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MCKINNEY v. S&S TRUCKING

May 10, 1995

SANDRA McKINNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
S&S TRUCKING, INC., RALPH S. CRUMLEY, IVOR G. BAKER, BARCO AUTO LEASING CORP. and ROYSTON JEFFREY, jointly, severally and/or in the alternative, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY S. BROTMAN

 BROTMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE:

 Presently before the court is the motion of defendant Barco Auto Leasing Corp. for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

 I. Factual and Procedural Background

 On November 7, 1991, a three vehicle collision occurred in the southbound lanes of Interstate 295 on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The vehicles involved in the collision were operated by plaintiff Sandra McKinney (the "Plaintiff"), defendant Ralph S. Crumley *fn1" , and defendant Ivor Baker ("Baker").

 At the time of the collision, the vehicle driven by defendant Baker was owned by defendant Barco Leasing Auto Corp. ("Barco") and registered in the state of New York. Barco has its principal place of business in New York state as its only office is located there. On or about February 19, 1988, defendant Barco leased the subject vehicle to defendant Royston Jeffrey. This lease was in effect at the time of the collision. See Barco's Brief, at 2. The lease agreement, which was entered into in New York, indicates that defendant Royston Jeffrey resides at 2151 Strauss Street, Brooklyn, New York. Since Royston Jeffrey has not filed an answer or any responsive pleadings in this matter, the court presumes that Mr. Jeffrey is a resident of New York. Ivor Baker, the driver of the vehicle, was likewise a resident of New York state. See Magistrate Judge Rosen's Order dated April 7, 1995 granting Plaintiff's motion to strike defendant Baker's answer and designate the facts as established in the complaint as against defendant Baker. The nature of the relationship between defendant Royston Jeffrey and defendant Baker is not clear at this time.

 On the date of the incident, Plaintiff was operating her New Jersey registered vehicle on the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Her lane was allegedly blocked by the vehicle driven by defendant Baker. Plaintiff claims that after she brought her vehicle to a stop, she was rear-ended by a tractor trailer driven by defendant Crumley. The impact from the tractor trailer pushed Plaintiff's vehicle into Baker's stopped car.

 Plaintiff brought her suit for damages against numerous defendants including defendants, Barco, Royston Jeffrey and Baker. This court's jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $ 50,000. Before the court is defendant Barco's motion for summary judgment alleging that all claims against it must be dismissed as a matter of law.

 II. Discussion

 A. Summary Judgment Standard

 A court may grant summary judgment only when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. " Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Hersh v. Allen Prods. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986); Lang v. New York Life Ins. Co., 721 F.2d 118, 119 (3d Cir. 1983).

 B. Conflicts of Law Analysis

 The instant motion presents for adjudication to the court primarily a legal question -- whether the law of New York or New Jersey is applicable on the issue of an automobile owner's liability for the negligence of another operating the vehicle. Defendant Barco contends that New Jersey law applies to the present matter. Consequently, Barco argues that Plaintiff's claims against it must be dismissed as a matter of law because New Jersey common law provides that the owner of an automobile bears no liability for a driver's negligence unless the driver is acting as the owner's agent or employee. Arguing that no agency or employment relationship exists between Barco and either Baker or Royston Jeffrey, Barco contends that all claims against it must be dismissed. Plaintiff, on the other hand, argues that the court must apply New York law to the present matter which holds vehicle owners liable for the negligence of others operating the vehicle with permission of the owner. Thus, Plaintiff contends that Barco's motion for summary judgment should be denied.

 It is undisputed that in a diversity case, a federal court must apply the choice of law rules of the forum state. See White v. Smith, 398 F. Supp. 130, 133 (D.N.J. 1975) (citing Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., Inc., 313 U.S. 487, 61 S. Ct. 1020, 85 L. Ed. 1477 (1941)). This court will therefore apply New Jersey choice of law rules to determine ...


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