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SCHREIBER v. CAMM

April 5, 1994

SAMANTHA SCHREIBER AND MICHELLE SALEM, Plaintiffs
v.
ROBERT J. CAMM, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH E. IRENAS

 IRENAS, District Judge

 Defendant Robert Camm purchased an estate in Jamaica known as Mockingbird Hill, which he rented out to vacationers. Mr. Camm employed a staff of six to manage the estate, and contracted with a local security agency to provide security. Plaintiffs, who were shot and injured by a security guard while staying at the estate, brought suit against Camm for negligent hiring and vicarious liability. Defendant now moves for summary judgment, claiming that he cannot be held liable for the acts of an independent contractor absent evidence of obvious incompetence or an inherently dangerous activity. Plaintiffs respond that Camm had a nondelegable duty to protect the tenants from harm, and is therefore vicariously liable for any negligent acts of the security guard.

 Because we find that (1) the plaintiffs have failed to present evidence of any independent negligence on the part of the defendant-landowner and (2) there are no grounds on which to impose vicarious liability on the defendant, we will grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

 I. BACKGROUND

 A. Factual Background

 Mockingbird Hill Estate ("Mockingbird Hill," or "the estate") is a former plantation located in Hanover, Jamaica, comprising a guest house that accommodates twelve people, a pool, a cabana, and servants' quarters. Defendant Robert Camm and his wife purchased Mockingbird Hill in 1986 from the estate of the previous owner for use as both a personal vacation home and an investment property.

 After purchasing the estate, Camm continued to employ the same staff of six -- cook, butler, chambermaid, laundress, and two gardeners -- that had been employed by the previous owner. He retained the same agent, Tony Walker, to manage the property. In addition, he engaged the same independent security company, Northern Security Services, Ltd. ("Northern Security"), to provide security for the estate. Northern Security had been recommended to Camm by the managing agent. It had supplied security services to Mockingbird Hill prior to Camm's purchase and it had numerous clients in the area, including the neighboring resort hotel. *fn1"

 In or around August of 1989, Martin Bernstein and his wife Deborah decided to rent Mockingbird Hill for two weeks in December. *fn2" The Bernstein party of nine arrived at Mockingbird Hill on December 22, 1989, and was introduced to the staff on that same day. Defendant alleges, and the plaintiffs do not dispute, that the party was introduced to a security guard from Northern Security, and that this guard patrolled the grounds on the evenings of December 22 and 23, 1989. *fn3"

 On the evening of December 24, 1993, plaintiffs Michelle Salem and Samantha Schreiber, Mrs. Bernstein's daughter and niece, respectively, decided to go into Montego Bay for the evening, and left the estate at approximately 10:00 P.M. While they were out, a replacement security guard named Hansel McHale arrived to patrol the grounds, the usual guard having been sidelined with car trouble. McHale was allegedly advised that the two women would be returning later that night.

 The women returned to Mockingbird Hill at 2:05 A.M. the next morning and proceeded to the swimming pool area, the lights of which had been turned off at some point during the evening. McHale saw shadows in the pool area, mistook the two women for intruders, voiced warnings which were not answered, and then fired two shots at the women. Samantha Schreiber was rendered a quadriplegic, while Michelle Salem suffered a flesh wound to the right arm.

 B. Procedural Background

 Both women filed suit against Camm and the two travel agencies involved in the District of New Jersey, with jurisdiction premised on the diversity of the parties. *fn4" The complaint alleged causes of action sounding in negligence, negligent misrepresentation, negligent hiring, and respondeat superior.

 Defendant Robert Camm moved for summary judgment, claiming that the negligent conduct of Hansel McHale, an independent contractor, could not be imputed to him. We denied the motion without prejudice, so that the parties could conduct further research into the applicability of Jamaican law, and consider whether the Camm's status as a landowner or his decision to provide security guards on the premises conferred upon him a nondelegable duty to protect the Bernstein party.

 Defendant now renews his motion for summary judgment. He argues that, irrespective of whether the law of Jamaica or New Jersey is applied, a landowner may not be held liable for the acts of an independent contractor unless the contractor is obviously incompetent or the services provided are inherently dangerous. Plaintiffs contend that Camm had a non-delegable duty to protect the estate's occupants and is therefore vicariously liable for the negligent acts of the guard.

 II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

 A. The Standard for Summary Judgment

 Under Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 56(c), "summary judgment is proper 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986).

 At the summary judgment stage, it is not the role of the judge to weigh the evidence or to evaluate its credibility, but to determine "whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 249. There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for that party. Id. A non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. If the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Bixler v. Central Penn. Teamsters Health & Welfare Fund, 12 F.3d 1292 (3d Cir. 1993); Trap Rock Indus. Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Engineers, 982 F.2d 884, 890-91 (3d Cir. 1992.)

 The substantive law governing the dispute will determine which facts are material, and only disputes over those facts "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Finally, summary judgment should be granted unless a dispute over a material fact is genuine, which ...


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