On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-7696-07.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Telephonically argued November 30, 2010 -Decided -Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Nugent.
The decision of the court was delivered by FUENTES, J.A.D.
Plaintiff Tadeusz Jatczyszyn appeals from the order of the Law Division dismissing his products liability cause of action by granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. We reverse. The trial court erred when it failed to appreciate how this case's unusual procedural journey denied plaintiff the full discovery time he is entitled to receive under our civil case-tracking system.
Although we recognize the difficulty, and indeed outright tedium, associated with a date-by-date recitation of the events that led to this appeal, deciding the issues before us depends upon a comprehensive and meticulous review of the procedural history of this litigation.
Plaintiff began working as a mechanic for Marcal Paper Mills, Inc. (Marcal) in July 1998. On October 25, 2005, plaintiff was injured while working at Marcal's Elmwood Park, New Jersey site. He was assisting a co-worker who was using a mechanical lift vehicle to repair a building leak when the lift suddenly moved and struck plaintiff's leg, causing him severe injuries. The lift was manufactured by Genie Industries, Inc. and Terex Corporation (Genie/Terex). At the time of the accident, the lift was owned by United Rentals (United) and leased to Marcal.
On October 17, 2007, plaintiff filed a complaint in Bergen County Superior Court against Genie/Terex, United, and Marcal*fn1 alleging strict liability claims based on manufacturing and design defects and failure to warn. Plaintiff contends the lift involved in the accident was defective because it did not have a properly operating alarm mechanism to alert bystanders to reverse movement. Pursuant to Rule 4:18-1, the complaint included a demand for answers to form interrogatories and for the production of various documents relating both to the lift and to the accident itself.
Pursuant to Rule 4:5A-2(a), the court sent a track assignment notice dated October 18, 2007, assigning the case to Track III. The notice informed the parties that they had 450 days to complete discovery commencing from the date of the first answer "or 90 days from service on the first defendant, whichever comes first." R. 4:24-1(a). United filed its answer on November 29, 2007. In lieu of an answer, Genie/Terex filed a notice on December 5, 2007, to remove the case to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey on diversity grounds.
On December 11, 2007, the District Court entered an order setting a scheduling conference for March 3, 2008, and instructing the parties to submit a joint discovery plan no later than seven days prior to the conference date. Genie/Terex filed its answer in District Court on December 27, 2007. On February 8, 2008, plaintiff filed a notice of motion to remand the matter to the Superior Court, Law Division. Genie/Terex filed opposition to the motion on February 19, 2008, and plaintiff filed his reply on February 26, 2008.
The March 3, 2008 scheduling conference was never held. On September 8, 2008, United States District Court Judge Peter Sheridan granted plaintiff's motion and remanded the case to Bergen County Superior Court. On October 8, 2008, a month after the District Court's remand order, plaintiff served defendants with a notice to produce documents. On October 15, 2008, Genie/Terex filed in the Law Division the responsive pleadings previously filed in the United States District Court.
On December 20, 2008, the court sent plaintiff a "discovery end date reminder," stating that the discovery period was set to close on February 25, 2009. The notice also indicated that "[i]f additional discovery is needed, appropriate application to the Court must be made pursuant to R. 4:24-1(c). Otherwise discovery will be deemed complete on the above date and the case will be scheduled for arbitration or trial with no adjournments thereafter granted absent exceptional circumstances." On February 25, 2009, plaintiff requested a sixty-day extension of the discovery period, with the consent of all parties, pursuant to Rule 4:24-1(c). Although the appellate record does not include an order granting plaintiff's request, the civil case automated tracking system indicates the discovery end-date was thereafter extended to April 26, 2009.
On January 12, 2009, approximately three weeks before submitting the extension of discovery, plaintiff served a second notice to produce documents on defendants, demanding:
(1) [A]ny and all documents reflecting plans and specifications for Genie Model Z-34/22, Serial Number 571.
(2) [A]ny and all documents reflecting plans and/or specifications for "back up chime tone alarm" for Genie Model Z-34/22, Serial Number 571.
(3) [A]ny and all documents regarding Service Requirements and/or suggested service for Genie Model Z-34/22, Serial Number 571.
(4) [A]ny documents regarding prior problems with any backup alarm chime tone on any other similar Genie lift. These documents should include any problems with the alarm chime tone being clogged with ...