CURE a/s/o MR. KARLIN JOHNSON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
SHERROD VANS, INC., Defendant-Appellant, and ROUTE 1 AUTO SOUND, INC., Defendant-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 3, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-1797-10.
Thompson Becker & Bothwell, attorneys for appellant (John H. King, on the briefs).
Raymond J. Noonan, attorney for respondent CURE a/s/o Mr. Karlin Johnson.
Law Offices of William E. Staehle, attorneys for respondent Route 1 Auto Sound, Inc. (Lisa Marie DeRogatis, on the brief).
Before Judges Axelrad and Fuentes.
In March 2007, Karlin Johnson purchased a new 2006 Econoline Ford van from Hillside Ford, an authorized dealer of the Ford Motor Company, located in the Township of Hillside on Route 22. Before Hillside Ford sold the van to Johnson, Ford Motor Company sent the vehicle to Sherrod Vans, Inc., a duly authorized Ford subcontractor, to install a custom interior and entertainment equipment.
After Johnson purchased the van from Hillside Ford, he brought it to Route 1 Auto Sound, Inc., to install a number of devices and enhancements to the vehicle, including a combination radio/DVD player, fog lights, and a backup camera. On March 4, 2009, the van was completely destroyed as a result of a spontaneous fire that occurred while Johnson was driving it.
Plaintiff Citizens United Reciprocal Exchange (CURE) is contractually subrogated to the claims of Johnson, its insured. Plaintiff filed suit to recover $22, 722.65, "together with costs, interest and attorney's fees, " against defendants, Sherrod Vans, Inc., and Route 1 Auto Sound, Inc., claiming that these two parties may have been either jointly or severely liable for the cause of the fire.
After joinder of issue and extensive discovery, plaintiff and codefendant Route 1 Auto Sound, Inc., moved for summary judgment against Sherrod Vans, Inc. Because the cause of the fire was an issue beyond the ken of a lay factfinder, plaintiff submitted a report prepared by an expert who opined that the fire was caused by work performed by Sherrod Vans, Inc. Because plaintiff's expert's opinion was not challenged by Sherrod Vans, Inc., by presenting a contrary expert opinion, plaintiff, and by extension Route 1 Auto Sound, Inc., argued they were both entitled to summary judgment.
Sherrod Vans, Inc., argued that the case was not ripe for summary judgment because there were a number of material factual issues in dispute. In support of its position, Sherrod Vans, Inc., cited passages from the deposition of a lay representative of Route 1 Auto Sound, Inc., in which the witness conceded that he never made any attempt to determine whether the installations that his company made were properly connected to "the Ford fuse box." According to Sherrod Vans, Inc.'s counsel, this employee's alleged concessions raised material questions of fact as to whether plaintiff's expert "traced all of the relevant aftermarket wires" that the expert identified as the potential ignition source. According to Sherrod Vans, Inc., these and other similar disputed facts require resolution before a jury. Thus, by granting summary judgment, the trial court would be usurping the jury's exclusive function to decide the facts.
In light of this record, Judge Vincent LeBlon granted summary judgment in plaintiff's favor and against Sherrod Vans, Inc., and, by logical extension, dismissed the claims against Route 1 Auto Sound, Inc. Judge LeBlon explained his ruling in a detailed memorandum of opinion dated May 2, 2012. We affirm ...