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Orme-Ellis v. Stubee

November 22, 2010

MARY ORME-ELLIS, ON BEHALF OF THE ESTATE OF TANYA KIMBERLY ORME, DECEASED, MARY ORME-ELLIS, INDIVIDUALLY, JOHN ORME, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ESTATE OF GARDNER HARRISON STUBEE BY MARY PALYS AND STEWART STUBEE, CO-EXECUTORS FOR THE ESTATE, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment seeking dismissal of certain claims arising under Florida law with respect to a Florida decedent in a fatal New Jersey motor vehicle accident. [Docket Item 8.] For the reasons explained below, the Court grants Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment because New Jersey law does not allow recovery for the kind of damages sought by the Plaintffs.

II. BACKGROUND

This case arises from a tragic automobile accident. On June 21, 2009 at about 11:15 p.m., Tanya Kimberly Orme was riding in a 1995 Porsche, driven by Gardner Harrison Stubee, on Silver Run Road in Millville, New Jersey. Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Stubee attempted to pass a line of vehicles and lost control, causing the car to crash. Both Ms. Orme and Mr. Stubee died in the crash.

Mary Orme-Ellis, the Executrix of Tanya Orme's estate, brought suit in this Court, based on diversity jurisdiction, against the estate of Gardener Stubee, claiming damages under the New Jersey Survivor Act and Wrongful Death Act.*fn1 Ms. Orme's parents, Mary Orme-Ellis and John Orme, also sued individually, both pursuing survivor claims under the Florida law.*fn2

Diversity of citizenship of the parties is apparent.*fn3 Ms. Orme, the decedent, had come from Florida to attend school in New Jersey, but appears to have remained a Florida citizen. Her parents, the individual plaintiffs, are also both citizens of Florida. Mr. Stubee was a New Jersey resident. He is survived by his parents, Mary Palys and Stewart Stubee, and both represent his estate as co-executors in New Jersey.

On July 8, 2010, Defendant filed this motion for partial summary judgment. Defendant seeks summary judgment against Plaintiffs' wrongful death claims under the Florida law (Count V and Count VI of Complaint).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must view the evidence in favor of the non-moving party by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in other words, "the nonmoving party's evidence 'is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that party's] favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250; Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., 72 F.3d 326, 329-30 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

To decide the issues before it, the Court must make determinations about which state's law should apply. The facts relevant to this legal question, such as the citizenship of the parties and the location of the accident, are not in dispute.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Choice of Law

A federal court sitting in diversity must apply the choice of law rules of the forum state --- in this case, New Jersey. Warriner v. Stanton, 475 F.3d 497, 499-500 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941)). Having rejected the strict lex loci delicti rule for tort cases, New Jersey applies the more flexible government-interest approach to choice of law questions. Id. at 500; Lebegern v. Forman, 471 F.3d 424, 428 (3d Cir. 2006). This analysis seeks "to determine which state has the greatest interest in governing the specific issue that arises in the underlying litigation." Erny v. Estate of Merola, 792 A.2d 1208, 1212-13 (N.J. 2002). There is a presumption that the law of the situs state applies. This presumption can be overcome, however, "when another state has more significant interest and the policies of the situs state will not be frustrated by the application of foreign ...


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