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Neumann v. Brick Township Board of Education

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 7, 2013

ROBIN NEUMANN and PAUL NEUMANN, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Argued September 10, 2013.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-3291-09.

Durmeriss Cruver-Smith argued the cause for appellants (LePore Luizzi, attorneys; Joseph G. LePore and Ms. Cruver-Smith, on the briefs).

Patricia M. Reilly argued the cause for respondent Brick Township Board of Education (Wolff, Helies, Duggan, Spaeth & Lucas, P.A., attorneys; Ms. Reilly, on the brief).

Mark S. Hochman argued the cause for respondent Brick Township Soccer Association (Law Offices of Stephen E. Gertler, attorneys; Mr. Hochman, on the brief).

Jared J. Monaco argued the cause for respondent Township of Brick (Gilmore & Monahan, P.A., attorneys; Mary M. McCudden, on the brief).

Joseph DeDonato argued the cause for respondent B&B Construction Co. (Morgan Melhuish Abrutyn, attorneys; Mr. DeDonato, on the brief).

Before Judges Fisher, Espinosa and Koblitz.


Plaintiff Robin Neumann[2] filed a complaint against public defendants Brick Township Board Of Education (Board) and the Township Of Brick (Township), charitable defendant Brick Township Soccer Association (BTSA) and private defendant B&B Construction (B&B) claiming that she suffered severe injuries when she twisted her ankle during soccer practice due to defendants' failure to maintain the field in a safe condition. Plaintiff, an assistant coach of an under-eleven girls' team, fell in the evening when she was scrimmaging on a poorly lit field adjacent to a football field where artificial turf was being installed by B&B. Plaintiff appeals the orders of September 2 and November 4, 2011 granting summary judgment to all defendants. We affirm.

On the evening of October 9, 2007, plaintiff was helping the head coach of the team, Paul Pallante, to conduct practice for the Brick Thunder girls' soccer team at the Veterans Memorial Elementary School soccer fields in Brick. The team was part of the BTSA, which had a permit issued by the Board to use its fields. The Township decided where the BTSA was permitted to play games and practice.

After the scheduled practice, plaintiff's team moved to an adjacent unlit soccer field to scrimmage with another team. Plaintiff claims that during the course of the scrimmage, while playing with the girls, including her daughter, she "rolled the ball" in a defensive move and fell in a hole on the field near the thirty-yard line. She did not inspect the field before the team moved over to it, and she did not ask if anyone else had walked the field before the scrimmage began. It was dark where she fell, as the area was lit only by ambient light from the temporary lights installed on the adjacent field where they had been practicing.

As a rule, before practice, plaintiff or the head coach walked the fields to see if they were in good shape and if any hazards existed. If she saw any, she "would cone off [the] hazardous area." She explained that she did this for holes or uneven ground. If there was a small problem, she would put a cone on top of it, and if the problem was larger, she would surround the area with cones and put an object inside it.

Paul Pallante, the head coach of plaintiff's team, stated that the coaches had the obligation to inspect the fields and determine that they were in proper condition for play. On the night of the accident, Pallante only visually inspected the field where plaintiff fell, because another team had been playing on it and he assumed that the other coaches had inspected it more closely. Immediately after plaintiff fell, Pallante looked at the spot where she fell and saw no holes or sprinkler head issues or anything unusual in that corner of the field.

Approximately a week after she fell, plaintiff returned to the area. She saw a sprinkler head stuck up about four inches. However, she did not know whether the sprinkler was sticking up on the date of her accident.

In the spring of 2007, plaintiff complained to members of the BTSA about broken sprinkler heads and big holes in the fields, that the fields were unsafe, muddy, and messy, and that there was poor lighting. Although she did not remember the precise dates, she did remember two or three meetings of the BTSA after the summer of 2007 when depressions in the fields were discussed.

Pallante attended two meetings of the Township Council where the BTSA brought up the poor condition of the fields, including discussions about the sprinkler system and lighting. Plaintiff claims that Carol Scott, who was the BTSA director, stated that the Township had no funds for sprinkler heads, so the BTSA was buying and replacing them.

The BTSA asked the Township for lighting, which was put on the fields in the fall of 2006. The lights were erected on a daily basis and only illuminated two fields, although more than two practices went on at one time. Fields were given out on a first come, first served basis. If plaintiff's team could not get a field with lights, it would split a field with another team, or wait for a field with lights.

Plaintiff remembered that in the spring of 2007 there were quite a number of broken sprinkler heads and the water would run into puddles and make big holes in the field. Plaintiff saw the sprinklers spraying water onto the fields in spring and summer in the early afternoon.

Fred Testa, supervisor of the grounds department for the Board, inspected the fields and spoke with Scott Wylie, the senior groundskeeper at the Veterans complex, on a daily basis. Testa did not receive any complaints about the condition of the fields in 2007. Veterans complex consists of approximately sixty acres. Testa explained that a contractor on a construction project at the football field cut the water supply to the ...

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