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Julie Aymonier v. United States of America

December 13, 2010

JULIE AYMONIER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States District Judge

***NOT FOR PUBLICATION***

OPINION

Presently before the Court is Defendant United States of America's ("United States'") motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Julie Aymonier ("Aymonier's") tort claim. Aymonier brought suit against the United States seeking to recover for injuries sustained on land owned by the United States. Because I conclude that the United States is immune from suit under New Jersey's Landowner Liability Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:42A-2, et seq. ("LLA" or "the Act"), the United States' motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed.*fn1 On Thanksgiving Day, 2008, 83-year-old

Julie Aymonyier went for a walk in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, along with her family.

Sandy Hook is a barrier breach peninsula located in the Gateway National Recreation Area ("Gateway"). Gateway, public lands dedicated for recreational use that are owned by the United States and administered by the National Park Service, extends from Monmouth County, New Jersey, to Staten Island, New York, Queens, New York, and Brooklyn, New York.

The Sandy Hook area of Gateway consists of 2,070 acres of land and 2,620 acres of waters. A portion of Sandy Hook is administered by the United States Coast Guard ("Coast Guard") and is inaccessible to the public. That portion, known as Station Sandy Hook, is comprised of multiple residence and buildings. In another portion of Sandy Hook, the decommissioned military base Fort Hancock remains. On that base, there are over 100 buildings, including historic gun batteries, uninhabited homes, a chapel, and a movie house. Out of the 131 buildings in Fort Hancock, there are 9 homes with permanent residents. Aside from Station Sandy Hook and Fort Hancock, there are no other structures on Sandy Hook; its topography is limited to beaches, salt marshes, dunes, a maritime forest, and a habitat for migratory birds. It is open to the public and no fee is charged to walk-on visitors.

While walking on Fisherman's Trail at Sandy Hook that Thanksgiving, Aymonier tripped over a small piece of metal protruding from the ground. Fisherman's Trail is a dirt and sand trail that begins at a parking lot and leads to the shore. *fn2 It is near the old gun batteries of Fort Hancock, and near an old observation deck from which the New York skyline can be viewed. It is a "relatively remote area consisting primarily of brushes and shrubs." Defendant's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 45.

Just after Aymonier's fall, Park Ranger Kevin Hauser was called to the scene. According to his testimony, the small piece of metal, upon which Aymonier tripped, was a remnant of a fence that had been removed years earlier by the National Park Service. Aymonier sustained a fractured wrist as a result of the fall.

Aymonier brought suit in this Court on September 16, 2009, seeking to hold the United States' liable via the Federal Torts Claim Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346. The United States now moves for summary judgment on Aymonier's claim, arguing that it is immune from suit under the LLA. For the following reasons, the United States' motion is granted.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW "Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if,

viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n. 1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). For an issue to be genuine, there must be "a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002). For a fact to be material, it must have the ability to "affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher, 455 F.3d at 423. Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment.

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 206-07 (3d Cir. 2008). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. The nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Id. at 206 (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586). Moreover, the non-moving party must present "more than a scintilla of evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Woloszyn v. County of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 319 (3d Cir. 2005). Indeed, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after ...


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