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Robert Giovanelli v. D. Simmons General Contracting

June 17, 2011

ROBERT GIOVANELLI,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
D. SIMMONS GENERAL CONTRACTING, DEFENDANT/CROSS-CLAIMANT.



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

OPINION

This matter has come before the Court on the motions of plaintiff and defendant for summary judgment. For the reasons expressed below, defendant's motion will be granted, and plaintiff's motion denied as moot.

BACKGROUND

This case concerns injuries sustained by plaintiff, Robert Giovanelli, when a three foot by seven foot bathroom cabinet fell on him while he and a co-worker attempted to move the cabinet at his place of employment, Trane Corporation, in Trenton, New Jersey.

In March 2007, several of Trane's bathrooms were being renovated, and part of the work was being performed by defendant D. Simmons General Contracting (hereinafter "Simmons"). Dennis Simmons would perform the same tasks for each bathroom: taking out the fixtures, partitions, ceiling and tile. During the course of the remodeling job, Simmons would store his tools--a level, screw gun, handsaw, box of screws, screwdrivers, and snips--in the bathroom cabinet of the bathroom he was working on so that he did not have to transport his tools in and out of Trane every night. He obtained approval to store his tools in the cabinet by a Trane employee, Mike Roberts, who was in charge of the bathroom remodeling job. Trane removed the existing locks on the cabinets so that Simmons could put his own lock on the bathroom cabinet in which he stored his tools. Only he had a key to that lock. The bathrooms were unlocked, and during the regular operation of the bathrooms, the cabinets typically stored mops, buckets, paper towels and other cleaning supplies.

On March 7, 2007, Brian Salay of Trane ordered plaintiff and a co-worker, Billy Haas, to move the cabinet from the bathroom that Simmons had just completed work on. The cabinet needed to be moved in order to permit the flooring contractor to perform his renovating work. Plaintiff found the cabinet to be locked, and told Salay. According to plaintiff, Salay told plaintiff that the cabinet was empty, and to move it anyway.

In order to move the cabinet, plaintiff tilted it, and Haas slid a refrigerator dolly under it, ran a strap around it, and ratcheted it tightly to the dolly. Haas then leaned the dolly back and began pushing it out of the bathroom. When they reached a set of stairs, plaintiff went in front of the dolly, acting as a "brake man" as Haas lowered it down each step. At the third step, Haas told plaintiff that he was losing his grip. According to plaintiff, the cabinet pushed him down and ran over him, causing him serious injuries.*fn1

Plaintiff claims that D. Simmons General Contracting is liable for his injuries because Simmons' act of storing his heavy tools in the bathroom cabinets was negligent. Plaintiff claims that even though Simmons knew the floor work still needed to be completed, and that the cabinet had to be removed in order to do so, he negligently left his heavy tools in the cabinet that could only be unlocked by him.*fn2

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is 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 considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable ...


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