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Lebegern v. Forman

December 18, 2006

JEAN L. LEBEGERN, ADMINISTRATRIX AD PROSEQUENDUM AND ADMINISTRATRIX FOR THE ESTATE OF DANIEL L. CARSON, DECEASED; JANET GOLONKA; INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
GLENN FORMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND T/A FORMAN'S AUTO BODY A/K/A FOREMAN'S AUTO, A/K/A FORMAN'S COLLISION CENTER A/K/A FORMAN'S SERVICE CENTER; STEPHEN J. CRACKER; MICHAEL J. WEISS, AN ADULT INDIVIDUAL, INDIVIDUALLY AND T/A MIKE'S TRUCK CENTER AND GOOD TIME CYCLES; KENNETH W. ALBERT, T/A GOOD TIME CYCLES JEAN L. LEBEGERN, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 02-cv-05598) District Judge: Honorable Jerome B. Simandle.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roth, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued on January 12, 2006

Before: FUENTES, ROSENN*fn1 and ROTH*fn2, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

We granted an interlocutory appeal to resolve a choice of law issue under New Jersey choice of law principles. We must determine whether the measure of damages in a survival action on behalf of a Pennsylvania decedent, arising from a motor vehicle accident in New Jersey allegedly caused by the negligence of a New Jersey driver, is governed by New Jersey or Pennsylvania law. The District Court concluded that New Jersey law governed but stayed the case pending an interlocutory appeal. We will affirm the District Court's application of New Jersey law and will remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

On September 16, 2001, Daniel L. Carson was driving his vehicle on Route 30, White Horse Pike, in Mullica Township, New Jersey. Carson was accompanied by his fiancee, Janet Golanka. Carson and Golanka lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and drove to New Jersey for a shopping trip. During their journey, a vehicle driven by Stephen J. Cracker crossed the center line and hit the vehicle driven by Carson. Carson was killed and Golonka sustained serious injuries.

Jean L. Lebegern is Carson's mother and the personal representative of his estate. She brought survival and wrongful death actions in federal district court in New Jersey against Cracker, Glenn Forman, Michael Weiss, Kenneth Albert, and Good Time Cycles. Forman is a licensed New Jersey car dealer alleged to have been the owner of the vehicle operated by Cracker. Forman purchased the vehicle from Weiss, who was purportedly acting at the behest of Albert and/or Good Times Cycles. All of the defendants were residents of New Jersey at the time of the accident.

Count II of Lebegern's Amended Complaint is a claim under the Pennsylvania Survival Act. Cracker filed a motion to dismiss Count II on the ground that the New Jersey Survival Act, not the Pennsylvania Survival Act, applies here. Lebegern filed a cross motion for summary judgment asking the District Court to find that Pennsylvania law governs the survival claim. The District Court granted Cracker's motion to dismiss, finding that New Jersey law does apply.*fn3

The reason for the dispute over choice of law is that the New Jersey Survival Act allows recovery only for the decedent's pain and suffering, while the Pennsylvania Survival Act also provides for recovery of net earning capacity. Compare N.J. STAT. ANN. § 2A:15-3 with 20 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 3371 and 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 8302; Skoda v. W. Penn Power Co., 191 A.2d 822, 829 (Pa. 1963).*fn4

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

Lebegern filed her Petition for Leave to Appeal from an Interlocutory Order on February 3, 2005, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). On March 23, 2005, we granted leave to appeal.

The District Court had diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1). United States v. Acorn Tech. Fund, L.P., 429 F.3d 438, 442 (3d Cir. 2005), and exercise plenary review over a district court's choice of law determination. Petrella v. Kashlan, 826 F.2d 1340, 1343 (3d Cir. 1987). As this was a diversity case filed in New Jersey, New Jersey choice of law rules govern. Berg Chilling Sys., Inc. v. Hull Corp., 435 F.3d 455, 462 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941)).

III. Discussion

A. General Choice of Law Principles in ...


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