December 3, 1997
ADA ROSSI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
BOROUGH OF HADDONFIELD, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, AND JOHN DOE PROPERTY OWNER, DEFENDANT.
On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 297 N.J. Super. 494 (1997).
Chief Justice Poritz and Justices Handler, Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein and Coleman join in this opinion.
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
Ada Rossi v. Borough of Haddonfield, et al. (A-55-97)
(NOTE: The Court wrote no full opinion in this case. Rather, the Court's affirmance of the judgment of the Appellate Division is based substantially on the reasons expressed in the written opinion of Judge Shebell)
Argued November 17, 1997 -- Decided December 3, 1997
On January 17, 1994, Ada Rossi arrived at work and noticed that the parking lot where she had a permit to park was icy. The parking lot was owned and operated by the Borough of Haddonfield (Borough). The parking lot appeared in this same condition the week before the accident, at which time a co-worker called to inform the Borough of the icy conditions. Rossi was injured when she left work on an errand for her boss and fell in the lot as she was unlocking her car. It was just beginning to snow at the time Rossi fell. She fractured her ankle and, despite multiple surgeries, remains permanently injured.
Rossi sued the Borough, alleging that the Borough negligently maintained its municipal parking lot in a dangerous condition causing her to fall and sustain serious injuries.
There had been light rain on Friday, January 14, 1994, which turned to ice after the weather became colder. This cold weather continued through Sunday, January 16, 1994, causing the ice to remain through the weekend. On January 17, snow began to fall around mid-morning. The Borough may or may not have sanded the lot over the weekend.
The Borough employs seven or eight full-time workers who perform snow removal and sanding. There are between seventy and ninety miles of roads that the Borough is required to maintain, not including sidewalks adjacent to municipal buildings and parking lots. The Borough has prioritized its snow removal procedures. The roads are attended to first; then the areas adjacent to the entities providing emergency services; then the parking lots are cleared and/or sanded.
The Borough moved for summary judgment, seeking a dismissal on the ground of common-law snow removal immunity. The trial court denied the Borough's motion, finding that by taking revenue for parking, the municipality had transformed itself into a private commercial enterprise, which is not covered by the tort immunity statute. The court denied the Borough's motion for reconsideration.
On leave to appeal granted, the Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial Judge and dismissed Rossi's complaint against the Borough. The Appellate Division held that, based on the facts in this case, the common law snow removal immunity applies. According to the Appellate Division, even had the Borough negligently sanded the lot, negligent sanding is within the remedial activity related to snow removal contemplated by the immunity. In addition, the court concluded that the failure to warn of icy conditions did not give rise to liability since that cause of action only can be maintained if the failure to warn is unrelated to snow removal activity. Here, the failure to warn was directly related to snow removal activity.
The Appellate Division noted that the Borough had limited resources and a large area to cover. The court reasoned that it was not its job to second guess the municipality's manner of prioritizing snow removal. The Appellate Division also distinguished Bligen. In that case, the Supreme Court declined to extend snow removal immunity to the Jersey City Housing Authority because a housing authority has a smaller and more finite area of snow removal and because of the established law regarding tort liability of municipal landlords. There is no landlord-tenant relationship between Rossi and the Borough.
Lastly, the Appellate Division rejected the trial court's suggestion that the manner in which the Borough raised revenue to fund parking lots transformed it into a private commercial enterprise.
Judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Shebell in his written opinion below. Common law snow removal immunity applies to a municipal parking lot owned and operated for revenue by the municipality.
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI, STEIN and COLEMAN join in this PER CURIAM opinion.
The judgment is affirmed, substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Shebell's opinion of the Appellate Division, reported at 297 N.J. Super. 494, 688 A.2d 643 (1997).
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI, STEIN and COLEMAN join in this opinion.