Oregon Volunteer Immunity Act or Limitation on Liability of Volunteers; conditions.

Title 3  Remedies and Special Actions and Proceedings  
Chapter 30-  Actions and Suits in Particular Cases  
Volunteers Transporting Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities
 
GO TO OREGON REVISED STATUTES ARCHIVE DIRECTORY
ORS § 30.480  (2016)
30.480  Limitation on liability of volunteers; conditions.

(1) When a provider of volunteer transportation services who is qualified under subsection (3) of this section provides the services under the conditions described in subsection (4) of this section to a person with a disability or a person who is 55 years of age or older, the liability of the provider to the person for injury, death or loss arising out of the volunteer transportation services shall be limited as provided in this section. When volunteer transportation services are provided to five or fewer persons at one time, the liability of the provider of the volunteer transportation services shall not exceed the greater of the amount of coverage under the terms of the provider’s motor vehicle liability insurance policy, as described in ORS 806.080, or the amounts specified in ORS 806.070 for future responsibility payments for:

     (a) Bodily injury to or death of any one person to whom the transportation services are provided, in any one accident.

     (b) Bodily injury to or death of two or more persons to whom the transportation services are provided, in any one accident.

     (c) Injury to or destruction of the property of one or more persons to whom the transportation services are provided, in any one accident.

(2) Notwithstanding the amount specified in subsection (1)(b) of this section by reference to ORS 806.070, if a qualified provider of transportation services provides the services to more than five persons, but not more than 16, at one time who have disabilities or who are 55 years of age or older, under the conditions described in subsection (4) of this section, the liability under subsection (1)(b) of this section shall not exceed the greater of the amount of coverage under the terms of the provider’s motor vehicle liability insurance policy or $ 300,000. The limitations on liability provided by ORS 30.475, 30.480 and 30.485 do not apply when volunteer transportation services are provided to 17 or more persons at one time who have disabilities or who are 55 years of age or older.

(3) The following persons qualify for the limitation on liability under subsections (1) and (2) of this section:

     (a) The person who provides or sponsors transportation services.

     (b) The owner of the vehicle in which transportation services are provided.

     (c) The person who operates the vehicle in which transportation services are provided.

(4) The limitation on liability under subsections (1) and (2) of this section applies to a person qualified under subsection (3) of this section only under the following conditions:

     (a) If the person is an individual, the individual must hold a valid Oregon driver’s license.

     (b) The person must provide the transportation services on a nonprofit and voluntary basis. However, this paragraph does not prohibit a sponsor of transportation services from reimbursing an operator of a private motor vehicle providing the services for actual expenses incurred by the operator. If an operator is paid, that operator is qualified only if operating as an emergency operator.

     (c) The person providing the transportation services must not receive from the persons using the services any substantial benefit in a material or business sense that is a substantial motivating factor for the transportation. A contribution or donation to the provider of the transportation services other than the operator of the motor vehicle or any mere gratuity or social amenity shall not be a substantial benefit under this paragraph.

     (d) Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this subsection, the transportation services must be provided without charge to the person using the services.

(5) The amounts received by a person with a disability or a person 55 years of age or older under the personal injury protection provisions of the insurance coverage of a person who qualifies for the limitation on liability under this section shall not reduce the amount that the person may recover under subsection (1) or (2) of this section.

(6) The liability of two or more persons whose liability is limited under this section, on claims arising out of a single accident, shall not exceed in the aggregate the amounts limited by subsection (1) or (2) of this section.

(7) This section does not apply in the case of an accident or injury if the accident or injury was intentional on the part of any person who provided the transportation services or if the accident or injury was caused by the person’s gross negligence or intoxication. For purposes of this subsection, gross negligence is negligence which is materially greater than the mere absence of reasonable care under the circumstances, and which is characterized by conscious indifference to or reckless disregard of the rights of others.

(8) For purposes of this section, a person has a disability if the person has a physical or mental disability that for the person constitutes or results in a functional limitation to one or more of the following activities: Self-care, ambulation, communication, transportation, education, socialization or employment.

 


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.


Stemke v. Mastrogiacomo, 2014 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 906; 2014 NY Slip Op 30504(U)

Stemke v. Mastrogiacomo, 2014 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 906; 2014 NY Slip Op 30504(U)

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

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

OPINION

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 [1985]). 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 [1980]; [*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 [1976]; 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 [2005]). 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 [1987]; see Espinal v Melville Snow Contrs., 98 NY2d 136, 773 N.E.2d 485, 746 NYS2d 120 [2002]; 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 [2002]; Darby v Compagnie Natl. Air France, 96 NY2d 343, 347, 753 N.E.2d 160, 728 NYS2d 731 [2001]; Waters v New York City Hous. Auth., 69 NY2d 225, 229, 505 N.E.2d 922, 513 NYS2d 356 [1987]). 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 [1994]; see Tagle v Jakob, 97 NY2d 165, 763 N.E.2d 107, 737 NYS2d 331 [2001]).

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][3]). 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 [1980]; 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 [2001]). 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 [1974]), 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 [1978]). 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 [2002], 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.

Dated: 2/26/14

/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 16837

The Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Christopher Elliot, Deceased, Plaintiffs v. La Quinta Corporation, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16837

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

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This cause comes before the court on the plaintiffs’ motion to remand [14] as well as the plaintiffs’ motion [24] 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 [14] to remand is GRANTED. The plaintiffs’ motion [24] 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