ACA trained expert witness was hired by injured plaintiff to prove a claim against a summer camp. Again, camp money is used to train expert who then is used against the camp.
State: New York, Supreme Court of New York, Richmond County
Plaintiff: Marvin Staten, an Infant Over the Age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural Guardian Cassandra Dozier and Cassandra Dozier, Individually
Defendant: The City of New York, The New York City Department of Education, Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc., Louis Cintron, Sr., Louis Cintron, Jr., an infant over the age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural Guardian, Louis Cintron, Sr., Barbara Rose Cintron and Louis Cintron, Jr. an infant over the age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural guardian, Barbara Rose Cintron, Defendants
Plaintiff Claims: Negligent supervision and maintenance of the premises
Holding: For the defendant Camp
American Camp Association (ACA) trained expert witness used ACA material to try and prove the summer camp was liable for the injuries of a camper. The summer camp had passed the duty to control the kids to the school district that had rented the camp and as such was not liable.
To be able to sue for emotional damages under New York law, the parent must have financial damages also. Lacking that, the mother’s claims were dismissed.
This ruling is the result of several motions filed by different parties and can be confusing.
The minors were at a summer week long football camp. The camp was rented by the defendant New York Department of Education. The camp, Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc., was located in Pennsylvania.
The plaintiff was looking through the cabin window where he was bunking to see if anyone was messing with his stuff. The defendant minor punched the plaintiff through the window, injuring the plaintiff with the broken glass from the window. The plaintiff’s expert identified this action as horseplay?
At his deposition, plaintiff testified that shortly after dinner on the date of the accident, he was standing outside his cabin, looking in through a window to “see if anybody was messing around with [his] stuff” when, after a few seconds, defendant Cintron “punched [through] the glass”
The defendant minor had been disciplined before by the school district for fighting.
There was a written agreement between the Defendant Camp and the school district, where the school district agreed to provide one adult (person over age 19) per cabin. In the cabin where the incident took place, the supervisors were two seniors, one of whom was the defendant minor.
The agreement gave control of the people at the camp, including campers to the school district renting the facilities.
This is the decision concerning the various motions.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The camp filed a motion for summary judgment arguing:
(1) it owed no duty to supervise plaintiff or to otherwise protect him from horseplay; (2) no facts have been adduced in support of plaintiffs’ claim that the subject window constituted a “defective condition”; and (3) since the proximate cause of the accident was the sudden, unanticipated independent actions of Cintron (i.e., punching the glass), the Camp cannot be found liable for plaintiff’s injury.
The plaintiff argued the camp was negligent and negligent per se. The negligence per se claim was based on a regulation that required safety glass to be used in windows of bunkhouses. The plaintiff also argued the camp was negligent for failing to exercise risk management and supervise the campers.
I’ve never seen a claim that it was negligent to fail to exercise risk management.
The expert hired by the plaintiff had “44 years in the camping industry and a co-author of the American Camp Association’s ‘2006 Camp Accreditation Process Guide’.” However, the court found the testimony of the expert was conclusory and insufficient to raise a question of fact.
…”conclusory testimony” offered by plaintiff’s expert was “insufficient to raise a question of fact as to whether [the Camp] breached its duty to maintain [its] property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the in-jury, and the burden of avoiding the risk” and, further, that the failure of plaintiff’s expert to quote any “authority, treatise [or] standard” in support thereof rendered his ultimate opinion speculative and/or “unsupported by any evidentiary foundation…[sufficient] to withstand summary judgment.
The basis of the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony was based on the 2006 American Camp Association Accreditation Process Guide. However, he failed to demonstrate how, where or when the guide had “been accepted as an authoritative reference work in any court of law, or its applicability to a camp constructed in the 1940s.”
The court also found the expert witnesses reliance on the building codes was misplaced because the camp had been built thirty years prior to the creation of the building code.
The court then stated, “the Camp’s motion for summary judgment is granted, and the complaint and any cross claims as against this defendant are hereby severed and dismissed.”
The court then looked at the cities (New York’s) motions. The court found the duty to supervise the youth was contractually assumed by the city in its contract with the camp. The school also had knowledge of the propensity of the defendant minor to get in fights.
In this regard, actual or constructive notice to the school of prior similar conduct is generally required, since school personnel cannot be reasonably expected to guard against all of the sudden and spontaneous acts that take place among students on a daily basis
The it was foreseeable the fight could occur.
The plaintiff’s mothers claim against the city were dismissed.
However, it is well settled that a parent cannot recover for the loss of society and companionship of a child who was negligently injured, while a claim for the loss of a child’s services must be capable of monetarization in order to be compensable. Here, plaintiff’s mother has offered no proof of the value of any services rendered to her by her son. As a result, so much of the complaint as seeks an award of damages in her individual capacity for the loss of her son’s services must be severed and dismissed.
The defendant camp was dismissed from the lawsuit. The mother’s claims were dismissed from the lawsuit because she could not prove actual damages, only emotional damages, which are not a cause of action in New York.
So Now What?
Here again an ACA trained expert witness tries to use ACA material to prove a camp is negligent. The expert would have been successful if he had better training as an expert witness and knew had to get his guide into evidence.
There are great organizations doing great things for their membership. ACA is one of those organizations. However, like others, the attempt to help their membership be better is making their lives in court a living hell.
What would you think if the person sitting across from you being deposed or on the witness stand says you are a crummy operation and negligent. And you know that your association money went into training him and creating the documents he is using to prove you were negligent.
The final issue is many states are reducing or eliminating who can sue for emotional damages when they witness or are relatives of the plaintiff. Here New York has said you can’t sue for emotional damages for the injury your child received if you don’t have financial damages in the game also.
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Staten Et. Al. v. The City of New York Et. Al., 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4257; 2013 NY Slip Op 32252(U)Posted: April 17, 2018
[**1] Marvin Staten, an Infant Over the Age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural Guardian Cassandra Dozier and Cassandra Dozier, Individually, Plaintiffs, -against- The City of New York, The New York City Department of Education, Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc., Louis Cintron, Sr., Louis Cintron, Jr., an infant over the age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural Guardian, Louis Cintron, Sr., Barbara Rose Cintron and Louis Cintron, Jr. an infant over the age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural guardian, Barbara Rose Cintron, Defendants.
Index No. 104585/07
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, RICHMOND COUNTY
2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4257; 2013 NY Slip Op 32252(U)
August 18, 2013, Decided
NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Affirmed in part and reversed in part by, Summary judgment granted by, Dismissed by, in part Staten v. City of New York, 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3334 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t, Apr. 22, 2015)
PRIOR HISTORY: Staten v. City of New York, 90 A.D.3d 893, 935 N.Y.S.2d 80, 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9134 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t, 2011)
CORE TERMS: window, glass, summary judgment, inter alia, bunk, high school, supervision, severed, horseplay, cabin, spontaneous, hazardous, engaging, breached, sudden, coach, adult, individual capacity, safety glass, building code, constructive notice, supervising, speculative, fighting, infant, fellow, leader, notice, cross claims, negligent supervision
JUDGES: [*1] Present: HON. THOMAS P. ALIOTTA
OPINION BY: THOMAS P. ALIOTTA
DECISION AND ORDER
[**2] Upon the foregoing papers, the motion for summary judgment (No. 1415-005) of defendant Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc. (hereinafter the “Camp”) is granted; the cross motion for summary judgment (No. 1471-006) of defendants The City of New York and The New York City Department of Education (hereinafter “City”) is granted to the extent of dismissing the claims of the individual plaintiff, Cassandra Dozier. The balance of the cross motion is denied.
This matter arises out of an incident which occurred on August 25, 2007 at the Camp’s premises in Pennsylvania, where the infant plaintiff, Marvin Staten (hereinafter “plaintiff”) was enrolled in a week-long football camp with the balance of his high school football team. Plaintiff, who was entering his sophomore year at Tottenville High School on Staten Island, claims to have sustained extensive injuries to his left eye when he was struck by glass from a window pane which had allegedly been broken by a punch thrown by defendant and fellow teammate, Louis Cintron, Jr. (hereinafter “Cintron”). It appears undisputed that the window broke while plaintiff and/or Cintron were engaging in [*2] “horseplay.”
At his deposition, plaintiff testified that shortly after dinner on the date of the accident, he was standing outside his cabin, looking in through a window at eye-level to “see if anybody was messing around with [his] stuff” when, after a few seconds, defendant Cintron “punched [through] the glass” (see Plaintiff’s March 27, 2009 EBT, pp 70-71; Camp’s Exhibit F). No criminal charges were filed against plaintiff’s teammate, who was, however, dismissed from the camp, “cut” from his high school team, and suspended from Tottenville High School following the incident.
The claims against the Camp and the City are grounded in allegations of negligent supervision and maintenance of the premises where the incident occurred (see Plaintiffs’ Amended Verified Complaint, Camp’s Exhibit A, para “Thirty-Sixth”).
[**3] It is noted that prior to this incident, i.e., on February 14, 2006, Cintron had been disciplined by Tottenville High School for engaging in disruptive conduct with another student (see City’s Exhibit I; see also Staten v. City of New York, 90 AD3d 893, 935 N.Y.S.2d 80). It is likewise noted that pursuant to a written contract drawn on Camp Chen-A-Wanda letterhead, dated and signed August 20, [*3] 2007, Tottenville High School coach Jim Munson agreed that “each bunk will be supervised by a coach, former player, or other adult who is at least nineteen years of age” (see City’s Exhibit C). To the extent relevant, the bunk “leaders” supervising plaintiff’s bunk were two seniors, one of whom was defendant Cintron.
In moving for summary judgment, Camp argues, inter alia, that: (1) it owed no duty to supervise plaintiff or to otherwise protect him from horseplay; (2) no facts have been adduced in support of plaintiffs’ claim that the subject window constituted a “defective condition”; and (3) since the proximate cause of the accident was the sudden, unanticipated independent actions of Cintron (i.e., punching the glass), the Camp cannot be found liable for plaintiff’s injury.
In opposition to the motion, plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that not only was the Camp negligent in its maintenance of the premises, but that it was negligent: (1) per se in using ordinary or “annealed” glass for the cabin windows rather than safety glass, in violation of Pennsylvania State and International Building Codes (see June 12, 2013 affidavit of Plaintiff’s Expert, Michael J. Peterson, Plaintiff’s Exhibit [*4] H); (2) in failing to properly exercise risk management, and (3) in failing to supervise its post-season campers and protect them against horseplay. Plaintiff further argues that while Cintron’s actions might be considered “intervening,” his conduct was not a superseding cause of the accident. Notably, plaintiff submits the affidavit of Michael J. Peterson (see Plaintiffs’ Exhibit H), an “expert with 44 years in the camping industry and a co-author of the American Camp Association’s ‘2006 Camp Accreditation Process Guide'” (see Plaintiffs’ [**4] Memorandum of Law), who opined, inter alia, “with a reasonable degree of professional certainty of the camping industry…that [the Camp] should have begun and completed replacement of all non-reinforced glass in hazardous or even marginally hazardous locations within [its] camp with safety impact rated glass, plexi glass (plastic),…safety film, or…reinforced…small gauge hardware cloth wire a full two decades before this accident.” The expert further opined that had these steps been taken, the punch “would not [have] shattered safety impact rated glass, plexi-glass, glass covered with safety film or reinforced glass” (id.).
As previously indicated, [*5] the Camp’s motion for summary judgment is granted, and the complaint and any cross claims as against this defendant are hereby severed and dismissed.
In the opinion of this Court, it is constrained by the 2005 decision of the Court of Appeals in Buchholz v. Trump 767 Fifth Avenue, (5 NY3d 1, 831 N.E.2d 960, 798 N.Y.S.2d 715) to hold that the “conclusory testimony” offered by plaintiff’s expert was “insufficient to raise a question of fact as to whether [the Camp] breached its duty to maintain [its] property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk” and, further, that the failure of plaintiff’s expert to quote any “authority, treatise [or] standard” in support thereof rendered his ultimate opinion speculative and/or “unsupported by any evidentiary foundation…[sufficient] to withstand summary judgment (id. at 9 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Diaz v. New York Downtown Hosp., 99 NY2d 542, 544, 784 N.E.2d 68, 754 N.Y.S.2d 195).1
1 The decedent in Buchholz was pushed and fell through an office window after engaging in “play fighting” with three co-workers following their attendance at a St. Patrick’s Day Parade [*6] in 1999 (id. at 4). Plaintiff alleged that the premises’ owner was negligent, inter alia, in failing to furnish shatterproof glass windows and a safety rail across the window’s face in contravention of certain sections of the New York City Administrative Code, particularly §27-651 (“Panels subject to human impact loads”). Plaintiff’s expert, a registered architect and licensed engineer, submitted an affidavit opining that the window’s very low sill was problematic, and further, that “good and accepted engineering and building safety practices dictated that a protective barrier bar be installed” (id. at 6). Nevertheless, the trial court’s denial of the owner’s summary judgment motion was reversed on appeal (see Buchholz v. Trump 767 Fifth Ave., LLC, 4 AD3d 178, 772 N.Y.S.2d 257) and affirmed by the Court of Appeals based, inter alia, on the speculative nature of the opinion of plaintiff’s expert.
[**5] Here, plaintiff’s expert placed substantial reliance on the language of the 2006 American Camp Association Accreditation Process Guide in formulating his opinion. However, although alleged to have been tested “numerous times in litigation”, Mr. Peterson failed to demonstrate, e.g., where or when this guide has [*7] been accepted as an authoritative reference work in any court of law, or its applicability to a camp constructed in the 1940s. Moreover, his opinion that the failure to replace unannealed windows violated certain Pennsylvania codes or statutes is not compelling or binding upon this Court. To the contrary, Peterson’s reliance on 34 Pa. Admin. Code §47.398, to require the use of “safety glass” in bunk windows represents a misreading of the statute, as the provision in question was not adopted until 1972 (some thirty years after the Camp began its operations), and neither it nor any other Pennsylvania building code or regulation has been cited requiring that bunk windows be retrofitted to conform to the 1972 requirements (cf. Buchholz v. Trump 767 Fifth Avenue, 5 NY3d at 9). Moreover, he failed to show that the window in question was actually in a “hazardous” location for purposes of the cited codes, i.e., within 24 inches of the bunkhouse door. In fact, no measurement was provided. “Although noncompliance with…a customary practice or industry standard may be evidence of negligence, the failure to abide by guidelines or recommendations that are not generally-accepted standards in an [*8] industry will not suffice to raise an issue of fact as to a defendant’s negligence” (Diaz v. New York Downtown Hosp., 287 AD2d 357, 358, 731 N.Y.S.2d 694, affd 99 NY2d 542, 784 N.E.2d 68, 754 N.Y.S.2d 195 [citations omitted]; see also Ambrosio v. South Huntington Union Free School Dist., 249 AD2d 346, 671 N.Y.S.2d 110). This, similarly to Buchholz, is just such a case2.
2 Also worthy of note is the Camp’s uncontroverted representation that no similar incidents (other than, e.g., windows broken by vandalism) occurred during its sixty-year history (see February 3, 2010 EBT of Craig Neier, Camp’s Exhibit C).
The City’s cross motion for summary judgment is granted in part, and denied, in part, as hereinafter provided.
[**6] In arguing for dismissal of the negligent supervision claim, the City argues that (1) it provided more than enough chaperones at the training camp, (2) issued oral and written instructions against the type of conduct which caused plaintiff’s injury; (3) the sudden, spontaneous and unforeseeable nature of defendant Cintron’s actions were such that no reasonable amount of supervision could have prevented the injury, and (4) it had no prior notice of the latter’s propensity to engage in the type of conduct that caused plaintiff’s injury. Moreover, [*9] the City maintains that it did not legally own, occupy, or control the Camp; that Cintron’s independent and spontaneous actions breached any chain of causation connected to the condition or maintenance of the camp and/or its cabin windows; and that it possessed no actual or constructive notice of any dangerous condition regarding the composition of the window itself.
In opposition, plaintiffs argue, inter alia, that the lack of supervision which encouraged the horseplay causing the injury is evident by the City’s failure to (1) place an adult in each cabin, as required under plaintiff’s interpretation of the terms of its contract with the Camp (see City’s Exhibit C); (2) adhere to the Regulations of the Chancellor governing adult supervision on school trips (see City’s Exhibit D), and (3) comply with American Camp Association standard HR-10A and 10B regarding the supervision of campers (see June 12, 2013 affidavit of plaintiffs’ expert, Michael J. Peterson, “Opinions 1”).
Here, the duty of supervising the student/athletes was contractually assumed by the City. In determining whether the duty to provide adequate supervision has been breached in the context of injuries caused by the acts [*10] of fellow students, it must be established that school authorities had sufficiently specific knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused the injury. Put simply, the third-party acts must reasonably have been anticipated (see Brandy B. v. Eden Cent. School Dist., 15 NY3d 297, 302, 934 N.E.2d 304, 907 N.Y.S.2d 735; Mirand v. City of New York, 84 NY2d 44, 49, 637 N.E.2d 263, 614 N.Y.S.2d 372; [**7] Shannea M. v. City of New York, 66 AD3d 667, 886 N.Y.S.2d 483; Doe v. Department of Educ. of City of NY, 54 AD3d 352, 862 N.Y.S.2d 598). In this regard, actual or constructive notice to the school of prior similar conduct is generally required, since school personnel cannot be reasonably expected to guard against all of the sudden and spontaneous acts that take place among students on a daily basis.
Here, the proof of Cintron’s 2006 suspension for fighting at school serves to preclude the City from demonstrating prima facie that his designation as bunk “leader” was reasonable as a matter of law (see Staten v. City of New York and Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc., 90 AD3d 893, 935 N.Y.S.2d 80; see also September 16, 2009 EBT of James Munson, pp 16, 33, 39-42; the Camp’s Exhibit E). Neither is Coach Munson’s investigation purportedly uncovering a conflicting version of the events in which the breaking of the glass [*11] is attributed to plaintiff “put[ting] his face” against it (see EBT of James Munson, p 54) sufficient to warrant dismissal of the cause of action pleaded on behalf of the infant plaintiff.
However, it is well settled that a parent cannot recover for the loss of society and companionship of a child who was negligently injured (see White v. City of New York, 37 AD2d 603, 322 N.Y.S.2d 920), while a claim for the loss of a child’s services must be capable of monetarization in order to be compensable (see DeVito v. Opatich, 215 AD2d 714, 627 N.Y.S.2d 441). Here, plaintiff’s mother has offered no proof of the value of any services rendered to her by her son. As a result, so much of the complaint as seeks an award of damages in her individual capacity for the loss of her son’s services must be severed and dismissed.
Accordingly, it is
ORDERED, that the motion for summary judgment of defendant Camp Chen-A-Wanda Inc. is granted, and the complaint and any cross claims as against this defendant are hereby severed and dismissed; and it is further
[**8] ORDERED, that the cross motion for summary judgment of defendants The City of New York and The New York City Department of Education is granted to the extent that the cause(s) of action asserted [*12] by plaintiff Cassandra Dozier in her individual capacity are hereby severed and dismissed, and it is further
ORDERED that the remainder of the cross motion for summary judgment is denied.
Hon. Thomas P. Aliotta
Dated: September 18, 2013
Byrne, JR., v. Fords-Clara Barton Boys Baseball League, Inc., 236 N.J. Super. 185; 564 A.2d 1222; 1989 N.J. Super. LEXIS 357Posted: March 9, 2015
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
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
[*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
Warren Stemke, as Father and Natural Guardian of Brian Stemke, an infant under the age of eighteen (18) yeas and Warren Stemke, Individually, Plaintiffs, – against – Campbell Mastrogiacomo an infant under the age of eighteen (18) years by his Parents and Natural Guardians, Cheryl Mastrogiacomo and Michael Mastrogiacomo, Cheryl Mastrogiacomo, Michael Mastrogiacomo, Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, Inc., Suffolk County Police Athletic League, Inc., Roger Tobias, World Gym, and Parisi Speed School, Defendants. Index No. 11-10634
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, SUFFOLK COUNTY
2014 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 906; 2014 NY Slip Op 30504(U)
February 26, 2014, Decided
NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.
COUNSEL: [*1] For Plaintiff: EDELMAN, KRASIN & JAYE, PLLC, Carle Place, New York.
For Defendants Mastrogiacomo: RICHARD T. LAU & ASSOCIATES, Jericho, New York.
For Defendants Middle Country Boys Lacross, Suffolk County Police Athletic League & Roger Tobias: RIVKIN RADLER LLP, Uniondale, New York.
For Defendants World Gym & Parisi Speed School: MIRANDA SAMBURSKY SLOAN SKLARIN VERVENIOTIS LLP, Mineola, New York.
JUDGES: PRESENT: Hon. PETER H. MAYER, Justice of the Supreme Court.
OPINION BY: PETER H. MAYER
Upon the reading and filing of the following papers in this matter: (1) Notice of Motion/Order to Show Cause by the defendants World Gym & Parisi Speed School, dated June 20, 2013, and supporting papers (including Memorandum of Law dated ); Notice of Motion/Order to Show Cause by the defendants Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, Inc., Suffolk Police Athletic League, Inc. & Roger Tobias, dated June 21, 2013, and supporting papers (including Memorandum of Law dated ); Notice of Motion /Order to Show Cause by the defendants Cheryl & Michael Mastrogiacomo, dated July 12, 2013, and supporting papers (including Memorandum of Law dated ); (2) Affirmation in Opposition by the defendants World Gym & Parisi Speed School, dated [*2] August 12, 2013, and supporting papers; Affirmation in Opposition by the plaintiffs, dated September 6, 2013, and supporting papers; [**2] (3) Reply Affirmation by the defendants World Gym & Parisi Speed School, dated September 12, 2013, and supporting papers; Reply Affirmation by the defendants Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, Inc., Suffolk Police Athletic League, Inc. & Roger Tobias, dated September 16, 2013, and supporting papers; (4) Other Memorandum of Law (
and after hearing counsels’ oral arguments in support of and opposed to the motion); and now
UPON DUE DELIBERATION AND CONSIDERATION BY THE COURT of the foregoing papers, the motion is decided as follows: it is
ORDERED that the motion (#004) by defendants Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, Inc., Suffolk County Police Athletic League, Inc., and Roger Tobias, the motion (#005) by defendants Setauket Country Club Ltd and Parisi Speed School, and the motion (#006) by defendants Cheryl Mastrogiacomo and Michael Mastrogiacomo are consolidated for the purposes of this determination; and it is
ORDERED that the motion (#004) by defendants Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, Inc., Suffolk County Police Athletic League, Inc., and Roger Tobias [*3] for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them is granted; and it is
ORDERED that the motion (#005) by defendants Setauket Country Club Ltd and Parisi Speed School for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them is denied; and it is further
ORDERED that the motion (#006) by defendants Cheryl Mastrogiacomo and Michael Mastrogiacomo for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them is granted.
On November 20, 2010, infant plaintiff Brian Stemke, who at that time was 12 years old and a member of a lacrosse team run by defendant Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, Inc., was injured while attending a training program run by defendant Parisi Speed School at a facility owned by defendant Setauket Country Club, Ltd, d/b/a World Gym Setauket, when he collided with infant defendant Campbell Mastrogiacomo and fell to the floor. Infant plaintiff’s father, plaintiff Warren Stemke, suing individually and on behalf of his son, commenced this action against defendants, alleging they failed to provide adequate supervision of infant plaintiff and the other participants in the training session.
Defendants Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, Inc., Suffolk County Police Athletic [*4] League, Inc., and Roger Tobias (hereinafter collectively referred to as the Lacrosse Club defendants) now move for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them, arguing that they had no duty to supervise infant plaintiff or Campbell Mastrogiacomo at the time and place of the subject incident, and that the alleged inadequate supervision was not the proximate cause of infant plaintiff’s injuries. They also argue that the Volunteer Protection Act shields defendant Roger Tobias, coach of the Middle Country Boys Lacrosse team, from personal liability. In support of their motion, the Lacrosse Club defendants submit copies of the pleadings, transcripts of the parties’ deposition testimony, and an affidavit of Michael Harvey.
Defendants Setauket Country Club Ltd and Parisi Speed School (hereinafter collectively referred to as the World Gym defendants) move for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims against them, arguing that the actions of Campbell Mastrogiacomo were unforeseeable. In support of their motion, they submit copies of the pleadings and transcripts of the parties’ deposition testimony.
Defendants Cheryl Mastrogiacomo and Michael Mastrogiacomo (hereinafter [*5] collectively referred to as the Mastrogiacomo defendants) move for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them on the grounds that they had no knowledge of any propensity on the part of their son, infant defendant Campbell Mastrogiacomo, to engage in conduct which could be deemed “vicious” or dangerous to others. In support of their motion, they submit copies of the pleadings and transcripts of the deposition testimony [**3] of Cheryl Mastrogiacomo and Campbell Mastrogiacomo.
Plaintiffs oppose defendants’ motions, arguing that triable issues of fact exist as to the adequacy and the quality of the supervision prior to the incident. As to the Mastrogiacomo’s motion, plaintiffs also argue that it is untimely. The World Gym defendants partially oppose the motion by the Lacrosse Club defendants, arguing that they cannot be liable for infant plaintiff’s injuries as they had no notice of the unforeseeable actions of Campbell Mastrogiacomo.
The affidavit of Michael Harvey, a Suffolk County Police Officer and Police Coordinator of the Police Coordinator of the Suffolk County Police Athletic League’s (PAL) lacrosse program, states that the PAL is a not-for-profit corporation which, among [*6] other things, supports juvenile crime prevention and promotes recreational sports programs for minors throughout Suffolk County. It states that the PAL does not organize, schedule, supervise, manage or run any clinics or training sessions for players in its lacrosse league at Parisi Speed School or World Gym Setauket. It states that the subject training session at Parisi Speed School and the lacrosse practice held by Tobias for the lacrosse players affiliated with the Middle Country lacrosse program was arranged independently by Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club. It further states that no member of the PAL was present for the offseason lacrosse workouts or practices that were held by Tobias on the date of the incident.
At his examination before trial, Tobias testified that he was a volunteer lacrosse coach for the Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, which is a town league that is a part of the Suffolk County Police Athletic League. He testified that he organized a training session with Parisi Speed School at World Gym Setauket for the players on the lacrosse team, including players who would be joining the team for the upcoming season. He explained that Parisi Speed School is a training [*7] center for speed and agility, where the participants do exercises and work on running techniques. Tobias testified that he attended the training session, as his son was on the lacrosse team, and that some of the other parents stayed to observe the training session. He testified that he observed the children “messing around,” bouncing three-foot wide, light-weight yoga balls. He testified that he told the children to stop bouncing the balls because the training session had just begun and the training did not involve use of the yoga balls. He testified that he did not observe the incident, but learned that infant plaintiff was injured when his mother came to pick him up. Tobias testified that he is not aware of any behavioral issues involving Campbell Mastrogiacomo, and that Campbell’s father was present at the training session.
At his examination before trial, infant plaintiff testified that on the day of the incident, he was dropped off by his mother at World Gym Setauket for training in the Parisi Speed School. He testified that he was waiting on the gym floor for the training session to begin with about 20 other boys when Campbell Mastrogiacomo sprinted towards him and pushed him, [*8] causing him to fall. Infant plaintiff explained that he was holding a yoga ball, intending to return it to a bin, when Campbell collided with the ball that he was holding. Infant plaintiff testified that there were no adults in the room at the time of the incident, and that the trainer had not arrived yet.
At his examination before trial, Campbell Mastrogiacomo testified that he was waiting with other members of the lacrosse team for the training session to begin at Parisi Speed School when the incident occurred. He testified that all the children waiting there were running around kicking and throwing the yoga balls; that the yoga balls were just “flying everywhere”; and that no one told them to stop. He testified [**4] that some of the children were playing catch with the yoga balls and some were throwing them at each other. He testified that he observed infant plaintiff playing with the yoga balls. Campbell Mastrogiacomo testified that he was trying to avoid being hit by a yoga ball when he ran into infant plaintiff, causing both of them to fall. He further testified that he did not observe infant plaintiff immediately prior to the accident, and that he accidentally ran into him. He testified [*9] that in the 20 minutes that he was waiting for the training session to begin, he did not observe any employees or trainers from Parisi Speed School at the facility, but that there were five or six parents present, including Tobias.
At his examination before trial, Tom Jaklitsch, general manager of World Gym Setauket, testified that Parisi Speed School is a franchise that World Gym Setauket purchased, which is designed to instruct athletes to improve their speed, agility and strength. He testified that at the time of the incident, Michael Strockbine, the program director, would run the Parisi Speed School training sessions. He testified that Strockbine is no longer employed by World Gym Setauket.
On a motion for summary judgment the movant bears the initial burden and must tender evidence sufficient to eliminate all material issues of fact (see Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 476 N.E.2d 642, 487 NYS2d 316 ). Once the movant meets this burden, the burden shifts to the opposing party to demonstrate that there are material issues of fact, however, mere conclusions and unsubstantiated allegations are insufficient to raise any triable issues of fact (see Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 NYS2d 595 ; [*10] Perez v Grace Episcopal Church, 6 AD3d 596, 774 NYS2d 785 [2d Dept 2004]). The court’s function is to determine whether issues of fact exist, not to resolve issues of fact or to determine matters of credibility; therefore, in determining the motion for summary judgment, the facts alleged by the opposing party and all inferences that may be drawn are to be accepted as true (see Roth v Barreto, 289 AD2d 557, 735 NYS2d 197 [2d Dept 2001]; O’Neill v Fishkill, 134 AD2d 487, 521 NYS2d 272 [2d Dept 1987]).
To prove a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate the existence of a duty, a breach of that duty, and that the breach of such duty was a proximate cause of his or her injuries (see Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781, 358 N.E.2d 1019, 390 NYS2d 393 ; Engelhart v County of Orange, 16 AD3d 369, 790 NYS2d 704 [2d Dept], lv denied 5 NY3d 704, 834 N.E.2d 780, 801 NYS2d 1 ). A duty of reasonable care owed by the tortfeasor to the plaintiff is essential to any recovery in negligence (Eiseman v State, 70 NY2d 175, 187, 511 N.E.2d 1128, 518 NYS2d 608 ; see Espinal v Melville Snow Contrs., 98 NY2d 136, 773 N.E.2d 485, 746 NYS2d 120 ; Pulka v Edelman, supra). Although juries determine whether and to what extent a particular duty [*11] was breached, it is for the courts to decide in the first instance whether any duty exists and, if so, the scope of such duty (Church v Callanan Indus., 99 NY2d 104, 110-111, 782 N.E.2d 50, 752 NYS2d 254 ; Darby v Compagnie Natl. Air France, 96 NY2d 343, 347, 753 N.E.2d 160, 728 NYS2d 731 ; Waters v New York City Hous. Auth., 69 NY2d 225, 229, 505 N.E.2d 922, 513 NYS2d 356 ). Courts traditionally “fix the duty point by balancing factors, including the reasonable expectations of parties and society generally, the proliferation of claims, the likelihood of unlimited or insurer-like liability, disproportionate risk and reparation allocation, and public policies affecting the expansion or limitation of new channels of liability” (Palka v Servicemaster Management Servs. Corp., 83 NY2d 579, 586, 634 N.E.2d 189, 611 NYS2d 817 ; see Tagle v Jakob, 97 NY2d 165, 763 N.E.2d 107, 737 NYS2d 331 ).
Enacted to provide volunteers serving nonprofit organizations and government entities with “certain protections from liability abuses” (42 USC § 14501 [b]), the federal Volunteer Protection Act immunizes [**5] individuals who perform services for a not-for-profit corporation and do not receive compensation exceeding $500 per year from liability for harm they [*12] caused in the scope of their duties, provided the harm was not caused by “willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct or a flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the volunteer” (42 USC § 14503 [a]). Here, the evidence submitted in support of the motion shows Tobias was an unpaid volunteer for the Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club at the time the incident occurred.
The Lacrosse defendants contend that PAL, Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, and Tobias owe no duty to supervise infant plaintiff, as the incident occurred inside the World Gym Setauket facility and involved infant plaintiff and defendant Campbell Mastrogiacomo, who were there to participate in a training session given by Parisi Speed School. According to the affidavit of Harvey, the PAL did not organize or schedule the training session at the Parisi school, and no PAL members were present at the time of the incident.
Here, Tobias, the coach of Middle Country Boys Lacrosse Club, organized and scheduled the training session for the lacrosse club, and was present at the facility at the time of the incident. However, while members of the lacrosse club were invited [*13] to the training session by Tobias, the lacrosse club had no control over training or supervision of the members at the time of the incident, and thus had no duty to infant plaintiff (see Mercer by Mercer v City of New York, 255 AD2d 368, 679 NYS2d 694 [2d Dept 1998]; Mongello v Davos Ski Resort, 224 AD2d 502, 638 NYS2d 166 [2d Dept 1996]). In opposition, plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the Lacrosse defendants owed a duty to infant plaintiff. Plaintiffs’ counsel fails to assert any specific arguments in opposition to the Lacrosse defendants, and merely mentions in a footnote that a question of fact exists as to whether Tobias was operating within the scope of a volunteer, and thus whether the Volunteer Protection Act applies. Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint by the Lacrosse Club defendants is granted.
The motion for summary judgment by the World Gym defendants, however, is denied. The World Gym defendants, as an owner or tenant in possession of real property who holds their property open to the public, have a general duty to maintain it in a reasonably safe condition so as to prevent the occurrence of foreseeable injuries [*14] (see Nallan v Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 50 NY2d 507, 407 N.E.2d 451, 429 NYS2d 606 ; Kimen v False Alarm, Ltd., 69 AD3d 579, 893 NYS2d 158 [2d Dept 2010]; Boderick v R.Y. Mgmt. Co., 71 AD3d 144, 897 NYS2d 1 [1st Dept 2009]; Meyer v Tyner, 273 AD2d 364, 709 NYS2d 618 ). Significantly, the World Gym defendants failed to submit sufficient evidence from a party with first hand knowledge of the supervision provided to the participants of the training session. Moreover, the contention that the actions of Campbell Mastrogiacomo were sudden and abrupt is without merit, as his testimony reveals that the children were running around and throwing the yoga balls for approximately 20 minutes before the accident. Thus, World Gym failed to establish a prima facie case that the accident occurred so suddenly and in such a short span of time that no level of supervision could have prevented it (see Oliverio v Lawrence Pub. Schools, 23 AD3d 633, 805 NYS2d 638 [2d Dept 2005]; Douglas v John Hus Moravian Church of Brooklyn, Inc., 8 AD3d 327, 778 NYS2d 77 [2d Dept 2004]; c.f. Lopez v Freeport Union Free School Dist., 288 AD2d 355, 734 NYS2d 97 [2d Dept 2001]). A triable issue of fact also exists as to whether the [*15] World Gym defendants were negligent in leaving the yoga balls out in the area where the children were waiting, which presented a danger of improper use, and in failing to have an adult present to supervise the children. Accordingly, the motion by the World Gym defendants for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them is denied.
[**6] With regard to the motion for summary judgment by the Mastrogiacomo defendants, parents have an obligation to supervise their children (Holodook v Spencer, 36 NY2d 35, 45, 324 N.E.2d 338, 364 NYS2d 859 ), and may be held liable to a third-party for injury caused by an infant child’s improvident use of a dangerous instrument if they entrusted the child with such dangerous instrument (see Holodook v Spencer, 36 NY2d 35, 324 N.E.2d 338, 364 NYS2d 859; Nolechek v Gesuale, 46 NY2d 332, 385 N.E.2d 1268, 413 NYS2d 340 ). Parents also may be held liable for the torts of their infant child if they negligently failed to restrain the child from committing a vicious act, if they had knowledge that the child had a propensity to engage in violent or vicious conduct (see Rivers v Murray, 29 AD3d 884, 815 NYS2d 708 [2d Dept 2006]; Armour v England, 210 AD2d 561, 619 NYS2d 807 [3d Dept 1994]; Steinberg v Cauchois, 249 AD 518, 293 NYS2d 147 [2d Dept 1937]). [*16] Evidence of a single incident of violence involving the infant child, however, is not sufficient to establish that the child had a propensity to engage in vicious conduct (see Davies v Incorporated Vil. of E. Rockaway, 272 AD2d 503, 708 NYS2d 147 [2d Dept 2000]; Armour v England, supra).
Initially, the Court notes that while the Mastrogiacomo defendants’ motion for summary judgment was untimely, having been made more than 120 days after the filing of the note of issue in this action, an untimely motion for summary judgment may nevertheless be considered as long as it involves issues related to a timely pending summary judgment motion (see CPLR 3212 [a]; James v Jamie Towers Hous. Co., 294 AD2d 268, 743 NYS2d 85 , affd 99 NY2d 639, 790 N.E.2d 1147, 760 NYS2d 718 [1st Dept 2003]; see also, Bressingham v Jamaica Hosp. Med. Ctr., 17 AD3d 496, 793 NYS2d 176 [2d Dept 2005]). Under the instant circumstances the issues raised by the Mastrogiacomo defendants’ untimely motion are already properly before the Court and thus, the nearly identical nature of the grounds may provide the requisite good cause to review the untimely motion on the merits.
Here, there is no evidence in the record that defendants Cheryl [*17] Mastrogiacomo and Michael Mastrogiacomo had knowledge prior to the subject incident that their son had a propensity to engage in vicious conduct. The testimony of Cheryl Mastrogiacomo reveals that she was aware of an incident where Campbell pulled the pants of another student down in the cafeteria, and an incident when he was in the fourth grade where a child was injured while they were “horseplaying.” However, those incidents are insufficient to establish that Campbell had a tendency to engage in vicious conduct which might endanger a third-party (see Rivers v Murray, supra; Armour v England, supra). In opposition, plaintiffs’ merely argue that the motion by Mastrogiacomo defendants was untimely. Accordingly, the motion by the Mastrogiacomo defendants for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them is granted.
The action is severed and shall continue against defendants World Gym, Parisi Speed School, and Campbell Mastrogiacomo.
/s/ Peter H. Mayer
PETER H. MAYER, J.S.C.
The Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Christopher Elliot, Deceased, Plaintiffs v. La Quinta Corporation, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16837Posted: March 9, 2015
The Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Christopher Elliot, Deceased, Plaintiffs v. La Quinta Corporation, La Quinta Properties, Inc., La Quinta Development Partners, LP, Securitas Security Services Usa, Inc., Harry J. Burnham, Jeanette Ollie, Individually and d/b/a Shaw Athletic Youth Association, and John Does 1 through 5, Defendants
CASE NO. 2:06CV56
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI, DELTA DIVISION
2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16837
March 8, 2007, Decided
COUNSEL: [*1] For The Wrongful Death Beneficiaris of Christopher Elliott, Deceased, Plaintiff: Dana J. Swan, LEAD ATTORNEY, CHAPMAN, LEWIS & SWAN, Clarksdale, MS; David Randall Wade, LEAD ATTORNEY, DAVID R. WADE, ATTORNEY, Florence, MS.
For LaQuinta Corporation, LaQuinta Properties, Inc., LaQuinta Development Partners, LP, Defendants: Monte L. Barton, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, COPELAND, COOK, TAYLOR & BUSH, Ridgeland, MS; Philip J. Chapman, COPELAND, COOK, TAYLOR & BUSH – Ridgeland, Ridgeland, MS.
For Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., Harry J. Burnham, Defendants: Dorrance Aultman, LEAD ATTORNEY, AULTMAN, TYNER & RUFFIN, LTD., Hattiesburg, MS; William Heath Hillman, LEAD ATTORNEY, AULTMAN, TYNER, MCNEESE & RUFFIN, Hattiesburg, MS.
JUDGES: Michael P. Mills, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
OPINION BY: Michael P. Mills
This cause comes before the court on the plaintiffs’ motion to remand  as well as the plaintiffs’ motion  to amend to add non-diverse defendants. The court has reviewed the briefs and submissions and is prepared to rule.
This is an action for the wrongful death of sixteen year old minor Christopher Elliot. Christopher drowned at the La Quinta [*2] Inn while on a trip with a community youth basketball team. This case was removed to federal court on March 31, 2006 from the Circuit Court of Bolivar County based on diversity of citizenship and federal question jurisdiction. Defendant Jeanette Ollie did not join in the removal and the other defendants have alleged that Ms. Ollie has been fraudulently joined in this action. The defendants also assert that any stated cause of action against Ms. Ollie is preempted by the Federal Volunteer Protection Act, giving rise to federal jurisdiction. The plaintiffs assert that they have stated claims against Ms. Ollie upon which relief can be granted, and further contend that there is no federal question in this lawsuit.
The defendant’s claim that the Federal Volunteer Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. 14501 et seq., gives rise to a federal question is incorrect. In Richardson v. United Steelworkers of America, the Fifth Circuit stated:
One clear feature of the “arising under” requirement, however, is the well-pleaded complaint rule: whether a claim arises under federal law must be determined from the allegations in the well-pleaded complaint. See generally [*3] Wright, Miller & Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure: Jurisdiction § 3566 (2d ed.1984). In removal cases removed, the plaintiff’s well-pleaded complaint, not the removal petition, must establish that the case arises under federal law. See Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 106 S. Ct. 3229, 3232, 92 L. Ed. 2d 650 (1986); Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 103 S. Ct. 2841, 2847, 77 L. Ed. 2d 420 (1983). This requires the court to determine federal jurisdiction only from those allegations necessary to state a claim or, stated alternatively, a federal court does not have jurisdiction over a state law claim because of a defense that raises a federal issue. Franchise Tax Bd., 103 S. Ct. at 2846; Gully v. First Nat’l Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 57 S. Ct. 96, 81 L. Ed. 70 (1936); Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 29 S.Ct. 42, 53 L.Ed. 126 (1908). Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, federal preemption is generally a defensive issue that does not authorize removal of a case to federal court. See Powers, 719 F.2d at 764-65. [*4]
864 F.2d 1162, 1168 (5th Cir. 1989).
While it is true that when a federal cause of action completely preempts a state cause of action, any complaint that comes within the scope of the federal cause of action necessarily ‘arises under’ federal law, that is not the case in the instant matter. See Richardson at 1169. The language of 42 U.S.C. 14502(a) states that “this chapter preempts the laws of any State to the extent that such laws are inconsistent with this chapter, except that this chapter shall not preempt any State law that provides additional protection from liability relating to volunteers or to any category of volunteers in the performance of services for a nonprofit or governmental entity.” As such, the Volunteer Protection Act does not completely preempt state law and does not give rise to a federal question.
The removing party, which is urging jurisdiction on the court, also bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is proper due to fraudulent/improper joinder. Dodson v. Spiliada Maritime Corp., 951 F.2d 40, 42 (5th Cir. 1992). The Fifth Circuit has stated:
The burden [*5] of persuasion placed upon those who cry “fraudulent joinder” is indeed a heavy one. In order to establish that an in-state defendant has been fraudulently joined, the removing party must show either that there is no possibility that the plaintiff would be able to establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in state court; or that there has been outright fraud in the plaintiff’s pleadings of jurisdictional facts.
B., Inc. v. Miller Brewing Co., 663 F.2d 545, 549 (5th Cir. 1981). The Fifth Circuit has reaffirmed that it “is insufficient that there be a mere theoretical possibility” of recovery; to the contrary, there must “at least be arguably a reasonable basis for predicting that state law would allow recovery in order to preclude a finding of fraudulent joinder.” Travis v. Irby, 326 F.3d 644, 648 (5th Cir. 2003)(citing Badon v. RJR Nabisco Inc., 224 F.3d 382, 386 (5th Cir. 2000)).
The defendants’ task is made considerably more difficult by the Fifth Circuit’s decisions in Smallwood v. Illinois Central Railroad Co., 385 F.3d 568 (5th Cir. 2004) and McKee v. Kansas City Southern Ry. Co., 358 F.3d 329, 336 n.2 (5th Cir. 2004). [*6] A majority of the en banc Fifth Circuit in Smallwood observed that:
Ordinarily, if a plaintiff can survive a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge, there is no improper joinder. That said, there are cases, hopefully few in number, in which a plaintiff has stated a claim, but has misstated or omitted discrete facts that would determine the propriety of joinder. In such cases, the district court may, in its discretion, pierce the pleadings and conduct a summary inquiry. … Discovery by the parties should not be allowed except on a tight judicial tether, sharply tailored to the question at hand, and only after a showing of its necessity.
Smallwood, 385 F.3d at 573. The Fifth Circuit in McKee similarly emphasized that the fraudulent joinder standard is more akin to a 12(b)(6) standard than the quasi-summary judgment standard which had previously been applied by many district judges in this circuit. It is accordingly plain, in light of McKee and Smallwood, that the improper/fraudulent joinder standard is far more deferential to a plaintiff’s allegations than had commonly been assumed.
With regard to defendant Ollie, the plaintiffs [*7] have alleged:
“That the Defendant, Jeanette Ollie d/b/a Shaw Athletic Youth Association, (“Ollie”), undertook and assumed a duty to supervise the minors in the group while in Jackson, Mississippi, but negligently failed to do so.”
The plaintiffs clearly allege negligent supervision against Ms. Ollie. However, under the Volunteer Protection Act, volunteers cannot be liable for simple negligence. The plaintiffs maintain that the Volunteer Protection Act does not apply to Ollie or the Shaw Athletic Youth Association because the organization has not received any federal designation as a qualifying exempt organization under 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3). Ms. Ollie has submitted an affidavit that avers that the “Shaw Athletic Youth Association” is a fictitious name created for the single purpose of ascribing a name to the group that would be traveling to Jackson, but that the group has not been formally organized or incorporated. The defendants contend that the Volunteer Protection Act does not require formal organization or articles of incorporation and presents competing affidavits regarding Ms. Ollie’s status as a volunteer for an amateur youth [*8] basketball team.
The term “nonprofit organization” is defined by the statute as a) any organization which is described in section 501(c)(3) of such title and is exempt from tax under section 501(a) of Title 26 and which does not practice any action which constitutes a hate crime referred to in subsection (b)(1) of the first section of the Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. 534); or b) any not-for-profit organization which is organized and conducted for public benefit and operated primarily for charitable, civic, educational, religious, welfare, or health purposes and which does not practice any action which constitutes a hate crime referred to in subsection (b)(1) of the first section of the Hate Crime Statistics Act. The legislative history of the act reflects that the bill covers not only “501(c)(3) organizations, but it also covers volunteers of the organizations which do good work, but do not have a tax exemption under 501(c)(3).” 143 Cong. Rec. S4915-05. The legislative history also indicates that the bill also “covers volunteers of local charities, volunteer fire departments, little leagues, veterans groups, trade associations, chambers of commerce, [*9] and other nonprofit entities that exist for charitable, religious, educational, and civic purposes.” Id.
Given the extremely broad definition of “organization” under the Volunteer Protection Act as well as the fact that the youths traveled to Jackson together as a team to engage in recreational sport, this court finds that the group constitutes an organization for the purposes of the Volunteer Protection Act. Under the Volunteer Protection Act a volunteer is not liable for simple negligence. The plaintiffs have only alleged simple negligence against defendant Ollie. Accordingly, the plaintiffs have no possibility of recovery against Ms. Ollie and the defendant has been improperly joined in the action.
The plaintiffs have also requested to amend their complaint to include Mississippi defendants Andrew Williams and Kerlin Janiver. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 15 provides that motions to amend a complaint “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” However, when an amendment will destroy diversity jurisdiction the court must consider:(1) the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction; (2) whether the plaintiff has been dilatory in asking [*10] for an amendment; (3) whether the plaintiff will be significantly injured if amendment is not allowed; and (4) any other factors bearing on the equities. Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 833 F.2d 1179, 1182 (5th Cir.1987). The Fifth Circuit has rejected the rigid distinction between the post-removal joinder of indispensable parties under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 19 and post-removal joinder of permissive parties under Rule 20. Rosa v. Aqualine Res., Inc., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22130, 2004 WL 247990 *1 (N.D. Tex. 2004).
The state court complaint filed on March 16, 2006, in Bolivar County, Mississippi states: “at this time, Plaintiffs do not know the identity of John Does 1 through 5, but that said unnamed known defendants may include a person named “Johnny Murray,” and/or other agents, employees, servants or subsidiaries of La Quinta Development Partner, LP, and/or independent contractors of La Quinta Development Partners, LP.” The complaint also states: “by information and belief, the Defendants Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., (“Securitas”), and Harry J. Burnham, (“Burnham”) and a person named “Javarius” employed by Securitas, (sometimes referred to collectively herein as the [*11] “Securitas Defendants”), undertook and assumed the duties to provide security, surveillance, monitoring, and supervision for the safety and security of the guests at the La Quinta Inn.” While the plaintiffs have moved to remand, it seems unlikely that the sole purpose the plaintiffs have moved to amend their complaint is to defeat federal jurisdiction. The plaintiffs did, in fact, make allegations against unknown plaintiffs while the case was in state court. More telling, the complaint asserts allegations against an unknown “Javarius,” and the name of one of the persons they seek to add is actually Janiver.
The plaintiffs moved to amend on June 13, 2006, roughly three months after commencing this action. Three months is not an unduly dilatory amount of time to discover the names of unknown parties, particularly as discovery has not commenced in this matter.
The court must also consider whether the plaintiffs will be significantly injured if amendment is not allowed. The defendants argue that amendment is not necessary because the proposed parties were employees of Securitas at the time of Christopher’s drowning, and that they were within the scope of their employment [*12] which means that Securitas would be vicariously liable for any tortious acts committed by the proposed defendants. The plaintiffs counter by alleging that it is unknown if proposed defendants Williams and Janiver remained within the scope of employment during the time that they should have been guarding the pool area. In Hayes v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2405, 2000 WL 33907691 *2 (N.D. Miss. 2000), the Judge Biggers rejected the defendants’ argument that an employee was an unnecessary party since the corporation would be responsible under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The court found that the plaintiff had a right to seek recovery from the individual as well as the corporation. Id. This court also finds that the doctrine of respondeat superior does not preclude the plaintiffs from seeking recovery from the defendants individually.
As neither party has alleged any additional factors bearing on the equity of amendment, this court finds that an examination of the Hensgens factors demonstrates that amendment is proper in this instance.
Accordingly, the plaintiffs’ motion  to remand is GRANTED. The plaintiffs’ motion  to amend is also GRANTED. [*13] Defendant Ollie has been improperly joined; however, the plaintiffs are hereby granted leave to file an amended complaint naming Andrew Williams and Keith Janiver as defendants. The amended complaint must be filed within ten days of entry of this order. This case is now remanded back to the Circuit Court of Bolivar County, Mississippi.
This the 8<th> day of March, 2007.
/s/ Michael P. Mills
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE