials for instructors, had never served on a safety committee and had never taught riding instructors. On the basis of this testimony, we cannot conclude that the court abused its discretion in precluding this witness from testifying as to the appropriate standard for a riding instructor to teach a young novice rider.

93 Conn. App. 372-73.

Andres falls far short of having the qualifications possessed by the proffered expert in Keeney. Because expert testimony is required for the plaintiffs to establish their case and they have failed to produce a qualified expert, they have failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to any of the issues raised in the complaint, and the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 43) is hereby GRANTED.

The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of defendant Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc. as to all the claims in the complaint and close this case.

It is so ordered.

Dated this [*16] 11th day of August, 2014, at Hartford, Connecticut.

/s/ Alvin W. Thompson

United States District Judge


Scheck v. Soul Cycle East 83rd Street, LLC, 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3719; 2012 NY Slip Op 32021(U)

Scheck v. Soul Cycle East 83rd Street, LLC, 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3719; 2012 NY Slip Op 32021(U)

[**2] Wolf Scheck and Lynn Scheck, Plaintiff(s), -against- Soul Cycle East 83rd Street, LLC d/b/a Soulcycle and Julie Rice, Defendant(s). Index No.: 104046/10

104046/10

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY

2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3719; 2012 NY Slip Op 32021(U)

July 26, 2012, Decided

August 2, 2012, Filed

NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.

CORE TERMS: bike, spin, cycle, wheel, brake, leg, assumption of risk, pedal, shoes, summary judgment, stationary, feet, gym, instructor, beginner, clerk’s, resistance, bicycle, spinner, front, heightened, sport, weighted, regular, street, online, minutes, rider, issues of fact, risks inherent

JUDGES: [*1] PRESENT: Hon. Judith J. Gische, J.S.C.

OPINION BY: Judith J. Gische

OPINION

Decision/Order

Upon the foregoing papers, the decision and order of the court is as follows:

Gische J.:

This is a negligence action for personal injuries. Now that issue has been joined and the note of issue was filed, defendants move for summary judgment. Plaintiffs raise the issue of the untimeliness of this motion, arguing that the motion was brought more than 120 days after the Note of Issue was served and filed.

CPLR 3212 provides that any party may move for summary judgment after issue has been joined and, If no date is set by the court, such motion shall be made “no later than [120 days] after the filing of the note of issue…” SCROLL (the Supreme Court Records On Line Library) shows that the Note of Issue was stamped “received” in the [**3] Trial Support Office on June 27, 2011, but the fee was paid and accepted by the New York County Clerk’s Office on June 29, 2011. Defendant’s motion was served by mail on October 26, 2011. A motion on notice is “made” when it is served (CPLR 2211). Papers are filed when they are delivered to the court clerk or the clerk’s designee (see Matter of Grant v. Senkowski, 95 N.Y.2d 605, 744 N.E.2d 132, 721 N.Y.S.2d 597 [2001]). Furthermore, [*2] not only does the Note of Issue have to be filed with the County Clerk, it must be accompanied by the payment of the appropriate fee, as prescribed by CPLR 8020 (Uniform Civil Rules for the Supreme Court and the County Court, 22 NYCRR 202.21).

Since the Note of Issue was paid for and filed with the County Clerk on June 29, 2011, and defendants’ motion was “made” on October 26, 2011, when it was served by mail, it was timely made within the 120 day statutory period (CPLR 3212 [a]; Gazes v. Bennett, 38 A.D.3d 287, 835 N.Y.S.2d 1 [1st Dept 2007]; see also, Nolan v. J.C.S. Realty, 79 AD3d 414, 910 N.Y.S.2d 906 [1st Dept 2011]). The motion, therefore, will be decided on its merits (CPLR § 3212; Brill v. City of New York, 2 NY3d 648, 814 N.E.2d 431, 781 N.Y.S.2d 261 [2004]).

Facts and Arguments

This action arises from events that occurred on December 25, 2009 (“date of the accident”) at “Soulcycle,” located on 83rd Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan during an indoor cycling class. The complaint alleges that Wolf Scheck was injured while in this “spin” class. According to Mr. Scheck, taking a spin class is not the same as just riding a regular street bicycle or stationary bicycle found at any gym. He did not, however, know this before he took the class. [*3] Mr. Scheck contends he was not properly instructed or supervised in how to use the equipment and that this constitutes negligence on the part of the defendants. Mr. Scheck denies he assumed the risk of [**4] injury just by participating in the class. He claims that the danger of this activity was not readily apparent to the casual observer and was increased by the defendants’ actions.

Defendants are Soul Cycle East 83rd Street, LLC (“Soul Cycle”), the company that owns, maintains, operates, etc., the Soul Cycle facility where the accident is claimed to have occurred and Julie Rice (“Rice”), a member of the Soul Cycle LLC. Defendants contend they are entitled to summary judgment dismissing the complaint because Mr. Scheck, by voluntarily participating in Soul Cycle’s spin class assumed the risks inherent to the participation of that recreational activity, thereby relieving them of any duty to prevent the type of accident he complains of. Defendants deny they improperly instructed Mr. Scheck in the use of the equipment. Defendants seek the dismissal of all claims against Ms. Rice on the basis that she was not personally involved in the happening of the accident and there are no factual allegations [*4] against Ms. Rice individually. They maintain she is corporate officer.

Mr. Scheck and Mrs. Scheck1 were each deposed about the accident. Mr. Scheck testified at his EBT that his wife suggested they try a spin class. Mrs. Scheck testified at her EBT that friends had told her how they lost weight “spinning” and she was eager to try it. Neither of the Schecks had any idea what it meant to “spin” or what kind of bicycle was involved. Both of them, however, have regular exercise routines. Mr. Scheck is a two-time marathon runner, he does weight training and plays tennis. Each of the Schecks has a gym membership and has belonged to other gyms in the past.

1 Mrs. Scheck has a derivative claims for loss of consortium/services.

Mrs. Scheck registered the couple for the class online after calling the facility and [**5] asking some questions. She was told on the phone they should come to class 15 minutes early so staff could go through “the whole [regimen] for you and explain everything carefully, because I said I don’t want there to be anything that goes wrong.” When Mr. Scheck arrived for the spin class, his wife was already there. He did not check himself in or do anything other than put his things [*5] in a locker. Mrs. Scheck testified that when she arrived, she learned that Soul Cycle showed only one of them was registered for the class, even though she had payed online for two participants. Apparently that was corrected and both Mr. and Mrs. Scheck were allowed to take the class.

Once inside the classroom, a female employee approached them and asked whether they had done a spin class before. Each of them said no. Mr. Scheck testified this person suggested they sit in the back because it might be easier for them to watch what everyone else was doing. This person told Mr. Scheck to get on the bike while she adjusted the seat for him. She also showed him where the brake was, but not how to use it. Mr. Scheck testified that he did not test the brake out to see how it worked. This process took about two (2) minutes. Noticing that he was not wearing the correct shoes, the female employee told Mr. Scheck to go get bike shoes from the front desk, which he did. These shoes (later described by others who were deposed), have a cleat that locks the rider’s shoes to the pedals, preventing their feet from slipping off.

The female employee who taught the class, later identified as Marybeth Regan, [*6] was someone different than the person who had shown Mr. Scheck the equipment. Ms. Regan was seated at the front of the class on a raised platform. Once the class was under way, some of the cyclists started pedaling very fast. Mr. Scheck, however, [**6] maintained a slow pace, pedaling very slowly. Five (5) or ten (2) minutes into the class, the instructor told the cyclists to stand up for the next exercise. Scheck obliged and as he raised himself with his right leg elevated and his left leg extended, “the machine grabbed my [right] leg and pulled it around…” The pedals kept revolving, almost on their own, all the while with Scheck’s feet strapped in. Scheck heard a “pop” and intense pain. One or two persons help extricate him from the bike and he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. He later discovered he had torn the quadriceps muscle in his right leg.

Madison Warren worked at the 83rd Street facility. She was the front desk associated on the day of the accident. Ms. Warren testified at her EBT that there were only three (3) people working that day, including herself, because it was Christmas Day. Ms. Warren was asked about the procedures for purchasing classes online and what new [*7] spinners usually do when they arrive for a class. According to Ms. Warren, new spinners are asked to sit in back of the class and this is reflected in a sheet showing that the Schecks were moved from one set of bikes to another in the back. She also testified that when purchasing classes online, someone can buy more than one class, or classes for more than one person. It is required, however, that the person making the purchase check a box indicating s/he has seen the waiver before s/he can complete the transaction. A hard copy of the waiver is at the front desk and participants are asked to sign and initial them upon arrival. Ms. Warren did not know whether Mr. Scheck was handed a hard copy of the waiver when he arrived for the spin class. No log of who trains each new person is maintained by the facility, Generally, the instructor teaches to the skill level of the class: if there are many beginners, the class is easier. Regardless, of the overall skill level, instructors usually warn beginners not to get up out [**7] of the saddle. Ms. Warren testified that there is a training manual instructing staff on what to do with beginner/new spinners. Among the instructions is; 1) offer them water, [*8] 2) provide free shoes, and 3) set up the bike for them. It is also required that the resistance knob and brake mechanisms be described and the new rider is instructed to “stay in the saddles if they’re uncomfortable.” Ms. Warren does not recall who assisted Mr. Scheck that day and the two employees who worked there on the day of the accident are no longer with the company.

Ms. Regan, the Soul Ccycle instructor, recalls helping Mrs. Scheck get her bike ready for the class and spending a lot of time with this particular student. She testified she has a “spiel” she gives to beginners, consisting of how to use the resistance, where the emergency brake is and assuring them that there is no need to keep up with anyone else. Although she gave these instructions to Mrs. Scheck, she does not recall telling Mr. Scheck the same thing. Ms. Regan states she always asks beginners to raise their hand so she can spot them and keep an eye on them. She does not recall whether Mr. Scheck raised his hand or, if he did, whether she saw him.

Ms. Warren and Ms. Regan were each separately asked to describe the differences between a spin bike and a stationary bike. Ms. Warren responded that, unlike a regular [*9] bicycle, a spin cycle has a single fixed wheel. Unlike a regular stationary bike, each pedal will result in one revolution of the wheel. Ms. Warren testified that she had never ridden with anyone else who had used a similar bicycle. So long as the front wheel is spinning. The only way to stop the wheel from turning, and the pedals from turning as well, is to use the break. A rider cannot keep both feet still [**8] and let the wheel spin. Just pushing with your feet to attempt to stop the wheel Is futile “unless you have very strong legs.”

Ms. Regan testified that instructs beginners that the bike has a weighted wheel and “you know [how] on a bike you can coast and stop your legs, Not on this. It’s a weighted wheel, so if you stop your legs you’re going to keep going. So you need to either turn the resistance up, or push down on the brake.” standing up in the saddle, it is important that a rider not lean on the handlebars because “you can fall forward…” She also stated that the special shoes Mr. Scheck was wearing bound his feet to the pedals and, if you fall forward, “the legs would keep going…” from the momentum “until you push down on the brake.” Ms. Regan specifically recalled that [*10] did not give these instructions to Mr. Scheck or tell him that “righty tighty” is how resistance is increased. According to Ms, Regan, this is an Instruction she gives on an individual basis, not to the entire class. When asked whether the spinner had specific instructions or warning on it, setting forth these precautions, Ms. Regan replied “no.” She also testified that the weighted wheel bike looks different than a stationary bike.

Applicable Law

On a motion for summary judgment, it is the movant’s burden to set forth evidentiary facts to prove its prima facie case that would entitle it to judgment in its favor, without the need for a trial (Zuckerman v. City of New York, 49 N.Y.2d 557, 562, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595 [1980]). The party opposing the motion must demonstrate, by admissible evidence, the existence of a factual issue requiring a trial of the action, or tender an acceptable excuse for his/her/its failure so to do (Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 N.Y.2d 320, 501 N.E.2d 572, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 [1986]).

[**9] Discussion

While the parties basically agree on the law, they dispute its application to the facts at bar. Plaintiff contends that by all appearances, the spin bike he voluntarily agreed to use during his class looks like any other stationary [*11] bike and that when he signed up to take a spin class he assumed It was like riding any other stationary bike he had seen in other gyms. Thus, his argument is he assumed a lower risk than it turned out to actually be. Taking this argument further, plaintiff urges the court to deny defendants’ motion because he did not assume the more heightened risk and, therefore, the doctrine of implied assumption of risk applies. Plaintiff cites extensively to the Court of Appeals opinion in Trupia v. Lake George Central School Dist. (14 NY3d 392, 927 N.E.2d 547, 901 N.Y.S.2d 127 [2010]), Trupia involved a 12 year old student enrolled in a summer school program. The child was injured when, while attempting to slide down a banister, he fell off. In the Court of Appeal’s lengthy opinion Chief Judge Lipmann wrote that:

We do not hold that children may never assume the risks of activities, such as athletics, in which they freely and knowingly engage, either in or out of school–only that the inference of such an assumption as a ground for exculpation may not be made in their case, or for that matter where adults are concerned, except in the context of pursuits both unusually risky and beneficial that the defendant has in some nonculpable [*12] way enabled.

Plaintiff maintains, based on this language, that the doctrine of the assumption of risk is no longer a complete bar to recovery, except in very limited circumstances which are not present in this case. Defendants, on the other hand, urge the court to apply the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. The doctrine of primary assumption of risk is [**10] commonly applied in situations involving sports, both amateur and professional. A key distinction in these doctrines is that CPLR 1411, which addresses issues of comparative negligence, is applicable by its terms to implied assumption of risk (Abergast v. Board of Education, 65 NY2d 161, 480 N.E.2d 365, 490 N.Y.S.2d 751 [1985]) whereas a voluntary participant in a sporting event assumes the known risks normally associated with that sport (see Morgan v. State of New York, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 [1997]). Thus, defendants argue Mr. Scheck knew or should have known, and therefore consented to the foreseeable consequences of his participation in the spin class (Turcotte v. Fell, 68 N.Y.2d 432, 439, 502 N.E.2d 964, 510 N.Y.S.2d 49 [1986]).

Plaintiff’s interpretation of the Trupia decision is unduly restrictive and ignores other, important language in that decision:

We have recognized that athletic and recreative [*13] activities possess enormous social value, even while they involve significantly heightened risks, and have employed the notion that these risks may be voluntarily assumed to preserve these beneficial pursuits as against the prohibitive liability to which they would otherwise give rise. We have not applied the doctrine outside of this limited context and it is clear that its application must be closely circumscribed if it is not seriously to undermine and displace the principles of comparative causation…

It is clear from the rest of the Trupia opinion that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk was not a possible defense for the defendant-school because the injury producing activity was unsupervised “horseplay” (i.e. school negligence) not an activity normally associated with the heightened risks attendant to sports activities. The Court did not, as plaintiff suggests, sweep away a legion of cases in which courts have [**11] recognized that certain sport activities present significantly heightened risk of injury. This point is evident from the Court of Appeals’ more recent decision in Bukowski v. Clarkson University (19 NY3d 353 [2012]). Bukowski involved a student whose jaw was broken [*14] when he was struck in the face with a baseball. The accident occurred when, for the very first time, he was pitching live in a cage. The court affirmed dismissal of plaintiff’s case because “there was insufficient evidence from which a jury could have concluded that plaintiff faced an unassumed, concealed, or even enhanced risk . . .”

A participant in a recreational activity will not, however, be deemed to have assumed unreasonably increased risks (Morgan v. State, 90 NY2d 471, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 [1997] [player tripped on torn net]). Furthermore, the defendant has a duty to make the conditions as safe as they appear to be (Gortych v. Brenner, supra, citing Turcotte v. Fell, 68 NY2d at 439). Thus, when measuring the defendant’s duty to a plaintiff, the risks undertaken by the plaintiff also have to be considered (Turcotte v. Fell, supra at 438).

Mr. Scheck agreed to take a spin class that was led by an instructor in a gym like setting. He provided shoes he was unfamiliar with, the seat was adjusted for him and he was given preliminary instructions about how the resistance on the bike worked. He was also shown the brake on the bike. No one explained the relationship between the tension knob, the brake and [*15] how the weighted wheel worked, although the instructor and Ms. Warren each acknowledged the uniqueness of the bikes used at the facility. The entire instructional phase took two minutes, even though the person assisting him knew he was new to the class and had never “spun” before. The Soul Cycle training [**12] manual requires that new spinners be given certain preliminary instructions that apparently were not provided to Mr. Scheck.

A participant in a sporting activity is held to have consented to the risks inherent in it “[i]f the risks of the activity are fully comprehended or perfectly obvious” and that “participants properly may be held to have consented, by their participation, to those injury-causing events which are known, apparent or reasonably foreseeable consequences of the participation” (Turcotte v. Fell, supra at 439). There is appellate authority that use of a gym facility is not participation in a sporting event (Corrigan v. Musclemakers Inc., 258 A.D.2d 861, 686 N.Y.S.2d 143 [3rd Dept 1999]; Petretti v. Jefferson Valley Racquet Club, Inc., 246 A.D.2d 583, 668 N.Y.S.2d 221 [2nd Dept 1998J). Furthermore, where the plaintiff is a neophyte, the level of his or her experience is taken into account (Petretti v. Jefferson Valley Racquet Club, Inc., supra). [*16] Although the doctrine of primary assumption of risk has been applied in a recreational setting where a biker is injured (Gortych v. Brenner, 83 A.D.3d 497, 922 N.Y.S.2d 14 [1 Dept 2011]; Cotty v. Town of Southampton, 64 A.D.3d 251, 880 N.Y.S.2d 656 [2nd Dept 2009]), a primary distinguishing factor is that those cases involved bikers pedaling outdoors and their injuries were due to a defective condition on the road or path they were on. In each of those cases, defendants were denied summary judgment because they failed to make a prima facie showing that the primary assumption of risk doctrine was applicable to the activity in which the plaintiff was engaged at the time of his or her accident.

In this case, defendants have failed to prove, as a matter of law, that plaintiff [**13] assumed the risks inherent in participating in a spin class. Not only were plaintiff’s feet clipped into pedals, the pedals continue to move even though he wanted to stop them from moving. Mr. Scheck stated that once he was propelled over, he could not reach the brake because it was under his body. Plaintiff has raised triable issues of fact whether the activity he agreed to participate in was as safe as it appeared to be and whether he assumed the [*17] risks which he was subjected to (Petretti v. Jefferson Valley Racquet Club, Inc., 246 A.D.2d 583, 668 N.Y.S.2d 221 [2nd Dept 1998]). There are also triable issues of fact whether the defendants properly instructed him in how to use the equipment. Therefore, defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint against Soul Cycle is denied.

Defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims against Ms. Rice is granted, as plaintiff has presented no argument about why that branch of their motion should be denied. No factual claim is made that she was involved in the accident or that she acted outside her capacity as a member of the company. Therefore, the claims against Ms. Rice are hereby severed and dismissed in their entirety.

Conclusion

Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted only to the extent that the claims against Ms. Rice are severed and dismissed. The balance of defendants’ motion for summary judgment is, however, denied not only because Soul Cycle has failed to prove it is entitled to such relief as a matter of law, but also because there are triable issues of fact. The issue of the timeliness of this motion is decided in favor of the defendants and plaintiff’s objection to this motion as untimely is denied.

[**14] [*18] This case is ready to be tried. Plaintiff shall serve a copy of this decision and order on the Mediator who is assigned to this case and also on the Office of Trial Support so the case can be scheduled for trial.

Any relief requested but not specifically addressed is hereby denied. This constitutes the decision and order of the court.

Dated: New York, New York

July 26, 2012

So Ordered:

/s/ Judith J. Gische

Hon. Judith J. Gische, JSC


Strawbridge, Jr. v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated, et al., 152 Fed. Appx. 286; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 23459

Strawbridge, Jr. v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated, et al., 152 Fed. Appx. 286; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 23459

Vincent F. Strawbridge, Jr.; Rebecca S. Strawbridge, Plaintiffs – Appellants, versus Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated; B. Dale Stancil, individually; The Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust; The B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust, Defendants – Appellees.

No. 04-2250, No. 04-2331

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

152 Fed. Appx. 286; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 23459

September 19, 2005, Argued

October 28, 2005, Decided

COUNSEL: ARGUED: R. Hayes Hofler, III, HAYES HOFLER & ASSOCIATES, P.A., Durham, North Carolina, for Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Wyatt Shorter Stevens, ROBERTS & STEVENS, P.A., Asheville, North Carolina; James Robert Fox, BELL, DAVIS & PITT, P.A., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

ON BRIEF: Daniel B. Hill, HAYES HOFLER & ASSOCIATES, P.A., Durham, North Carolina, for Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Jennifer I. Oakes, BELL, DAVIS & PITT, P.A., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants B. Dale Stancil, The Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust, The B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust.

JUDGES: Before WILLIAMS and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges, and James C. DEVER, III, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.

OPINION

[*287] PER CURIAM:

This is an appeal from a defense verdict [**2] in a case brought by Vincent and Rebecca [*288] Strawbridge against Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc. (SMR), its alleged alter-ego, B. Dale Stancil, and two trusts created by Stancil. (We will refer to the defendants as SMR and Stancil.) Mr. Strawbridge was injured in a skiing accident at the SMR resort. The Strawbridges contend that the district court erred in refusing to allow them additional voir dire or grant a new trial after the defense’s voir dire allegedly revealed that two jurors had failed to respond to an important question posed by the Strawbridges during their voir dire. The Strawbridges also claim that the district court erred in excluding evidence about rocks at the site of Mr. Strawbridge’s accident. Alternatively, the Strawbridges argue that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to enforce a settlement agreement allegedly reached before trial. Finding no error, we affirm.

I.

The Strawbridges allege that on January 22, 1998, Mr. Strawbridge skied over a ledge at SMR’s resort, where he hit a bare spot of dirt, lost control, and fell. Mr. Strawbridge sustained serious physical injuries. In their complaint, filed April 22, 2002, the Strawbridges asserted claims [**3] of negligence and loss of consortium and sought both compensatory and punitive damages. Stancil was named as a defendant on the theory that SMR was his alter ego. Stancil’s presence as a defendant was of moment because SMR carried only $1 million in liability insurance.

SMR and Stancil filed motions for summary judgment on December 1, 2003, and the motions were referred to the magistrate judge. The magistrate judge held a hearing on these motions on February 4, 2004, and two days later, on February 6, filed a memorandum recommending the award of summary judgment to the defendants on all claims. After considering the magistrate judge’s recommendation de novo, the district judge granted summary judgment to SMR on the Strawbridges’ request for punitive damages, but otherwise denied the summary judgment motions. Strawbridge v. Sugar Mountain Resort, 320 F. Supp. 2d 425 (W.D.N.C. 2004).

In the meantime the parties had been involved in settlement negotiations. Prior to the February 4, 2004, summary judgment hearing, the Strawbridges demanded $8 million to settle their claims. Wyatt Stevens, the lawyer for SMR’s insurer, made a $450,000 counteroffer, which the Strawbridges [**4] rejected. Shortly after the February 4 hearing, a lawyer retained directly by SMR, Robert Riddle, asked the Strawbridges to reconsider settlement.

The parties dispute the facts concerning subsequent settlement negotiations. According to the Strawbridges’ lawyer, Hayes Hofler, at approximately 11: 00 a. m. on February 6, 2004, Riddle made an offer to settle for the policy limits of $1 million, and Hofler accepted on behalf of the Strawbridges. The Strawbridges allege that, after accepting, Hofler asked Riddle if the payment could be structured as loss of future income in an effort to avoid a $400,000 lien arising from Mr. Strawbridge’s medical bills. The Strawbridges claim that Riddle responded that he thought that approach would not be a problem and that he would discuss it with Stevens. SMR disputes this account. It claims that Hofler indicated that his clients (the Strawbridges) would accept the policy limits of $1 million on the condition that payment be structured as loss of future income. SMR insists that because it never accepted this condition, the parties never reached a settlement agreement.

In any event, later in the day of February 6, before Stevens responded to Riddle [**5] about payment structuring, Stevens learned that the magistrate judge recommended [*289] dismissal of the case. Shortly thereafter, Stevens contacted Riddle and told him that a $1 million settlement, with the structuring condition, was unacceptable. Around 5:00 p.m. Hofler (on behalf of the Strawbridges) left a telephone message for Stevens in an effort to confirm settlement. Stevens returned Hofler’s call around 5:30 and told him that Riddle did not have authority to settle the case in light of the Strawbridges’ request to structure payment.

In March 2004 the Strawbridges, claiming that a settlement agreement had been reached, filed a motion to enforce it, and the district court held a hearing. After considering the lawyers’ oral representations, their affidavits, and transcripts of some of the telephone calls at issue, the court found that no settlement had been reached because the parties never agreed to all material terms of settlement.

The case proceeded to trial on July 12, 2004. During voir dire the judge asked the jury panel some preliminary questions related to possible bias, including: “Do[any] of you have any prejudices or biases that you know of that would affect your ability [**6] to sit in a case of this kind involving a ski incident, just simply by the reason of the nature of the sport or exercise, whatever you wish to call it?” J.A. 1131. There was no affirmative response. Later, the Strawbridges’ lawyer asked the panel:

Do any of you have anybody, family, close family, relatives, children, who is in any way involved in the ski industry, not necessarily on the slopes themselves, but maybe providing supplies to a resort or making deliveries to a resort or going there to make repairs, that kind of thing, in any way that might be remotely connected with the ski industry?

J.A. 1144. There was no response. The Strawbridges passed on the panel, and the defense side began its questioning. Defense counsel asked whether any of the jurors knew anyone closely connected with the ski industry. Juror Nicholson responded that the president of the company for which he worked was a volunteer ski patroller who might have worked for SMR. Juror McDonald reported that the son of one of her best friends owns a local ski shop. When defense counsel passed on the panel, the Strawbridges requested that voir dire be reopened to allow them to inquire of jurors Nicholson [**7] and McDonald. This request was denied. At the close of evidence the Strawbridges moved to strike jurors Nicholson and McDonald, and this motion was denied. The jury returned a verdict for the defendants on the seventh day of trial, and the district court later denied the Strawbridges’ motion for a new trial that was based on the claim of inadequate voir dire and juror bias.

The Strawbridges appeal the adverse rulings discussed above. SMR cross-appeals the district court’s refusal to give a jury instruction on assumption of risk, and Stancil cross-appeals the court’s denial of his motion for summary judgment on the alterego issue.

II.

A.

The Strawbridges contend that the district court erred in refusing to reopen voir dire. They insist that the failure of the two jurors (Nicholson and McDonald) to provide pertinent information in response to their question about ties to the ski industry prevented them from intelligently exercising their peremptory challenges. We conclude that the district court did not err in refusing to reopen voir dire. [HN1] A trial judge has broad discretion in overseeing the conduct of voir dire, subject to “essential demands of fairness.” Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 310, [*290] 51 S. Ct. 470, 75 L. Ed. 1054 (1931); [**8] United States v. Rucker, 557 F.2d 1046, 1049 (4th Cir. 1977). Trial judges “must reach conclusions as to [a prospective juror’s] impartiality and credibility by relying on their own evaluations of demeanor evidence and of responses to questions.” Rosales-Lopez v. United States, 451 U.S. 182, 188, 101 S. Ct. 1629, 68 L. Ed. 2d 22 (1981). An “appellate court [cannot] easily second-guess the conclusions of [a trial judge] who heard and observed” a juror’s responses and demeanor during voir dire. Id.

In the present case, the trial judge asked his own preliminary questions on voir dire that were aimed at uncovering any bias or prejudice relating to the sport of skiing. There was no response that raised a red flag. In addition, the judge observed the responses and demeanor of the two jurors in question. The judge declined to reopen voir dire, reasoning that both sides had been given adequate opportunity to question jurors, and all jurors seated assured the judge that they could be fair and impartial. The judge was satisfied that “had there been some bias or prejudice that would affect [the jurors’] verdict . . . it would have been uncovered” during voir dire. [**9] J.A. 1194. The trial judge thus determined that the voir dire was adequate on matters of potential bias. We have ample grounds for deferring to this determination, and we conclude that the judge did not err in refusing to reopen voir dire.

B.

The Strawbridges also contend that they are entitled to a new trial because the two jurors (Nicholson and McDonald) failed to provide honest responses at voir dire. [HN2] A new trial is warranted when (1) a juror failed to answer a material question honestly on voir dire, even if the failure was innocent, and (2) a correct response would have provided a basis for a challenge for cause. McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 556, 104 S. Ct. 845, 78 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1984). The question the Strawbridges posed to the panel was:

Do any of you have anybody, family, close family, relatives, children, who is in any way involved in the ski industry, not necessarily on the slopes themselves, but maybe providing supplies to a resort or making deliveries to a resort or going there to make repairs, that kind of thing, in any way that might be remotely connected with the ski industry?

J.A. 1144. The Strawbridges maintain that [**10] because the question contained the word “anybody,” the two jurors were dishonest when they did not respond with information about non-familial ties to the ski industry.

A new trial is not warranted because, as the district judge found, the jurors did not respond dishonestly to the Strawbridges’ question. According to the trial judge, the most logical interpretation of the question is that it was limited to potential jurors’ family ties to the ski industry. This interpretation led the judge to conclude that the jurors’ responses were neither inconsistent nor dishonest. We agree with the judge’s analysis. The Strawbridges’ inability to obtain the information they sought during voir dire is attributable to their failure to state their question clearly, not the jurors’ failure to answer the question honestly.

C.

The Strawbridges further argue that they are entitled to a new trial based on the actual bias of jurors Nicholson and McDonald or the trial court’s error in denying a hearing (including further questioning) on the issue of actual bias. [HN3] A showing that a juror was actually biased, regardless of whether the juror was truthful [*291] or deceitful, can entitle a party to a new trial. [**11] Jones v. Cooper, 311 F.3d 306, 310 (4th Cir. 2002). A trial court has broad discretion to determine whether to order a hearing on a claim of juror bias. See McDonough, 464 U.S. at 556 (Blackmun, J., concurring); Fitzgerald v. Greene, 150 F.3d 357, 363 (4th Cir. 1998).

The Strawbridges have simply made no showing that either Nicholson or McDonald was a biased juror. Moreover, we have reviewed the record and conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to hold a hearing or permit further questioning on the issue of actual bias.

III.

The Strawbridges argue that the trial court erroneously excluded evidence showing that rocks existed on the area of the slope where Mr. Strawbridge fell. Because Mr. Strawbridge testified that he encountered a bare spot of dirt (he did not mention rocks), the court did not err in excluding evidence of rocks on the basis that it was not relevant under Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 402.

IV.

The Strawbridges argue that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to enforce a settlement [**12] agreement they allegedly reached with SMR. [HN4] A court should enforce a settlement agreement when the partes have agreed on all material terms. Piver v. Pender County Bd. of Educ., 835 F.2d 1076, 1083 (4th Cir. 1987); Boyce v. McMahan, 285 N.C. 730, 208 S.E.2d 692, 695 (N.C. 1974). After holding a hearing on the settlement question and carefully reviewing the facts, the district court found that there was no meeting of the minds. Riddle, SMR’s lawyer, considered the deal to be conditioned upon the Strawbridges’ requirement that payment be structured as loss of future income. The Strawbridges argue that the court should enforce the agreement because payment structure was not a material condition. However, as the district court found, payment structure was material because the defense side feared exposure to liability on Mr. Strawbridge’s medical liens. The district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to enforce the alleged settlement agreement.

V.

Because our rulings on the voir dire, jury bias, evidentiary, and settlement issues mean that the jury’s finding of no liability on the part of the defendants will stand, we have no reason to [**13] reach the Strawbridges’ argument that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to SMR on the issue of punitive damages. Likewise, because the judgment for the defendants will be affirmed, we will not consider the issues raised in the defendants’ cross-appeals. The judgment is affirmed.

AFFIRMED


Mooring v. Virginia Wesleyan College, et al. 257 Va. 509; 514 S.E.2d 619; 1999 Va. LEXIS 69

Mooring v. Virginia Wesleyan College, et al. 257 Va. 509; 514 S.E.2d 619; 1999 Va. LEXIS 69

Antonio Mooring, a Minor Who Sues by His Mother and Next Friend, Patricia Mooring, et al. v. Virginia Wesleyan College, et al.

Record No. 981270

SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA

257 Va. 509; 514 S.E.2d 619; 1999 Va. LEXIS 69

April 16, 1999, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF NORFOLK. Everett A. Martin, Jr., Judge.

COUNSEL: Philip J. Geib for appellants.

Allan S. Reynolds, Sr. (Reynolds, Smith & Winters, on brief), for appellees.

JUDGES: Present: All the Justices. OPINION BY JUSTICE ELIZABETH B. LACY.

OPINION BY: ELIZABETH B. LACY

OPINION

[**620] [*510] OPINION BY JUSTICE ELIZABETH B. LACY

Antonio Mooring, a minor, suffered a traumatic amputation of his right thumb when John Braley closed a door while Mooring had his hand on the portal of the doorway. The incident occurred at the Boys and Girls Club of Hampton Roads (the Club). Mooring, through his next friend, sued Braley and his employer, Virginia Wesleyan College. The trial court dismissed Mooring’s motion for judgment finding that Braley was a volunteer at the Club and entitled to charitable immunity as a result of the Club’s status as a charity. Because we find that Braley was not engaged in the charity’s work at the time of the alleged negligence, we conclude that the trial court erred in dismissing Mooring’s motion for judgment.

[*511] Braley is a professor at Virginia Wesleyan College, teaching in a recreation and leisure studies program. The Club contacted Braley seeking volunteers to work in its programs. In response, Braley established a program with the Club in which [***2] students in Braley’s recreation programming class were required to spend six hours observing the children and volunteering at the Club. The students were required to return to the classroom, design recreation programs for the children they observed, and then implement those programs at the Club. Braley would go to the Club to observe the students conducting the programs and would “help the students out” when they needed it. The students were not graded directly on the basis of their work at the Club, but on the basis of a report they submitted to Braley describing their learning experience.

On the day Mooring was injured, one of Braley’s students was conducting a wellness and body-conditioning program for thirteen to eighteen-year-olds in the Club’s weight room. The student was giving a talk to the participants and Braley was observing her. At the student’s request, Braley went to the door to keep younger children not involved in the student’s program out of the room. While Braley was tending the door, Mooring was injured.

The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the defendants’ joint motion to dismiss. The parties stipulated that the Club was a charity entitled to [***3] charitable immunity and that Mooring was a beneficiary of the charity. The trial court held that because Braley received no extra compensation from the Club or Virginia Wesleyan College for the services he rendered, and because Braley’s role at the Club was both supervising his students and “helping the Club perform its good work,” he was “a volunteer at the Club” and thus entitled to charitable immunity under Moore v. Warren, 250 Va. 421, 463 S.E.2d 459 (1995). 1

1 In dismissing the motion for judgment against both defendants, the trial court did not specifically address whether Virginia Wesleyan College was entitled to charitable immunity, and this issue is not before us on appeal.

[**621] In Moore, an American Red Cross volunteer was sued for negligence allegedly committed while transporting the injured party to a routine medical visit in a car owned by the Red Cross. Providing transportation for such medical visits was a service of the Red Cross. The driver contended that he was “‘cloaked with the immunity [***4] of the charity'” and that charitable immunity was not limited to the charity itself. Id. at 422, 463 S.E.2d at 459. In resolving this issue of first impression, we stated:

[*512] Like any organization, a charity performs its work only through the actions of its servants and agents. Without a charity’s agents and servants, such as the volunteer here, no service could be provided to beneficiaries. Denying these servants and agents the charity’s immunity for their acts effectively would deny the charity immunity for its acts.

Id. at 423, 463 S.E.2d at 460. Based on this rationale, we included the driver in the immunity of the charity and held that he was immune from liability to the charity’s beneficiaries for negligence while he was “engaged in the charity’s work.” Id. at 425, 463 S.E.2d at 461. Thus, Moore requires [HN1] an individual seeking the cloak of a charity’s immunity to establish that he was an agent or servant of the charity at the time of the alleged negligence and that the alleged negligence for which he seeks immunity occurred while he was actually doing the charity’s work.

Assuming, without deciding, that the “role” Braley had at the Club identified by [***5] the trial court satisfied the requirement that Braley be an agent or servant of the Club, Braley qualifies for protection under the Club’s charitable immunity only if the alleged negligence occurred while he was doing the charity’s work. Mooring contends that at the time of the injury Braley’s “presence did not directly benefit the Club,” and that Braley presented no evidence that “he was doing anything in particular for the Club at the time of the incident.” We agree.

While Braley testified that he “helped out” at the Club whenever he could, the record shows that at the time of his alleged negligence, Braley was at the Club to observe the activities of his student. He was not there to directly perform any of the Club’s work; rather he was carrying out his duties as a professor at Virginia Wesleyan College. He was observing his student and acting as “doorkeeper” at the student’s request to allow his student to properly conduct the wellness class. Under these facts, we conclude that Braley was not entitled to charitable immunity because he was not engaged in the work of the charity at the time of his alleged negligence.

Accordingly, we will reverse the judgment of the trial [***6] court and remand the case for further proceedings.

Reversed and remanded.


Byrne, JR., v. Fords-Clara Barton Boys Baseball League, Inc., 236 N.J. Super. 185; 564 A.2d 1222; 1989 N.J. Super. LEXIS 357

Byrne, JR., v. Fords-Clara Barton Boys Baseball League, Inc., 236 N.J. Super. 185; 564 A.2d 1222; 1989 N.J. Super. LEXIS 357

George C. Byrne, JR., A Minor by his Guardian Ad Litem, Francine Byrne, and Francine Byrne, Individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Fords-Clara Barton Boys Baseball League, Inc., Defendant, and Dennis Bonk, Defendant-Respondent

No. A-4172-88T2

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

236 N.J. Super. 185; 564 A.2d 1222; 1989 N.J. Super. LEXIS 357

September 19, 1989, Argued

October 4, 1989, Decided

COUNSEL: James J. Dunn argued the cause for appellants (Levinson, Axelrod, Wheaton & Grayzel, attorneys; Richard J. Levinson, of counsel; Richard J. Levinson and James J. Dunn, on the brief).

Salvatore P. DiFazio argued the cause for respondent (Golden, Rothschild, Spagnola & DiFazio, attorneys).

JUDGES: Pressler, Long and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.

OPINION BY: PRESSLER

OPINION

[*186] [**1223] In evident response to the increasing cost of liability insurance and, in some instances the unavailability of liability insurance, for volunteer athletic coaches, managers and officials of nonprofit sports teams, 1 the Legislature, by L. 1986, c. 13, adopted N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6, amended by L. 1988, c. 87, which affords those volunteers immunity from tort liability subject to the conditions and exceptions specified therein. This appeal from a summary judgment requires us to construe paragraph (c) of the Act, which conditions the availability of the immunity, to some degree at least, upon the volunteer’s participation in a safety and training program.

1 See, e.g., Legislative Summaries: Sports Law, 10 Seton Hall Legis. J. 332 (1987).

[***2] The facts relevant to the issue before us are not in dispute. In the spring of 1986, plaintiff George C. Byrne, Jr., then 11 years old, was enrolled in the Fords-Clara Barton Baseball League, Inc. The League, while not affiliated with Little League Baseball, Inc., is nevertheless similarly organized, structured and conducted, offering inter-team competitions for similarly aged youngsters. Defendant Dennis Bonk was the coach of the team to which the infant plaintiff was assigned. On May 13, 1986, the day after the effective date of N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6, Bonk instructed plaintiff to “warm-up” the pitcher. [*187] Although plaintiff was wearing most of the catcher’s special protective gear, he was not, in violation of the League’s rules, wearing a catcher’s mask. During the warm-up, he was struck in the eye by a pitched ball, sustaining the injury which is the gravamen of this complaint. The complaint charged Bonk both with ordinary negligence and with “willful, wanton, reckless and gross” negligence.

Bonk’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint as to him relied on N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 (charitable immunity) as well as on N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6. The trial judge [***3] ruled that N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 was inapplicable to the claim against Bonk, as opposed to the League, because of its express exception of “agents or servants” from the immunity it affords. Bonk does not challenge that ruling on this appeal.

With respect to the applicability of N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6, both plaintiff and this defendant relied on paragraph (c), which prior to its 1988 amendment provided in full as follows:

[HN1] Nothing in this section shall be deemed to grant immunity to any person causing damage by his willful, wanton, or grossly negligent act of commission or omission, nor to any coach, manager, or official who has not participated in a safety orientation and training program established by the league or team with which he is affiliated.

At least for purposes of the summary judgment motion, Bonk conceded that he had never participated in a safety orientation or training program, and the reason he had not was the League’s failure to have established one.

The issue then is whether paragraph (c), as originally adopted, required participation as a condition of immunity only if the league or team had established a safety and training program or if, to the contrary, the [***4] legislative intention was to mandate the establishment of a program as a quid pro quo, as it were, for the immunity, thus granting it only to those volunteers who had actually participated in such a program. [**1224] The trial court judge declined to read the statute as requiring the establishment of a safety and training program for volunteers, concluding therefore that a volunteer who had had no [*188] training in safety because there was no program for him to attend was fully entitled to the statutory immunity. Accordingly, it entered partial summary judgment dismissing the ordinary negligence claims against Bonk. 2 We granted plaintiff’s motion for leave to appeal and now reverse.

2 The trial judge did not rule on the wanton and gross negligence claims, concluding that questions of fact were involved, and defendant did not seek leave to cross-appeal from that determination. It is therefore not before us. See R. 2:5-6(b).

The direct legislative history is both sparse and inconclusive. The bill, A-2398, [***5] which was finally adopted as L. 1986, c. 13, had been first introduced and passed in the Assembly, whose version of paragraph (c) excepted only willful, wanton, or grossly negligent acts. The provision respecting safety and training programs was added by the Senate in its version of the bill, S-1678, which also added paragraphs (d), (e) and (f), all of which further limit and condition the immunity afforded by the Assembly bill. 3 The Statement accompanying the Senate version is not particularly helpful in construing its intention since, in explaining the addition to paragraph (c), it uses exactly the same verbiage as the statutory text.

3 Paragraph (d) makes the immunity inapplicable “to any person causing damage as the result of his negligent operation of a motor vehicle.” Paragraph (e) withholds the immunity from a person “permitting a sport competition or practice to be conducted without supervision.” Paragraph (f) makes clear the Act’s inapplicability to school coaches, managers, and officials.

[***6] We recognize that there is an ambiguity in the manner in which the operative clause of paragraph (c) was drawn. Normally that ambiguity would have required us to determine, without benefit of express legislative explication, whether the general legislative purpose to accord the immunity was meant to prevail over the safety concerns expressed by that paragraph or not. We need not, however, engage in that debate since the Legislature, by its 1988 amendment of paragraph (c), left no doubt that its original intent had been to condition the immunity [*189] upon the volunteer’s actual participation in an appropriate program. 4

4 The trial court apparently did not consider the effect of the 1988 amendment and its legislative history on this interpretation problem of the 1986 Act. Nor did either counsel bring the amendment to the attention of the trial court or this court.

By L. 1988, c. 87, the originally adopted single-section paragraph (c) was replaced by this two-section paragraph (c):

[HN2] (1) Nothing [***7] in this section shall be deemed to grant immunity to any person causing damage by his willful, wanton, or grossly negligent act of commission or omission, nor to any coach, manager, or official who has not participated in a safety orientation and training skills program which program shall include but not be limited to injury prevention and first aid procedures and general coaching concepts.

(2) A coach, manager, or official shall be deemed to have satisfied the requirements of this subsection if the safety orientation and skills training program attended by the person has met the minimum standards established by the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in consultation with the Bureau of Recreation within the Department of Community Affairs, in accordance with rules and regulations adopted pursuant to the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L.1968, c. 410 (C. 52:14B-1 et seq.).

The 1988 version does more than define, qualify, and standardize the prescribed safety program. In our view, the text of paragraph (c)(2), in its reference to a volunteer being “deemed to have satisfied the requirements of this subsection” (emphasis added), makes plain that actual program [***8] attendance is the unequivocal prerequisite for entitlement to the immunity. We are further persuaded that this was the legislative intention from the outset.

We base this conclusion first on public policy considerations. We do not believe that in initially prescribing participation in [**1225] a safety program, the Legislature meant to provide a disincentive to the establishment of such programs by charitably organized leagues and teams — and surely a disincentive is implicit in a scheme in which a coach or manager can obtain immunity against ordinary negligence by the simple expedient of the league’s failure to instruct him on matters of safety. Rather, we are convinced that the Legislature, responding to a perceived [*190] insurance crisis, concluded that all of the competing interests involved in the management of and participation in nonprofit athletic organizations could be most reasonably accommodated by encouraging the safety training of volunteer coaches and managers — not discouraging such training — and then protecting trained volunteers from ordinary negligence claims. Thus, the prior training was at the heart of the immunity concept. That being so, we are convinced [***9] that the Legislature never intended that the immunity would attach to an untrained volunteer simply because his league or team chose not to offer appropriate training.

Beyond that, we are also convinced that that construction of the original version of the statute has been expressly confirmed by the Senate Statement accompanying the 1988 amendment. That Statement starts with the observation that the amendment is intended to clarify the manner in which the volunteer coach, manager, or official can satisfy “the training program requirement of the ‘little league liability law,’ P.L.1986, c. 13. . . .” 5 Thus, the Legislature itself thereby described the program referred to in the original Act as mandated rather than optional. The conclusion is, therefore, ineluctable that [HN3] a volunteer coach who has not participated in a prescribed safety program, for whatever reason, is barred from reliance on the statutory immunity.

5 Although the Act by its terms is not limited to the Little League or even to youngsters participating in nonprofit athletic organizations, the Act has been referred to by the Little League nomenclature because it was that context in which it was initially adopted.

[***10] The partial summary judgment dismissing the ordinary negligence counts of the complaint against Dennis Bonk is reversed, and the matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings


Smith v. Kroesen, 9 F. Supp. 3d 439; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39729

Smith v. Kroesen, 9 F. Supp. 3d 439; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39729

Paul M., Plaintiff, v. John A. and Mark Cooley, et al., Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 10-5723 (NLH)(AMD)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY

9 F. Supp. 3d 439; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39729

March 25, 2014, Decided

March 25, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Smith v. Kroesen, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167619 (D.N.J., Nov. 26, 2013)

COUNSEL: [**1] DOMINIC ROMAN DEPAMPHILIS, D’AMATO LAW FIRM PC, EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NJ, On behalf of plaintiff.

CLARK B. LEUTZE, MARGOLIS EDELSTEIN, MOUNT LAUREL, NJ, On behalf of defendant Mark Cooley.

JUDGES: Noel L. Hillman, U.S.D.J.

OPINION BY: Noel L. Hillman

OPINION

[*440] HILLMAN, District Judge

Presently before the Court is the motion of defendant, Mark Cooley, for summary judgment in his favor on the claims of plaintiff, Paul Smith, that defendant is liable for injuries plaintiff sustained while playing in a rugby match. For the reasons expressed below, defendant’s motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On April 10, 2010, plaintiff Paul Smith, a member of the Jersey Shore Sharks rugby team, was playing in a rugby match against Old Gaelic Rugby Football Club, which was coached by defendant Mark Cooley. A rugby match is comprised of two, 40-minute halves, and it is typical to have 70 pile-ups of players and over 100 collisions with other players. During the first half of the match that day, plaintiff and a player from Old Gaelic got into a “ruck,” which is described to the Court as an on-the-field argument.1 The two players rolled on the ground, and plaintiff gave the Old Gaelic player a short jab to the ribs. Although the play had moved [**2] to the other end of the field, another Old Gaelic player, defendant John Kroesen, saw the ruck and, according to plaintiff, came from behind and intentionally kicked him in the face. Plaintiff sustained a left orbital fracture and a nasal fracture, for which plaintiff underwent surgery.

1 In rugby, a “ruck” also refers to efforts by opposing teams huddled over a dropped ball to kick it to a teammate to gain possession.

Plaintiff filed suit against Kroesen claiming that Kroesen’s conduct was intentional assault and battery, or at a minimum, grossly negligent. Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint,2 adding Cooley as a defendant, claiming that Cooley was grossly negligent in his coaching of the Old Gaelic team, and is responsible for plaintiff’s injuries caused by Kroesen.3 Kroesen did not answer plaintiff’s complaint, and the clerk has entered default against him. Plaintiff and Cooley went to arbitration to resolve plaintiff’s claims against Cooley, but following the arbitrator’s decision, plaintiff sought a trial de novo. Cooley has now filed for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims against him. Plaintiff has opposed Cooley’s motion.

2 The Court granted plaintiff’s unopposed motion [**3] to file an amended complaint. (See Docket No. 8, Nov. 11, 2011.)

3 Plaintiff also added as defendants the Old Gaelic Rugby Football Club, the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union (“EPRU”), and the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union (“MARFU”), which oversees EPRU. On October 31, 2012, plaintiff dismissed by consent his claims against MARFU. Old Gaelic and EPRU were never served with the amended complaint, and plaintiff has abandoned his claims against them. (Pl. Attorney Cert. ¶ 9, Docket No. 38-1.)

DISCUSSION

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

This Court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.4 The citizenship of the [*441] parties is as follows: plaintiff is a citizen of New Jersey; defendant Kroesen is a citizen of Pennsylvania; defendant Mark Cooley is a citizen of Pennsylvania; defendant Old Gaelic Rugby Football Club, Inc. is a corporation incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with its principal place of business at 712 Bower Road, Shermans Dale, Pennsylvania; defendant Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union, Inc. (“EPRU”) is a corporation [**4] incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with its principal place of business at 2107 Fidelity Building, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103; and Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union, Inc. is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business at 800 King Street, Wilmington, Delaware.

4 On November 26, 2013, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause directing plaintiff to provide a certification properly stating the citizenship of the parties before the case could proceed, as the citizenship of the parties was not properly pleaded in the original or amended complaints. (See Docket No. 36.) Plaintiff complied with the Court’s Order, and the citizenship of the parties has now been properly averred. (See Pl. Attorney Cert., Docket No. 38-1.)

B. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that the materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, or interrogatory answers, demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); [**5] Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).

An issue is “genuine” if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party’s favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party’s evidence “is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that [**6] contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232, 43 V.I. 361 (3d Cir. 2001).

C. Analysis

Cooley has moved for summary judgment in his favor on several bases. One basis is that he is immune from liability for plaintiff’s injuries under N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6 and 42 U.S.C. § 14501 et seq., both of which afford immunity to volunteer athletic coaches for damages incurred by a player during an organized sports competition. Cooley also argues that plaintiff’s claims against him are barred by plaintiff’s assumption of the risk of injury in the very physical game of rugby, as well as by the annual rugby participation agreement, which includes a provision that by agreeing to play in the league, plaintiff releases all other members and coaches from liability for any damages suffered by plaintiff [*442] through his participation in the league. In addition to these outright bars to plaintiff’s claims against Cooley, Cooley also argues that no facts demonstrate that Cooley was negligent in his coaching duties rendering him liable for [**7] plaintiff’s injuries.

Plaintiff has opposed Cooley’s motion as to the application of N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6 and 42 U.S.C. § 14501 et seq., his assumption of risk, and the release from liability in the participation agreement. With regard to the volunteer immunity statutes, plaintiff argues that N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6 does not apply to Cooley because he never completed a safety orientation and training skills program as required by N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6(c)(2),5 and because Cooley was “grossly negligent,” which conduct is excluded from immunity by N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6(c)(1). Plaintiff also argues that Cooley cannot avail himself of 42 U.S.C. § 14501 at this point because he failed to plead it as an affirmative defense in his answer to plaintiff’s complaint, and because plaintiff was grossly negligent, which is also exempted from immunity under the federal volunteer immunity act.

5 Cooley represents that in order to serve as a coach for Old Gaelic he completed nationwide USA Rugby training, which included “injury prevention and first aid procedures and general coaching concepts,” as required by N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6(c)(2). Plaintiff contends, however, that in order to satisfy N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6(c)(2), plaintiff [**8] was required to take a safety orientation program specifically provided in New Jersey. As set forth below, we need not resolve this issue.

Plaintiff further rejects Cooley’s arguments that because he assumed the risk of being injured by knowingly playing in a contact sport, and because he signed a release from liability for damages resulting from participating in the contact sport, Cooley cannot be held liable for plaintiff’s damages. Plaintiff contends that because Cooley was grossly negligent in his coaching of Old Gaelic, plaintiff did not assume the risk of injury that was beyond the bounds of typical rugby play–namely, Kroesen’s kick to plaintiff’s face that resulted from Cooley’s poor coaching of Kroesen. Plaintiff also contends that the participation agreement releases do not apply to Cooley’s gross negligence.

Even accepting all of plaintiff’s arguments – that the volunteer immunity statutes do not apply, that he did not assume the risk of the injuries he suffered, and that the participation agreements do not bar his claims – plaintiff has failed to establish sufficient facts from which a jury could conclude that Cooley was grossly negligent in his coaching duties.

Under New Jersey [**9] law, in order to prove that a person acted negligently, the plaintiff must establish: (1) a duty of care owed to the plaintiff by the defendant; (2) that defendant breached that duty of care; and (3) that plaintiff’s injury was proximately caused by defendant’s breach. Boos v. Nichtberger, 2013 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2455, 2013 WL 5566694, *4 (N.J. Super. App. Div. Oct. 10, 2013) (citing Endre v. Arnold, 300 N.J. Super. 136, 142, 692 A.2d 97 (App. Div. 1997)). The burden of proving a negligence claim rests with the plaintiff, and as part of that burden, it is vital that plaintiff establish that his injury was proximately caused by the unreasonable acts or omissions of the defendant. Id. (citing Camp v. Jiffy Lube No. 114, 309 N.J. Super. 305, 309-11, 706 A.2d 1193 (App. Div.), cert. denied, 156 N.J. 386, 718 A.2d 1215 (1998)) (other citation omitted).

With regard to a claim of gross negligence, “the difference between ‘gross’ and ‘ordinary’ negligence is one of degree rather than of quality.” Fernicola v. Pheasant Run at Barnegat, 2010 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1614, 2010 WL 2794074, *2 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2010) (quoting Oliver v. Kantor, 122 N.J.L. 528, 532, [*443] 6 A.2d 205 (Sup. Ct. 1939), aff’d o.b., 124 N.J.L. 131, 10 A.2d 732 (E. & A. 1940)). “Gross negligence refers to behavior which constitutes indifference to [**10] consequences.” Griffin v. Bayshore Medical Center, 2011 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1165, 2011 WL 2349423, *5 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2011) (citing Banks v. Korman Assocs., 218 N.J. Super. 370, 373, 527 A.2d 933 (App. Div. 1987)).

Cooley argues that plaintiff cannot provide any facts to establish that he caused Kroesen to kick plaintiff in the face during a rugby match. Cooley argues that there is no evidence to support that Cooley knew that Kroesen was prone to violence beyond what is typical during a rugby match, which is supported by the fact that Kroesen had never previously received a yellow card (for a small infraction resulting in a period of time out from a game) or a red card (for a serious infraction resulting in discharge from the game).6 Moreover, Cooley argues that plaintiff has not provided any evidence to suggest that Cooley failed in his duty as a coach by affirmatively encouraging Kroesen or any of his players to act violently during a rugby match, or by failing to appreciate a player’s violent tendencies.7

6 Plaintiff does not dispute that he had received three yellow cards in the past.

7 Cooley also counters plaintiff’s allegations that Kroesen intentionally kicked plaintiff in the face, because it is not clear whether [**11] Kroesen, who, according to Cooley and other players, was attempting to save his teammate from being punched by plaintiff, slipped while entering the fray. The dispute over the nature of Kroesen’s and plaintiff’s actions during the altercation is not material to the resolution of plaintiff’s claims against Cooley, however, because to decide Cooley’s motion for summary judgment, it must be accepted as true that Kroesen intentionally kicked plaintiff in the face.

In the context of arguing that Cooley is not entitled to immunity under N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-6(c)(1) because he was grossly negligent in his coaching duties, plaintiff argues that his negligence claim against Cooley is supported by his liability expert, Dr. Leonard K. Lucenko, who is qualified in federal and state courts as an expert in the field of physical education, recreation, coaching, and sports risk management and safety. According to Dr. Lucenko, Cooley deviated from reasonable coaching standards as follows:

1. The failure to exercise due care and foresight even though it was foreseeable that noncompliance with the Laws of the Game of Rugby created the environment for serious and permanent injury.

2. The failure to understand [**12] and appreciate well known coaching risk management principles, such as the nine legal duties of a coach.

3. The failure to properly teach and enforce the Laws of the Game of Rugby.

4. The failure to recognize the dangerous conditions created by the failure to comply with the Laws of the Game of Rugby.

5. The failure to instruct and train the players on what actions to take regarding fighting.

6. The failure to closely monitor and supervise Mr. Kroesen given his intensity as a player.

7. The failure to effectively and adequately address the intense play of Mr. Kroesen, which was resulting in injuries to other players.

8. The failure on the part of Mr. Cooley to understand he was bound by the USA Rugby Coaches’ Code of Conduct.

9. The failure to adopt and follow the principles outlined in the Code of Conduct.

(Pl. Opp. at 13, citing Ex. A.) Plaintiff argues that Dr. Lucenko’s conclusions [*444] present material disputed evidence as to whether Cooley was grossly negligent in his coaching duties, and therefore his claim against Cooley should be sent to a jury to decide.

Gross negligence requires substantial proof beyond simple negligence; it requires wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of others. [**13] Griffin v. Bayshore Medical Center, 2011 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1165, 2011 WL 2349423, *5 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2011) (citing In re Kerlin, 151 N.J. Super. 179, 185, 376 A.2d 939 (App. Div.1977)). Setting aside any expert qualification issues under Daubert,8 and accepting as true all of Dr. Lucenko’s findings that Cooley failed to properly instruct his players with regard to the propriety of fighting during a rugby match, the Court cannot find that plaintiff has provided sufficient disputed facts to send to a jury on the issue of proximate causation. None of Dr. Lucenko’s conclusions, nor any of the other evidence in the record, demonstrate that Cooley acted indifferently, willfully, or wantonly in his coaching of Kroesen such that he should be held legally responsible for the injuries plaintiff sustained when Kroesen kicked plaintiff in the face.

8 Federal Rule of Evidence 702, as amended in 2000 to incorporate the standards set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993), imposes an obligation upon a district court to ensure that expert testimony is not only relevant, but reliable. As the Third Circuit has made clear, “the reliability analysis [required by Daubert] applies to all aspects of an [**14] expert’s testimony: the methodology, the facts underlying the expert’s opinion, [and] the link between the facts and the conclusion.” ZF Meritor, LLC v. Eaton Corp., 696 F.3d 254, 291 (3d Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). To be admissible, expert testimony must concern subject matter beyond the average juror’s understanding, be sufficiently reliable, and be offered by a sufficiently qualified expert. DeHanes v. Rothman, 158 N.J. 90, 727 A.2d 8 (N.J. 1999).

As noted by the New Jersey courts, the question of the scope of duty among coaches and players is intertwined with considerations of public policy. Egerter v. Amato, 2006 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 3008, 2006 WL 551571, *3 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2006) (citing Hopkins v. Fox and Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426, 625 A.2d 1110 (N.J. 1993)). The “strong social policy to facilitate free and aggressive participation in athletic activity requires . . . leeway at least where no specific rule or statute has been violated. Otherwise courts and juries will become de facto athletic directors, second guessing actor’s conduct in reviewing generalized claims of negligence.” Id. (citations omitted). “The fact is that any athletic endeavor involves some degree of risk. Coaches are expected to absorb such risks, just like [**15] participants in informal games or athletes on a scholastic gridiron. . . . [J]udges are not athletic directors. They should not formulate standards of care which require them and juries to function as if they were.” Id. (citation omitted).9

9 It is interesting to note that Dr. Lucenko served as plaintiff’s expert in Egerter, where a track coach sued her 8th grade student for injuries she sustained when the student hit her with a shot put. Dr. Lucenko concluded in that case that plaintiff organized, supervised and conducted the practice session in an appropriate and professional manner, but that it was the instantaneous and negligent decision by the student to throw the shot before given the instruction to do so that led to the plaintiff’s severe and life altering injuries. Egerter v. Amato, 2006 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 3008, 2006 WL 551571, *1 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2006). On defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the court found that the recklessness standard of negligence applied, and there was no evidence that the student acted recklessly.

In an earlier case proceeding under the same school of thought, and one that is similar to plaintiff’s case here against Cooley, a student in one high school filed suit [*445] against a [**16] soccer coach from another high school for injuries he sustained when an opposing player “undercut” him. Nydegger v. Don Bosco Preparatory High School, 202 N.J. Super. 535, 495 A.2d 485, 485 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 1985). The student’s allegations against the opposing team’s coach were that he taught his players to compete in an “aggressive and intense manner” and that winning the game is all important. In resolving the coach’s motion to dismiss, the court concluded, “[I]n the absence of an instruction by a coach to one of his players to commit a wrongful act or his instructing one in moves or procedures that would increase the risk of harm to opposing players, a coach is not responsible to a player on an opposing team who is injured.” Nydegger, 495 A.2d at 485. The court elaborated:

Interscholastic sports are not compulsory school programs. Students who participate do so voluntarily. Those who participate in a sport such as soccer expect that there will be physical contact as a result of 22 young men running around a field 50 by 100 yards. Physical contact is not prohibited by the rules of soccer. Injuries do result. Those who participate are trained to play hard and aggressive.

[N]o student or parent [**17] is blind to the realities of interscholastic athletics. The possibility of a serious injury exists regardless of the care exercised by schools and their personnel. Imposing liability upon schools and their coaches based on negligent or wrongful acts of players, committed during the course of play would have the practical effect of eventually eliminating interscholastic athletics. Interscholastic athletic activities have become an integral part of the intellectual, physical and social development of young people. No matter what the intentions or good purpose, a coach cannot insure or guarantee that each and every member of his team will not commit a foul or will not in the heat of the contest do an act beyond that which is acceptable.

A coach cannot be held responsible for the wrongful acts of his players unless he teaches them to do the wrongful act or instructs them to commit the act. There is absolutely no evidence in the record that would support such a finding. Teaching players to be intense and aggressive is an attribute. All sports and many adult activities require aggressiveness and intensity.

Id. at 486-87.

The rationale in Nydegger holds true in this case. Plaintiff voluntarily [**18] participated in an aggressive contact sport where it is common to engage in on-field “rucks.” Plaintiff was involved in a ruck that day, administering a “short jab in the ribs” to the other player, when Kroesen intervened and kicked plaintiff in the face. Absent evidence that Cooley directed Kroesen specifically, or his team in general, to inflict violence onto opposing team players as part of the game, Cooley cannot be held liable for plaintiff’s injuries. Additionally, any of Cooley’s alleged failings as a coach as articulated by Dr. Lucenko cannot serve as the basis for finding proximate causation because there cannot be any definitive conclusion that even if Cooley were the perfect coach, Kroesen would not have acted as he did. See, e.g., id., at 486 (“[A] coach cannot insure or guarantee that each and every member of his team will not commit a foul or will not in the heat of the contest do an act beyond that which is acceptable.”); Divia v. South Hunterdon Regional High School, 2005 WL 977028, *7 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2005) (explaining that proximate cause is the efficient cause, the one which necessarily sets the other causes in operation; it is the act or omission, which [**19] directly brought about [*446] the happening complained of, and in the absence of which the happening complained of would not have occurred) (citing Verdicchio v. Ricca, 179 N.J. 1, 843 A.2d 1042, 1057 (N.J. 2004) (explaining that merely establishing that a defendant’s negligent conduct had some effect in producing the harm does not automatically satisfy the burden of proving it was a substantial factor)).

In sum, the evidence in the record, viewed most favorably to plaintiff, cannot support his claim that Cooley was grossly negligent in his coaching of Kroesen such that Cooley can be held liable for plaintiff’s injuries inflicted by Kroesen during the rugby match. Consequently, Cooley’s motion for summary judgment must be granted.10 An appropriate Order will be entered.

10 Plaintiff’s only remaining claim in this case is against Kroesen, upon whom the Clerk entered default at plaintiff’s request. (See 1/28/2011 Docket Entry.) As directed in the accompanying Order, plaintiff shall commence prosecution of his claim against Kroesen within 30 days, or this matter will be closed for lack of prosecution.

Date: March 25, 2014

At Camden, New Jersey

/s/ Noel L. Hillman

NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

ORDER

For the reasons expressed [**20] in the Court’s Opinion filed today,

IT IS on this 25th day of March , 2014

ORDERED that defendant Mark Cooley’s motion for summary judgment [34] is GRANTED; and it is further

ORDERED that, within 30 days of the date of this Order, plaintiff shall commence prosecution of his claims against defendant John A. Kroesen. If plaintiff fails to do so, plaintiff’s case will be closed for lack of prosecution.

/s/ Noel L. Hillman

NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.


Wagner v. McGrady, 2009-Ohio-987; 2009 Ohio App. LEXIS 798

Wagner v. McGrady, 2009-Ohio-987; 2009 Ohio App. LEXIS 798

Dennis Wagner, Appellee v. Terry McGrady, Appellant

Court of Appeals No. S-08-010

COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO, SIXTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, SANDUSKY COUNTY

2009-Ohio-987; 2009 Ohio App. LEXIS 798

March 6, 2009, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

Trial Court No. CVI 0700292.

COUNSEL: Terry J. Lodge, for appellant.

JUDGES: HANDWORK, J. Peter M. Handwork, J., Arlene Singer, J., William J. Skow, P.J., CONCUR.

OPINION BY: Peter M. Handwork

OPINION

DECISION AND JUDGMENT

HANDWORK, J.

[*P1] This case is before the court on appeal from a judgment of the Sandusky County Court, District No. 2. Appellant, Terry McGrady, asserts the following assignments of error:

[*P2] “Assignment of Error No. 1. A volunteer animal rescuer has no duty to learn the identify [sic] of a putative owner of a dog who makes no immediate attempt to reclaim his lost animal and is not liable for adoption of the dog to another home after reasonable efforts have been made.

[*P3] “Assignment of Error No. 2. Appellant was not a proper Defendant because he was an unpaid volunteer working for a nonprofit humanitarian agency.

[*P4] “Assignment of Error No. 3. There was no basis for the damage award of $ 500.00.

[*P5] “Assignment of Error No. 4. The court’s ruling was against the manifest weight of the evidence.”

[*P6] Appellee failed to file an appellate brief; therefore, we shall take appellant’s recitation of the facts and issues as correct and reverse the judgment of the trial court if that brief reasonably sustains that action. [**2] See App.R. 18(C); United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., Local Union No. 1581 v. Edgerton Hardware Co., Inc., 6th Dist. No. WM-06-017, 2007 Ohio 3958, P 4.

[*P7] Appellant is a volunteer for the Society for the Protection of Animals, Inc. (“SPA”), an Ohio nonprofit corporation that provides a rescue service for stray cats and dogs. During the early morning hours of Saturday, October 13, 2007, appellant discovered a large brown dog, a chocolate Labrador Retriever, at his back door. Because he and his wife were already fostering several animals, appellant took the dog to the Fremont Animal Hospital to be boarded. He also called the pound to alert them of a lost dog.

[*P8] On the following Monday, October 15, 2007, appellant called the Fremont News Messenger and placed an advertisement asking anyone who had lost a large dog in the area of County Road 41 in Fremont to call his telephone number (also listed in the ad) and describe the dog. The ad ran for three days, October 16 through October 18, 2007. On Friday, October 19, 2007, the dog was neutered, checked for heartworm, and given all of his “shots.” The owner listed on the veterinarian’s medical record is the SPA. On Saturday, the dog was [**3] adopted by a family who had previously adopted dogs from the SPA. The new owner of the Labrador Retriever signed the SPA’s standard adoption contract, and the SPA received the $ 75 adoption fee. At the trial of this cause, appellant also provided the affidavit of the new owner of the dog stating that she had adopted the Labrador Retriever from the SPA.

[*P9] In his testimony, Wagner claimed that his chocolate Labrador Retriever, which was tied to a doghouse, “slipped his collar and disappeared” on October 13, 2007. After asking his neighbor whether he had seen the dog and learning that he had not seen him, appellee drove around the vicinity looking for the dog. Appellee went to the dog pound on either October 16 or October 17, 2007, to see if his Labrador Retriever was “picked up” by the dog warden. Wagner further testified that on Friday, October 19, 2007, someone from the pound called him and stated that appellant might have his dog. According to appellee, he spoke with McGrady the next day and appellant admitted that the Labrador Retriever was appellee’s dog. Appellant, however, also informed appellee of the fact that the dog was already adopted by another family.

[*P10] In December 2007, Wagner [**4] filed the instant small claims lawsuit, seeking a judgment in the amount of $ 750, plus interest, from McGrady, as compensation for the conversion of his property, that is, the dog. At the hearing on appellee’s complaint, appellant maintained that any actions he took with regard to the Labrador Retriever he found was done in his capacity as a volunteer for a nonprofit charitable organization, that is, the SPA, and he was, therefore, not liable for any damages suffered by appellee for the loss of his dog.

[*P11] On February 6, 2008, the small claims judge entered a judgment awarding appellee $ 500. The judge held: “At time defendant adopted dog out, they knew to [sic] owner of dog was looking for his dog 1. Membership in SPA does not give immunity for sale or adopting animal that belongs to another.” This timely appeal followed.

1 There is no evidence in the record of this cause to establish that appellant knew the dog belonged to appellee at the time it was adopted.

[*P12] Because it is dispositive of this appeal, we shall first consider appellant’s second assignment of error. In that assignment, appellant contends that as a volunteer for a nonprofit charitable organization, he was not the party in [**5] interest and is immune from suit under R.C. 2305.38. We agree. R.C. 2305.38 provides, in pertinent part:

[*P13] “(A) [HN1] As used in this section:

[*P14] “* * *

[*P15] “(5) ‘Volunteer’ means an officer, trustee, or other person who performs services for a charitable organization but does not receive compensation, either directly or indirectly, for those services.

[*P16] “* * *

[*P17] “(C) [HN2] A volunteer is not liable in damages in a civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property that arises from the volunteer’s actions or omissions in connection with any supervisory or corporate services that the volunteer performs for the charitable organization, unless either of the following applies:

[*P18] “(1) An action or omission of the volunteer involves conduct as described in division (B)(1) or (2) of this section;

[*P19] “(2) An action or omission of the volunteer constitutes willful or wanton misconduct or intentionally tortious conduct.”

[*P20] [HN3] A volunteer is liable for damages in a civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property under R.C. 2305.38(B) only if either of the following applies:

[*P21] “(1) With prior knowledge of an action or omission of a particular officer, employee, trustee, or other volunteer, the volunteer authorizes, [**6] approves, or otherwise actively participates in that action or omission.

[*P22] “(2) After an action or omission of a particular officer, employee, trustee, or other volunteer, the volunteer, with full knowledge of that action or omission, ratifies it.”

[*P23] In the present case, all of the evidence offered at trial demonstrates that appellant was acting in his capacity as a volunteer working for SPA, an undisputed nonprofit charitable organization. Furthermore, no evidence was offered to show that appellant’s actions would render him liable to Wagner for damages suffered as the result of the loss of Wagner’s dog, if, indeed, the dog found by appellant was appellee’s dog, under R.C. 2305.38 (B)(1) and/or (2) or pursuant to R.C. 2305.38(C). Accordingly, appellant’s second assignment of error is found well-taken. Appellant’s first, third, and fourth assignments of error are, thereby, rendered moot.

[*P24] The judgment of the Sandusky County Court, District No. 2 is reversed. Appellee is ordered to pay the costs of this appeal pursuant to App.R. 24. Judgment for the clerk’s expense incurred in preparation of the record, fees allowed by law, and the fee for filing the appeal is awarded to Sandusky County.

JUDGMENT [**7] REVERSED.

A certified copy of this entry shall constitute the mandate pursuant to App.R. 27. See, also, 6th Dist.Loc.App.R. 4.

Peter M. Handwork, J.

Arlene Singer, J.

William J. Skow, P.J.

CONCUR.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,879 other followers

%d bloggers like this: