November 16, 2007
CAROL MENDALSKI AND EUGENE MENDALSKI, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
MACQUARIE AVIATION NORTH AMERICA, NO. 2, INC., D/B/A AVPORTS AND SPIRIT AIRLINES, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND SOUTH JERSEY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY D/B/A ATLANTIC CITY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, DEFENDANTS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-7297-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued October 16, 2007
Before Judges Fuentes, Grall and Chambers.
Plaintiff Carol Mendalski*fn1 appeals from the order of the Law Division dismissing her complaint against defendants Macquarie Aviation North America, No. 2, Inc., and Spirit Airlines. The court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment concluding, under a comparative negligence analysis, that no rational jury could find that defendants' negligence exceeded plaintiff's negligence. We affirm.
Given the trial court's narrow ruling, we will limit our factual recitation to the issue of liability. The accident at issue here occurred while plaintiff was at the Atlantic City International Airport waiting for her flight on Spirit Airlines. Plaintiff acknowledged that she had flown out of this particular airport at least ten times prior to the date of the accident. She walked to the Spirit check-in area with her one carry-on bag, which was on wheels. In front of her on line was a group of traveling teenagers. The group had several pieces of luggage on the floor, including backpacks and duffel bags. It is undisputed that plaintiff was aware of the group's bags in front of her.
Plaintiff was first in line after the group in front of her was called to the counter by a ticket agent. As the group approached the ticket counter, they left some of their luggage in front of plaintiff. Although the luggage bags were clearly visible, plaintiff claims that she did not realize that the group had left the bags in front of her.
When plaintiff was called to the counter by the next available ticket agent, she tripped over the luggage that was left in front of her, as well as over her own bag, which she was pushing in front of her. Plaintiff conceded that, at the time she fell, the area was well-lit, and the bags did not blend in with the color of the floor. She admitted that she had seen the bags prior to the fall, but assumed that the group in front of her would have taken them when they went to the ticket counter.
When reviewing an order of summary judgment, we apply the same standards used by the trial court. Prudential Prop. and Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998). Summary judgment must be granted 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 challenged and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment or order as a matter of law." R. 4:46-2(c).
In determining whether there exists a "genuine issue" of material fact that precludes summary judgment, the motion judge must consider "whether the competent evidential materials presented, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, are sufficient to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the alleged disputed issue in favor of the non-moving party." Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). Essentially, "when the evidence 'is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law,' the trial court should not hesitate to grant summary judgment." Ibid. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252; 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2512, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202, 214 (1986)).
Here, it is incontestable that the objects that caused plaintiff to fall were obvious and readily detectable by any reasonably prudent person. In this light, we are in total agreement with Judge Johnson; no rational jury could find that any alleged negligence on defendants part exceeded plaintiff's own negligent failure to be reasonably aware of her immediate surroundings.*fn2 Plaintiff's arguments expressing a counter legal position lack sufficient merit to warrant further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).