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SLATER v. SKYHAWK TRANSP.

December 10, 1999

BRANTLEY SLATER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SKYHAWK TRANSPORTATION, INC., MARK YOUNG, S.D. WARREN PAPER COMPANY, XYZ CORPORATION, ABC PARTNERSHIP, MARY DOE, AND JOHN DOE, DEFENDANTS, AND SKYHAWK TRANSPORTATION, INC., AND MARK YOUNG, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS, V. S.D. WARREN PAPER COMPANY AND RECO CONSTRUCTORS, INC., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Orlofsky, District Judge.

  OPINION

Once again, this Court must plumb the murky depths of New Jersey's conflicts-of-law rules to determine whether the law of New Jersey, Michigan, or Virginia should govern the issue of damages in this case.*fn1 Plaintiff, Brantley Slater ("Slater"), was injured when he was struck by a tractor trailer owned by Skyhawk Transportation, Inc. ("Skyhawk"), and operated by Mark Young ("Young"), both Defendants in this matter. Slater was an employee of Reco Constructors, Inc. ("Reco"), a Virginia corporation. See Cert. of Richard W. Yost, Esq., ¶ 4 (filed Mar. 8, 1999); Cert. of James F. Supple, Esq., ¶ 4 (filed Mar. 8, 1999). In May, 1995, Reco was hired by S.D. Warren Paper Company ("S.D.Warren"), a paper manufacturer, to repair equipment located at S.D. Warren's Muskegon, Michigan, plant. See Cert. of Richard W. Yost, Esq., ¶¶ 3, 8; Cert. of James F. Supple, Esq., ¶¶ 5-6. Slater was a member of the Reco construction crew dispatched to Muskegon to perform the contracted-for repairs. See Cert. of Richard W. Yost, Esq., ¶¶ 5, 8; Cert. of James F. Supple, Esq., ¶ 28. In order to complete its work at S.D. Warren's plant, Reco ordered materials from American Galvanizing, Inc. ("American"). See Cert. of James F. Supple, Esq., ¶ 8. American, in turn, hired Skyhawk, a New Jersey corporation, to transport the materials purchased by Reco to S.D. Warren's facility. See Cert. of Richard W. Yost, Esq., ¶¶ 5, 8; Cert. of James F. Supple, Esq., ¶ 9. Young, a Skyhawk employee, drove the Skyhawk truck that carried Reco's supplies. See Cert. of Richard W. Yost, Esq., ¶ 5; Cert. of James F. Supple, Esq., ¶ 22. Slater was allegedly injured when Young, having arrived at the S.D. Warren plant, attempted to back his Skyhawk tractor trailer into position for the materials to be unloaded and allegedly struck Slater. See Cert. of Richard W. Yost, Esq., ¶ 5; Cert. of James F. Supple, Esq., ¶ 28.*fn2

On April 2, 1997, Slater filed a Complaint alleging negligence, recklessness, and outrageous conduct on the parts of Skyhawk and Young. See Compl. at 3 (filed Apr. 2, 1997). Skyhawk and Young subsequently filed a Third-Party Complaint against S.D. Warren and Reco, claiming in part that the negligence of Reco employees in directing Young and the Skyhawk truck into position caused Slater's alleged injuries. See Third-Party Compl. at 1-2 (filed Oct. 27, 1997). In the alternative, Skyhawk and Young sought contribution or indemnification from Reco. See id. at 3. I dismissed Skyhawk and Young's Complaint against Reco insofar as it asserted that Reco was solely liable for Slater's injuries, holding that Skyhawk and Young could obtain recovery from Reco only if Skyhawk and Young were first held liable for Slater's alleged injuries. See Slater v. Skyhawk Transportation, Inc., 187 F.R.D. 185, 203 (D.N.J. 1999) (Orlofsky, J.).

Soon after the Third-Party Complaint was filed against S.D. Warren and Reco, S.D. Warren filed a cross-claim against Reco seeking contribution or indemnification. See Answer of S.D. Warren at 4-5 (filed Jan. 15, 1998). S.D. Warren was later made a Defendant in this case when Slater amended his complaint to allege negligence, recklessness, and outrageous conduct by S.D. Warren for failing to keep its premises suitably safe. See Am. Compl. at 6-7 (filed Aug. 14, 1998). I later granted S.D. Warren's motion to dismiss Slater's claims against it, ruling that they were time-barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. See Slater, 187 F.R.D. at 199.

Two motions are currently before this Court. First, Reco moves for summary judgment on the ground that the workers' compensation statutes applicable in this case bar recovery by Skyhawk and Young against Reco.*fn3 See Mem. Supp. Reco Mot. Summ. J. at 6 (filed Mar. 8, 1999). Second, Skyhawk and Young have filed a motion asking this Court to make a determination that New Jersey law governs the issue of damages in this case. See Mot. for Determination of Choice of Law at 3 (filed Mar. 18, 1999).

For the reasons set forth below, I find that Skyhawk and Young are barred by the applicable workers' compensation laws from recovering damages from Reco. Moreover, I conclude that New Jersey has a greater interest than either Virginia or Michigan in having its law of damages applied in this case. Under the governmental interest analysis I am required to apply under New Jersey's choice-of-law rules, I hold that New Jersey law governs the issue of damages in this case. Accordingly, I shall grant Reco's motion for summary judgment and Skyhawk and Young's motion to apply New Jersey's law of damages.

I. LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

"On a motion for summary judgment, the court must determine whether the evidence shows 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.'" Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 287 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). "Any factual dispute invoked by the nonmoving party to resist summary judgment must be both material in the sense of bearing on an essential element of the plaintiff's claim and genuine in the sense that a reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-251, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). In opposing summary judgment, a party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986), but a court should not prevent a case from reaching a jury simply because the court favors one of several reasonable views of the evidence. Abraham, 183 F.3d at 287. "[T]he judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505; see also Abraham, 183 F.3d at 287. "Thus, while the nonmoving party must present enough evidence to demonstrate a dispute is genuine, all inferences in interpreting the evidence presented by the parties should be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party." Abraham, 183 F.3d at 287 (citing Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998)). "Cases that turn crucially on the credibility of witnesses' testimony in particular should not be resolved on summary judgment." Id.

If the nonmoving party fails to oppose the motion by written objection, memorandum, affidavits and other evidence, the Court "will accept as true all material facts set forth by the moving party with appropriate record support." Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. of Tax Rev., 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Jaroma v. Massey, 873 F.2d 17, 21 (1st Cir. 1989)). Even where the non-moving party has failed to establish a triable issue of fact, summary judgment will not be granted unless "appropriate." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Anchorage Assocs., 922 F.2d at 175. Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that the case be evaluated on its merits, with summary judgment being granted for the movants only if they are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Anchorage Assocs., 922 F.2d at 175.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Reco's Motion for Summary Judgment

Reco argues that, as a matter of law, Skyhawk and Young cannot obtain either contribution or indemnification from Reco. See Mem. Supp. Reco Mot. Summ. J. at 6. Specifically, Reco contends that the workers' compensation statutes applicable in this case provide the exclusive means by which liability may be imposed on employers for the job-related injuries of their employees. See Letter Br. (dated Mar. 5, 1999). Reco contends that these statutes therefore bar third parties like Skyhawk and Young from seeking contribution from employers like Reco. See Mem. Supp. Reco Mot. Summ. J. at 6. Reco further argues that third parties may seek indemnification from employers only when the employer has expressly agreed to indemnify the third party. See id. Because Reco did not expressly agree to indemnify Skyhawk and Young in this case, Reco maintains that it cannot be made to indemnify Skyhawk or Young. See id. Consequently, Reco believes it should be granted summary judgment on the Third-Party claims that have been filed against it by Skyhawk and Young. See id.

Skyhawk and Young counter by saying remarkably little about the merits of their claims against Reco. Rather, Skyhawk and Young assert repeatedly that S.D. Warren's Cross-Claim against Reco for indemnification or contribution should withstand Reco's motion for summary judgment. See Opp'n Mem. at 6, 11-12 (received Mar. 8, 1999). Given that the papers submitted by Reco deal exclusively with Reco's alleged liability to Skyhawk and Young and not to S.D. Warren, one has the impression that Third-Party Defendant Reco and Third-Party Plaintiffs Skyhawk and Young are ships passing in the night. The pattern of inartful pleading and argument in this case, see Slater, 187 F.R.D. at 188, continues.

Skyhawk and Young's somewhat confusing opposition to Reco's motion for summary judgment, however, was not wholly unprovoked by Reco. In the proposed order submitted by Reco with its Cross Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, Reco includes the following language: "ORDERED, that summary judgment be granted in favor of third party defendant, Reco Constructors, Inc., dismissing the third party complaint and any and all crossclaims against it." Reco Proposed Order (received Mar. 8, 1999) (emphasis added). Putting aside the issue of whether Skyhawk and Young have standing to assert a defense against summary judgment on behalf of S.D. Warren, who has not submitted papers in response to Reco's motion, I construe Reco's motion for summary judgment to relate solely to Skyhawk and Young's Third-Party claims and not to S.D. Warren's or any other party's crossclaims. I will interpret the arguments offered by Skyhawk and Young on S.D. Warren's behalf as if they had been offered on Skyhawk and Young's own behalf.

Before turning to the merits of these arguments, I must first determine whether Michigan, New Jersey, or Virginia law should be applied in resolving Reco's motion for summary judgment. See Slater, 187 F.R.D. at 193. "`To make a choice of law, a federal court whose jurisdiction over a state claim is based on diversity, Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co., [313 U.S. 487, 496-97, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941)], must apply the conflicts of law principles of the forum state.'" Id. (quoting Rohm & Haas Co. v. Adco Chem. Co., 689 F.2d 424, 429 (3d Cir. 1982)). "`Before a choice of law question arises, however, there must actually be a conflict between the potentially applicable bodies of law.'" Id. (quoting Lucker Mfg. v. Home Ins. Co., 23 F.3d 808, 813 (3d Cir. 1994)). "Similarly, `the initial prong' of the New Jersey choice of law analysis `entails an inquiry into whether there is an actual conflict between the laws of the respective states, a determination that is made on an issue-by-issue basis.'" Id. (quoting Gantes v. Kason Corp., 145 N.J. 478, 484, 679 A.2d 106 (1996)). Reco and Skyhawk and Young agree that no conflict exists between the laws of Michigan, New Jersey, and Virginia concerning third party liability under each state's workers' compensation laws. See Mem. Supp. Reco Mot. Summ. ...


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