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Walters v. George Little Management

March 4, 2008

DANIEL WALTERS AND MARIA WALTERS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GEORGE LITTLE MANAGEMENT, LLC ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

This action centers around an accident that took place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center ("Javits Center") in New York City during a trade show in April 2005. Plaintiff Daniel Walters was attending the show at the Javits Center when his pant leg got caught on Defendant Fruits & Passion's display booth at the show, causing him to fall and sustain injuries. The instant lawsuit ensued, with Plaintiff filing suit against Defendants in the Superior Court of New Jersey and Defendant George Little Management, LLC ("GLM") removing the action to this Court.

Presently before the Court are the motions of Defendants Freeman Decorating Services, Inc. ("Freeman") and GLM for summary judgment [Docket Items 44 and 45]. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant Freeman's motion for summary judgment in its entirety, and will grant GLM's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' claims against it. The Court will dismiss as moot GLM's motion for summary judgment on its claim for indemnification from Freeman.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The April 10, 2005 Incident

The New York Home Textiles Show ("NYHTS"), a trade show that bills itself as "America's premier bed, bath, linen, [and] home accessories show," was held at the Javits Center between April 8 and April 11, 2005. (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 4 1) (internal capitalization omitted). As the Court explains in greater detail, infra, Defendant Fruits & Passion ("F&P") was one of many exhibitors with booths and displays at the 2005 NYHTS. (Am. Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiffs Daniel and Maria Walters, who are husband and wife and were married when the incident underlying this litigation took place, visited the Javits Center to attend the NYHTS on April 10, 2005. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 11.)

At approximately 2:00 p.m. on the afternoon of April 10, 2005, Plaintiffs were walking down one of the aisles of exhibitor booths at the NYHTS. (Id. at ¶ 5.) As Plaintiffs reached the corner at which F&P's display booth was located, Mr. Walters began turning to the left when the leg or cuff of his trousers allegedly got caught on the metal trim on the bottom of the F&P booth. (Id.; Def. GLM's Br. Ex. C at 34.) Mr. Walters attempted to pull his leg to disentangle his pants from the metal trim, and he fell. (Def. GLM's Br. Ex. C at 36.) According to Mrs. Walters, after he husband fell, she approached him on the floor and noticed that a two-foot piece of metal trim from the F&P booth had been bent out of its position such that it was "perpendicular to the platform." (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 16 at 27.) Neither Plaintiff observed that the metal trim was bent out of place prior to Mr. Walters' fall, (id.; Def. GLM's Br. Ex. C at 97), and one of F&P's employees who witnessed the fall observed that "[b]efore he fell[, the metal trim] was flush, it was not dislodged." (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 12 at 33.)

At some point after Mr. Walters' fall, paramedics arrived to attend to his injuries. (Pls.' Opp'n Br. Ex. 6 at 37.) As the paramedics were caring for her husband, Mrs. Walters examined the metal trim on F&P's booth and noticed that there were two empty screw holes close to where the piece of metal had bent. (Id.) Mrs. Walters got down on her hands and knees and searched for the missing screws but never found them. (Id. at 37-38.) As a result of his fall, Mr. Walters alleges that he suffered "serious and significant personal injuries[,] some of which are permanent in nature." (Am. Compl. ¶ 8.)

B. The Parties and their Contractual Arrangements

The NYHTS event was organized and sponsored by GLM, and was held at the Javits Center pursuant to a license agreement between GLM and the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation ("NYCCOC"), the organization responsible for operating the Center.*fn1 (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 1.) As the sponsor and organizer of the NYHTS, GLM's responsibilities included an organizational phase and a "show phase." (Pls.' Opp'n Br. Ex. 13.) In its organizational role, GLM entered into the license agreement with the NYCCOC, sold vendor space at the show to exhibitors, and promoted the show to visitors. (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 1; Pls.' Opp'n Br. Ex. 11.) GLM's responsibility during the show phase was, in essence, to make sure that the show went "smoothly," (Pls.' Opp'n Br. Ex. 13), a role that included having GLM staff "walk[ing] up and down the aisles" during the show, (Pls.' Opp'n Br. Ex. 14), and dispatching GLM floor managers and other personnel to address problems as they arose. (Pls.' Opp'n Br. Ex. 13.)

According to the "Work Rules" section of the NYCCOC-GLM license agreement, exhibitors at the NYHTS were required to use the Javits Center's own laborers to perform a variety of tasks related to the event, including building and dismantling exhibits and booths, although exhibitors could elect to supervise the work of the Javits laborers themselves. (Id. at 12.) GLM hired Freeman to serve as the "service contractor" for the NYHTS, (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 14 at 10), which meant, inter alia, that an exhibitor seeking to hire Javits Center laborers would place a laborer request with Freeman, and "Freeman would act as a conduit between the Javits Center and the exhibitor" by dispatching the laborers and billing the exhibitor on the Javits Center's behalf. (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 15 at 27.) Freeman's responsibilities as the service contractor for the NYHTS also included unloading the exhibitors' materials that were shipped to the Javits Center, (Pls.' Opp'n Br. Ex. 15), and working with GLM to design the physical layout of the show. (Pls.' Opp'n Br. Ex. 16.) The contract between Freeman and GLM required Freeman to carry "commercial general liability insurance . . . to protect itself from any claims arising from its operations on behalf of [GLM]," (the "insurance clause")*fn2 and included an indemnification clause whereby Freeman agreed to indemnify GLM for claims arising out of Freeman's work for GLM "except for occurrences or accidents caused by the sole negligence of [GLM] . . . or for that portion of any occurrence or accident caused by any other party" (the "indemnity clause").*fn3 (Def. GLM's Br. Ex. E.)

F&P was one of the exhibitors with a booth at the NYHTS. (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 12 at 35.) F&P designed its booth, (Def. GLM's Br. Ex. J 14), which was assembled at the NYHTS by two Javits Center laborers whom F&P hired by placing an order with Freeman. (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 12 at 17.) In its dealings with NYHTS exhibitors, Freeman permitted exhibitors either to hire Freeman to supervise the construction of their booths, in which case Freeman would agree to indemnify the exhibitor from liability for injuries resulting from the supervised construction, or to have the exhibitor itself supervise the construction, in which case the exhibitor would agree to indemnify Freeman from such liability. (Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 3 at 2.) F&P took the second option, supervising the construction of the booth itself and agreeing to indemnify Freeman*fn4 from liability for injuries resulting from such construction. (Id; Def. Freeman's Br. Ex. 15 at 32.)

C. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed this action in the Superior Court of New Jersey on January 27, 2006, naming as defendants GLM; Friends of Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Inc.; Jacob K. Javits Foundation, Inc.; the New York Convention Center Development Corporation ("NYCCDC"); the NYCCOC; and Freeman [Docket Item 1]. Plaintiffs' Complaint alleged that Mr. Walters was injured as a result of the defendants' negligence, and also asserted a claim for Mrs. Walters' loss of consortium. GLM timely filed a notice of removal to this Court, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 [id.]. GLM subsequently filed a Third-Party Complaint against F&P [Docket Item 5], and on August 15, 2006, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint naming F&P as a direct defendant [Docket Item 19].*fn5 After filing their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs filed a stipulation dismissing with prejudice Defendants NYCCDC and NYCCOC [Docket Item 23]. Discovery was completed and Defendants GLM and Freeman subsequently filed the motions for summary judgment presently under consideration, to which the Court now turns.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

GLM removed this case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), which grants "a defendant . . . the right to remove a civil action from state court if the case could have been brought originally in federal court." In re Briscoe, 448 F.3d 201, 215 (3d Cir. 2006). As GLM reasoned in its notice of removal [Docket Item 1], this Court has jurisdiction over this diversity action under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332, which provides for the original jurisdiction of United States district courts over "civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States." No party has contested GLM's assertion ...


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