The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez
This matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Hope Balcerak [Dkt. Entry No. 27]. The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties and heard oral argument on the motion on April 6, 2011. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.
On December 18, 2007, Plaintiff Sean Sexton ("Sexton") was traveling west on Route 40 in Carneys Point, New Jersey in a 1992 International tractor trailer. Defendant Hope Balcerak ("Balcerak"), also traveling west on Route 40 in a 1999 Ford Explorer, was approximately eight car lengths in front of Sexton's vehicle. As Balcerak's vehicle was approaching an intersection where Route 48 crosses Route 40, she slammed on her breaks and stopped in the middle of Route 40. Sexton applied his brakes to avoid a collision but his vehicle jack-knifed into a skid, and the front of his vehicle collided into the rear of Balcerak's vehicle.
Balcerak contends that a tractor trailer driven by Co-Defendant Chuck Sutton ("Sutton") was approaching the intersection at a high rate of speed on Route 48. At the intersection, there is a stop sign that requires vehicles on Route 48 to stop before crossing Route 40; drivers on Route 40 are not required to stop. Balcerak argues that her braking was necessitated by her observation of Sutton's vehicle traveling through the stop sign without stopping. According to Balcerak, "when I saw that he wasn't stopping, I at that point tapped my brakes and I moved to the left-hand side of the road. And then as he continued to travel, that's when I suddenly hit the brakes." (Pl.'s Ex. E, Balcerak Dep., pp. 25-26.)
Sutton recounts a significantly different explanation for Balcerak's sudden stop. According to Sutton:
I was stopped at the stop sign and I looked at the traffic coming from my left and there's a light pole approximately a hundred yards away and this lady and the truck came up to where I was at, I was stopped and she looked up. She was doing her make-up. She looked up and stopped in the middle of the road. She stopped right there in the lane of traffic.
I waved the lady through and she was trying to wave me through and I told the lady - I was signaling her, I can't go, I'm stopped . .
I'm waiving frantically, go, I can't go, and I saw the 18-wheeler coming behind her and he came up and slammed on the brakes and tried to avoid hitting her and he bumped her in the back and I called 911. (Pl.'s Ex. G, Sutton Dep., p. 46.)
On August 5, 2009, Sexton and his wife, Patricia Sexton, filed a Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, naming Balcerak, Sutton, and Sutton's employer, The Boyz Farm, Inc., as defendants. Sexton alleges that Balcerak and Sutton were negligent, and as a result of their negligence, he was seriously injured. The action was timely removed to this Court and Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint against the above-named defendants on May 31, 2010. On August 8, 2010, Sutton and The Boyz Farms, Inc. filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint and a Cross-claim against Balcerak for contribution and/or indemnity. Balcerak filed the present motion for summary judgment on November 24, 2010, asserting that there is no dispute that her actions did not constitute negligence, and that she is not liable as a matter of law.
"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). An issue is "genuine" if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. 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).
Initially, the movant has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant satisfies its burden by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory ...