C.J.R., a minor, by his father and guardian ad litem, CHRISTOPHER REES, and CHRISTOPHER REES, individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
G.A., Defendant-Respondent, and GERALD J. ALESSI, Defendant
Argued November 17, 2014
Approved for Publication December 8, 2014.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Docket No. L-0576-12.
John D. Borbi argued the cause for appellants ( Borbi, Clancy & Patrizi, attorneys; Mr. Borbi, on the brief).
Ann L. Longo argued the cause for respondent ( Naulty, Scaricamazza & McDevitt, LLC, attorneys; Gerald X. Smith, of counsel and on the brief; Ms. Longo, on the brief).
Before Judges SABATINO, SIMONELLI, and GUADAGNO. The opinion of the court was delivered by SABATINO, P.J.A.D.
[438 N.J.Super. 389] OPINION
With his Medford youth lacrosse team in the lead, less than twenty seconds remaining on the game clock, and the ball nestled in the basket of his stick, a Medford player was struck in the forearm by an opposing player on the Marlton team. The blow knocked the Medford player to the ground. Referees whistled play to a halt and ended the game. The Medford player was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for a fracture.
Seeking to recover damages for his personal injuries, the Medford player, a minor, and his father filed suit in the Law Division against the opposing player, who was eleven years old at the time of the incident. Plaintiffs also named the Marlton player's father as a co-defendant. The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants. The court concluded that the facts relating to the conduct producing this youth sports injury, even when viewed in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, were insufficient to support this cause of action. Plaintiffs now appeal, solely challenging the dismissal of their claims against the other minor.
We affirm the entry of summary judgment in this case of first impression under New Jersey law. We concur with the motion judge that the defendant minor breached no legal duty in causing the plaintiff minor to sustain this unfortunate sports-related injury.
We reach our conclusion by applying a double-layered analysis, one which counsel on appeal mutually accepted as an appropriate [438 N.J.Super. 390] distillation of the relevant tort principles separately pertaining to adult sporting activities and to the conduct of minors. The inquiry we have fashioned examines: (1) whether the opposing player's injurious conduct would be actionable if it were committed by an adult, based on sufficient proof of the defendant's intent or recklessness as required by the Supreme Court's case law; and, if so, (2) whether it would be reasonable in the particular youth sports setting to expect a minor of the same age and characteristics as defendant
to refrain from the injurious physical contact.
For the reasons we explain in this opinion, the record in this case reflects that, at the very least, the second query must be answered here in the negative. Summary judgment was therefore appropriately granted to the defendant minor.
The facts presented to us are not complicated. We derive them substantially from the deposition testimony of plaintiff C.J.R., his parents, and his team's coach. We consider those facts in a light most favorable to plaintiffs. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540, 666 A.2d 146 (1995); see also W.J.A. v. D.A., 210 N.J. 229, 237, 43 A.3d 1148 (2012) (applying the same standard on appeal of a summary judgment order).
In 2011, C.J.R. and defendant G.A. were each enrolled by their respective parents in a recreational lacrosse league. At the time of the game incident in question, C.J.R. was twelve years old and G.A. was eleven years old. G.A. was five feet tall and weighed seventy-six pounds. C.J.R. was two to four inches taller and about fourteen pounds heavier than G.A.
[438 N.J.Super. 391] Based on their relative skill levels, C.J.R. and G.A. were assigned to the league's " 5/6 combination" division, which was a level composed of youths who were not assigned to either the sixth grade " A" teams or the fifth grade " A" teams. As C.J.R.'s coach Brian Bennett explained in his testimony, the " 5/6 combination" level essentially involved what is commonly known as a " B" team level, meaning that the skill sets of the players in that division generally were not as advanced as those who were on the " A" teams. C.J.R. played for the Medford team and G.A. played for the Marlton team.
The physical contact between G.A. and C.J.R. occurred near the end of a game on May 7, 2011. The Medford team was in the lead. C.J.R. received the ball at midfield with less than twenty seconds left on the game clock. As described by Coach Bennett, C.J.R. began running towards the sideline. According to Bennett, C.J.R. was trying to keep possession of the ball and maintain the lead until time expired.
As described by C.J.R.'s mother, who had been watching from the sidelines, G.A. was running " full force" diagonally across the field towards C.J.R. As she phrased it, G.A. was also " roaring" unintelligibly. She observed that G.A. had his head " tucked down," with his arms at his side. C.J.R.'s mother did not see the moment of the ensuing collision of the two boys because she had averted her attention to pick up some empty cups on the sideline.
Coach Bennett also observed G.A. approach C.J.R. According to Bennett, G.A. " left his feet" and " hit [C.J.R.] with either his helmet or his ...