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Smith v. Scientific Games Corp.

November 16, 2010

RE: SMITH ET AL.
v.
SCIENTIFIC GAMES CORPORATION



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini Judge

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. FEDERAL BLDG. & U.S. COURTHOUSE 50 WALNUT STREET, P.O. BOX 419 NEWARK, NJ 07101-0419 (973) 645-6340

LETTER OPINION

Dear Litigants:

This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Scientific Games Corporation ("Scientific Games") seeking dismissal of the Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Oral arguments were not held. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant‟s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and the Amended Complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are current and former employees of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority ("NJSEA"), which operates the Meadowlands and Monmouth Racetracks in New Jersey. (Amended Complaint, hereinafter "Am. Cmplt.," ¶ 1; Defendant‟s Motion for Summary Judgment, hereinafter "Def. Br.," at 1).*fn1 Most have worked as tellers for the NJSEA since the mid-1970s when the Meadowlands first opened. (Def. Br. at 3). In 2006, the NJSEA issued a Request for Proposal ("RFP"), soliciting bids from makers of betting equipment for the manufacture and supply of new betting equipment to be installed at the teller windows of these racetracks. (Id. at 3). The RFP included the following statement regarding workplace injuries: "NJSEA is concerned with repetitive motion injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and other work related injuries. All manned terminals should have adjustable keyboards, displays and have been certified by "UL‟ as to the equipment‟s electrical and fire safety." (Affidavit of David Haslett, hereinafter "Haslett Aff.." Ex. A). The RFP did not include any size limitations or provide a space description of the area in which the NJSEA intended to install the equipment. (Def. Br. at 3). The NJSEA also established an evaluation team (the "Evaluation Team") to review the proposals that came in. (Id. at 4). All members of the Evaluation team were NJSEA employees. (Id.).

Defendant had been the previous supplier of betting equipment to the NJSEA. (Id. at 3). In 2006, Defendant responded to the RFP by submitting a proposal that offered to supply the NJSEA with a newer model of betting equipment known as the BetJet (the "BetJet"). (Id.). The proposal specified the exact size and dimensions of a BetJet unit. (Id.). Defendant also presented an actual BetJet model to the Evaluation Team and demonstrated its operation to NJSEA employees. (Id. at 4). The Evaluation Team did not inquire about the installation of the BetJets, or notify Defendant that the BetJet was the improper size or shape for operation in the teller windows or that it appeared to present any sort of ergonomic problems. (Id.).

After the demonstration, Defendant was awarded the contract to supply the new betting equipment for the Meadowlands and Monmouth Racetracks. (Id.). The contract incorporated the terms of the RFP. (Haslett Aff., Ex. C at 22). In 2007, Defendant delivered several hundred BetJet units to the racetracks for installation in the teller windows. (Def. Br. at 5). Defendant also provided the NJSEA with metal brackets, packaged separately from the units themselves, that could be used to affix the BetJets to any wall or surface within the teller windows. (Id.. at 4). Defendant maintains use of the brackets was optional; Plaintiffs argue it was not. (Id.; Plaintiffs‟ Opposition Brief, hereinafter "Pl. Opp. Br.," at 5). Either way, the NJSEA was entirely responsible for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the teller windows themselves, and NJSEA in-house carpenters and electricians performed this work. (Def. Br. at 4-5). It appears that NJSEA carpenters also installed at least some of the brackets into the teller windows; however, some may have been installed by Defendant.

Once the windows were prepared with the brackets, Defendant‟s technicians tested each BetJet unit for operability. (Id. at 5). After initial operability was confirmed, each unit was brought to a teller window, placed on the bracket installed by the NJSEA, and re-tested by Defendant to confirm operability. (Id.). Defendant maintains that its sole responsibility was to make sure the BetJets were operable; however Plaintiffs argue that Defendant was also responsible for making sure the workstations were ergonomically sound. (Def. Br. at 5; Pl. Opp. Br. at 10).

Shortly after the BetJets were installed, NJSEA tellers began complaining and expressing their dislike for the new equipment. (Def. Br. at 7). Defendant implies that the employees were primarily dissatisfied with the BetJet machines because the technology was complicated to use, causing mistakes to be made which were deducted from the tellers‟ wages. Defendant also suggests that the employees were encouraged by their union to state that the units were causing physical injuries. (Id. at 8).

In May 2009, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint against Defendant. The Amended Complaint contains the following claims: (1) negligent design, manufacture, distribution, sale, and installation of the BetJet units (Count One); (2) defective design or manufacture of the BetJet units in violation of the 1987 New Jersey Product Liability Act (the "product liability claims") (Count Two); and (3) per quod loss of consortium claims suffered by Plaintiffs‟ spouses (Count Three). (Am. Cmplt. Count 1, ¶ 3; Count 2, ¶ 3, Count 3, ¶ 3).

Presently before the Court is Defendant‟s motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the entire Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs now concede that the claims for negligent design, manufacture, distribution, and sale of a product asserted in Count One are not cognizable under New Jersey law, and that they are unable to establish any design or manufacturing defects as asserted in Count Two. (Pl. Opp. Br. at 1). Additionally, Plaintiffs admit that if the underlying claims are dismissed, the per quod claims automatically fail. (Id.). Therefore, the central issue before the Court is whether or not Plaintiffs‟ claim for negligent installation can survive a motion for summary judgment.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of ...


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