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Leonard Santangelo, et al. v. Sandals Resorts International

December 31, 2010

LEONARD SANTANGELO, ET AL.
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SANDALS RESORTS INTERNATIONAL, LTD.; REAL RESORTS, LTD., D/B/A BEACHES NEGRIL RESORT; BEACHES MANAGEMENT LTD.; UNIQUE VACATIONS, INC.; TEPPANYAKI RESTAURANT; JOHN DOES 1,2 AND 3 (FICTITIOUS NAMES; AND ABC CORPORATIONS 1,2 AND 3 (FICTITIOUS NAMES) DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

Sandals Resorts International, Ltd. ("SRI") and Unique Vacations, Inc. ("Unique"), the two defendants served in this negligence action, now move for summary judgment [D.E. 38] and ask the Court to dismiss plaintiffs‟ amended complaint [D.E. 13] as to them. Sandals and Unique ("defendants") base their motion on the premise that: the undisputed facts in this case establish that [p]laintiffs cannot establish that the only two named defendants who are before this Court have committed any acts of negligence or are liable to plaintiffs in any way for this action, and thus, summary judgment in favor of Sandals Resorts and Unique should be granted.

(Defs‟ Moving Br. 7.)

The Court agrees for the reasons that follow.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND:*fn1

On May 19, 2007, the plaintiffs, six members of three different families residing in New Jersey, went on vacation together to Beaches Negril Resort ("Beaches Negril") in Jamaica. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) Plaintiffs ate their meals together at Beaches Negril, including a dinner on May 21 at Teppanyaki Restaurant ("Teppanyaki").*fn2 After the meal, the complaint recites that plaintiffs became "violently ill," experiencing "severe gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea" that persisted for "several days," leaving them "bid-ridden[sic] and unable to consume food." (Id. ¶¶ 14-16.) Plaintiffs sought treatment in Jamaica, but their illnesses persisted on their return, days later, to the United States. (Id. 17.) Plaintiffs claim that they were diagnosed with "gastroenteritis and dehydration" and that "primary physicians established that plaintiffs tested positive for Salmonella." (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Their complaint alleges that, because plaintiffs consumed their food and drink exclusively at Beaches Negril, "[t]herefore, the food poisoning occurred at Beaches Negril." (Id. ¶ 20.)

Plaintiffs brought this action in May 2009 against Unique and SRI, two separate corporations that provide services to a group of hotels doing business under the names "Sandals" and "Beaches."*fn3 (Defs‟ Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 1, 9.) SRI provides management services to the hotels, while Unique provides marketing and reservation services. According to plaintiffs, Unique organized their vacation. (Id. ¶ 13.)

Plaintiffs‟ amended complaint alleges that SRI owed a duty to exercise reasonable care for guests at Beaches Negril and to oversee and supervise the restaurant where plaintiffs ate, but failed to do so. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-27.) Plaintiffs additionally claim that Unique, "due to its close relationship with Sandals," breached its duty to warn plaintiffs of the risks of the "likelihood of suffering food poisoning" at Beaches Negril. (Id. ¶¶ 28-33.) According to the plaintiffs, defendants‟ negligence proximately caused their illnesses.

The moving defendants deny owning, operating, managing or employing anyone at Beaches Negril. (Defs‟ Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 2-16.) They also state that they played no role in preparing or serving food at Beaches Negril, including at Teppanyaki. (Id.) These assertions, supported by the affidavit of Unique‟s president and the declaration of SRI‟s managing director [D.E. 38], are not disputed by plaintiffs. Therefore, pursuant to L. Civ. R. 56.1(a), the Court deems them admitted as facts.*fn4 See L. Civ. R. 56.1(a) ("any material fact deadline for filing dispositive motions, plaintiffs never did so. As a result, the unserved defendants have not been joined to the case, and the Court orders dismissed counts 1 and 3 of the amended complaint as to Real Resorts, Beaches Management and Teppanyaki.

STANDARD OF REVIEW:

Summary judgment is appropriate where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact [and] movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When a party moves for summary judgment, the non-moving party must then provide "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). An issue is genuine where "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Fowle v. C & C Cola, 868 F.2d 59, 61 (3d Cir. 1989) (internal citations omitted). In determining whether there is a genuine issue for trial, "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn" in favor of the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The Court thus may grant defendants' summary judgment motion when, "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion. . . [a party] fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party‟s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

Affidavits supporting or opposing summary judgment must "be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence" and, if they reference a document, "a sworn or certified copy must be attached or served with the affidavit." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(1). Local Rule 7.2(a) further provides that affidavits "shall be restricted to statements of fact within the personal knowledge of the affiant" and that "legal argument and summations in affidavits will be disregarded by the Court."

ANALYSIS:

An "underlying principl[e] of tort law" is that "‟an actor's conduct must not only be tortious in character but it must also be a legal cause of the invasion of another's interest.‟" Reynolds v. Gonzalez, 172 N.J. 266, 284 (N.J. 2002) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 9 cmt. a (1965)). For plaintiffs here, this means presenting "evidence or reasonable inferences therefrom showing a proximate causal relation" between SRI‟s and Unique‟s ...


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