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Ferriola v. Stanley Fastening Systems

August 1, 2007

JOSEPH FERRIOLA JR. AND KELLY FERRIOLA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STANLEY FASTENING SYSTEMS, L.P., AND LOWE'S COMPANIES, INC., DEFENDANTS / THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THOMAS PARKS, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

Plaintiff Joseph Ferriola ("Ferriola") brings this product liability suit against Defendants/Third Party Plaintiffs Stanley Fastening Systems, L.P. ("Stanley") and Lowe's Home Centers, Inc. ("Lowe's") for negligence, strict liability, and breach of implied and express warranties after he suffered injuries from the alleged misfiring of a pneumatic nailer manufactured by Stanley. Stanley and Lowe's filed a Third Party Complaint against Third Party Defendant Thomas Parks ("Parks") seeking indemnification and contribution. Parks presently moves for summary judgment on all claims against him. For the reasons stated below, summary judgment will be granted.

I.

On December 4, 2006, Parks purchased a Bostitch Stanley SB80 pneumatic nailer "as is" from Lowe's Home Improvement Center in Maple Shade, New Jersey.*fn1 (Def's Ex. B, Dep. of Parks at 17-18.) Parks had used the nailer on many occasions since the date of purchase. (Id. At 20: 21-25.) The nailer came equipped with a contact trip mechanism, and included in the box were an instruction manual and a sequential trip mechanism that a purchaser can install on his own.*fn2 (Id. at 19-20.) It is undisputed that Parks did not install the sequential trip mechanism or in any way modify the nailer after the date of purchase.

Ferriola, an experienced carpenter who has owned and used pneumatic nailers with contact trip mechanisms, borrowed Parks' nailer because he had recently returned two of his own since they double fired and his third one was broken. (Def's Ex. D, Dep. of Ferriola at 25-26, 145:13-18.) Parks, Ferriola's longtime friend and neighbor, did not provide the manual and sequential trip mechanism to Ferriola when he lent him the nailer, and Ferriola did not request them. (Id. at 146:21-147:1.) Parks claims that he did not do so because he believed that Ferriola was experienced in the operation of the nailer. (Def's Ex. B, Dep. of Parks at 36:1-7.)

While using the nailer on March 3, 2004, Ferriola was injured when it double fired.*fn3 Ferriola brought suit against Stanley and Lowe's on April 28, 2004, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, for negligence, strict liability, and breach of implied and express warranties.*fn4 On August 18, 2004, Stanley removed the case to this Court.*fn5

In June, 2005, Stanley and Lowe's both brought identical third-party complaints against Parks seeking contribution and indemnification. Stanley and Lowe's claim that while they have a continued duty to provide safe products and warn the user of any hazards, Parks, as the party controlling the nailer, also had an independent duty to deliver all warnings and safety equipment to Ferriola. Since Parks failed to do so, they reason, he is contributorily negligent. Parks moves for summary judgment asserting that he owed no duty to Ferriola. For the reasons set forth below, summary judgment will be granted.

II.

"[S]ummary 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 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56c). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the Court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

"'With respect to an issue on which the non-moving party bears the burden of proof, the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'-- that is, pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'" Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas, 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex). "The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (A party opposing summary judgment cannot rest upon the "mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading" but must respond with affidavits or depositions setting forth "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."). III.

A.

Under New Jersey law, indemnification is only available when a party without fault is liable for the torts of another party as a result of constructive, secondary, or vicarious liability. See Allied Corp. v. Frola, 730 F.Supp. 626, 639 (D.N.J. 1990).*fn6 Two different situations can give rise to indemnification: either when a contract expressly provides for it, or when a special legal relationship creates an implied right of indemnity. See Id. See also Nivens v. Seivers Hauling Corp., 424 F.Supp. 82, 87-88 (D.N.J. 1976).

If the latter, "it is the existence of a special legal relationship sufficient to impose certain duties and a subsequent breach of those duties that permits an implied indemnification." Ruvolo v. United States Steel Corp., 133 N.J. Super. 362, 367 (1975). Examples of special legal relationships that can give rise to liability include lessor-lessee, principal-agent, and bailor-bailee. See Ramos v. Browning Ferris Indus. of S. Jersey, 103 N.J. 177, 189 (1986) (citing cases that specifically address various special legal relationships); see also Allied, 730 F.Supp. at 639 n.7 (discussing special legal relationships such as lessor-lessee, union-member, and employer-employee).

Stanley and Lowe's cannot claim indemnification from Parks as a matter of law. No contract exists between either Parks and Stanley or Parks and Lowe's. Likewise, no special legal relationship exists between Parks and either Stanley or Lowe's. The undisputed evidence merely demonstrates that Parks had an attenuated relationship with both Defendants. He was only a purchaser of a product manufactured by Stanley and sold by Lowe's. ...


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