United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Freda L. Wolfson United States District Judge
matter is before the Court upon a motion for summary judgment
filed by Defendants Jones Farm, AgriIndustries, Commissioner
Gary M. Lanigan (improperly named as Raymond Lanigan)
(“Defendant Lanigan”), the Department of
Corrections (“NJDOC”), and the State of New
Jersey (collectively, the “Corrections
Defendants”). ECF No. 23. Plaintiff Raymond Bonilla
(“Plaintiff”) opposes the motion. ECF No. 26. The
Court has decided the motion based on the written submissions
of the parties and without oral argument, pursuant to Local
Civil Rule 78.1(b). For the reasons stated herein, the
Corrections Defendants' motion for summary judgment will
case arises out an injury that Plaintiff allegedly suffered
while he was an inmate at Jones Farm, where he was assigned
to perform services at the milk processing plant (the
“Plant”). See Compl. ¶¶ 9-10.
Plaintiff alleges that he sustained a serious injury to his
hand while operating a milk packing machine (the
“Machine”). Id. at ¶ 18. Plaintiff
further alleges that he was not properly trained on how to
operate the Machine, was not adequately supervised while
operating the Machine, and that the Machine itself was not
adequately maintained and was defective or dangerous.
Id. at ¶¶ 19-20.
where otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. On
September 11, 2014, Plaintiff reported to work at the Plant.
Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (“Def.'s
SOMF”) at ¶ 2, ECF No. 23-2; Pl.'s Resp. to
Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (“Pl.'s
Resp. SOMF”) at ¶ 2, ECF No. 26-1. At his
deposition, Plaintiff testified that, after reporting to work
on September 11, he sustained injuries to his hand while
attempting to unclog milk cartons that had become wedged in
the Machine, causing it to jam. Deposition of Raymond Bonilla
(“Bonilla Dep.”) at 49:15-50:23; 53:23-54:18, ECF
No. 26-1; Pl.'s Supp. Statement of Facts
(“Pl.'s SSOF”) at ¶ 4, ECF No 26-1;
Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Supp. Statement of Facts
(“Def.'s Resp. SSOF”) at ¶ 4, ECF No.
27-2. Plaintiff testified that he turned off the Machine
prior to attempting to unclog it by reaching for the jam.
Bonilla Dep. at 51:7-52:20; 62:16-63:16. However, as
Plaintiff was attempting to take out the clogged milk
cartons, the Machine turned back on, severing the middle
finger on his right hand and injuring his pointer finger.
Pl.'s SSOF at ¶ 5; Def.'s Resp. SSOF at ¶
5. Plaintiff did not call for his supervisor, Jeffrey Halter,
to help unclog the Machine prior to attempting to unclog it
himself. Def, 's SOMF at ¶ 17; Pl.'s Resp. SOMF
at ¶ 17.
first operated the Machine on September 10, 2016, one day
before his injury. Def.'s SOMF at ¶ 11; Pl.'s
Resp. SOMF at ¶ 11. On that date, Plaintiff was assigned
to the Machine as a substitute for another operator and
operated the Machine without incident. Def.'s SOMF at
¶ 11; Pl.'s Resp. SOMF at ¶ 11. Everyone who
had worked on the Machine before Plaintiff had received
training on how to operate the Machine. Pl.'s SSOF at
¶ 10; Def.'s Resp. SSOF at ¶ 10.
Plaintiff's supervisor, Halter, was responsible for
training inmates on how to do their jobs properly and safely.
Pl.'s SSOF at ¶ 24; Def.'s Resp. SSOF at ¶
24. After Plaintiff sustained his injury, Halter wrote
Plaintiff a disciplinary charge for not following safety
procedures. Pl.'s SSOF at ¶ 15; Def.'s Resp.
SSOF at ¶ 15.
maintain an Inmate Safety Training Receipt Form (the
“Form”) for inmates to sign after they have been
trained on a particular piece of equipment. Pl.'s SSOF at
¶ 11; Def.'s Resp. SSOF at 11. Defendants do not
know whether the Form existed and was in use at the time of
Plaintiff's injury. Deposition of Jeffrey Halter
(“Halter Dep.”) at 39:18-25. It is undisputed,
however, that, if the Form existed at the time, Plaintiff
would have completed the Form after receiving training on the
Machine. Pl.'s SSOF at ¶ 13; Def.'s Resp. SSOF
at ¶ 13. Nevertheless, during discovery for the present
action, Defendants failed to produce an Inmate Safety
Training Receipt Form for the Machine with Plaintiff's
signature. Pl.'s SSOF at ¶ 14; Def.'s Resp. SSOF
other facts remain in dispute. The parties dispute whether
Plaintiff was ever trained on the Machine, and whether Halter
was in the building at the time of Plaintiff's injury.
Pl.'s SSOF at ¶¶ 6, 9, 23; Def.'s Resp.
SSOF at ¶¶ 6, 9, 23. The parties also dispute
whether Plaintiff was ever specifically told not to stick his
hands in the Machine. Pl.'s Resp. SOMF at ¶ 19.
Plaintiff testified that, based on his experience, he thought
that he should clean out a clog in the Machine himself.
Bonilla Dep. at 62:16-62:22. The parties also dispute whether
Defendants were aware of other similar incidents involving
injuries to workers. Pl.'s SSOF at ¶ 22; Def.'s
Resp. SSOF at ¶ 22. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that
there was duct tape covering a sensor on the Machine at the
time of the incident. Bonilla Dep. at 69:4-69:13. Halter
testified that there had never been duct tape on the Machine.
Halter Dep. at 31:13-31:18.
Complaint was originally filed in state court, and was
removed to this Court on November 11, 2015. See ECF
No. 1-3. The Complaint contains three counts against all
Defendants, including the Corrections Defendants: (1) Count I
alleges a state law claim of Negligence against all
Defendants; (2) Count III alleges a state law claim of
Willful, Wanton, Outrageous, and Reckless Conduct against all
Defendants; and (3) Count IV alleges that all Defendants
violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by failing to train or
supervise staff and inmates in connection with the Machine,
and failing to establish and maintain adequate safety
procedures. Compl. ¶¶ 9-24.
10, 2016, the Court granted the Corrections Defendants'
motion to dismiss Count IV of the Complaint. See ECF
Nos. 12-13. The Court dismissed Count IV of the Complaint
with prejudice against the State of New Jersey, the NJDOC,
Jones Farm, and AgriIndustries, and Defendant Lanigan is his
official capacity. Id. The Court directed Plaintiff
to seek leave to file an Amended Complaint if he sought to
bring personal capacity claims against Defendant Lanigan.
Id. Plaintiff did not do so. Only state law claims
remain. The parties have since engaged in discovery, and the
Corrections Defendants filed the present motion for summary
judgment. The Court now considers the Corrections
judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that
“there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A factual dispute is
genuine only if there is “a sufficient evidentiary
basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the
non-moving party, ” and it is material only if it has
the ability to “affect the outcome of the suit under
governing law.” Kaucher v. County of Bucks,
455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006); see also Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Disputes
over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a
grant of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
248. “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 inferences are to be drawn in his
favor.'” Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358
F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255)); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Curley
v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002). In
deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary
judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the
evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine
whether there is a genuine issue for trial.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
burden of establishing that no “genuine issue”
exists is on the party moving for summary judgment.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330. “A nonmoving party
has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has
provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its
favor at trial.” Gleason v. Norwest Mortg.,
Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001). The non-moving
party must present “more than a scintilla of evidence
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Woloszyn v. County of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 319
(3d Cir. 2005) (quotations omitted). Under Anderson,
plaintiffs' proffered evidence must be sufficient to meet
the substantive evidentiary standard the jury would have to
use at trial. 477 U.S. at 255. To do so, the non-moving party
must “go beyond the pleadings and by her own
affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quotations omitted);
see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586; Ridgewood
Bd. of Ed. v. Stokley, 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).
There can be “no genuine issue as to any material fact,
” however, if a party fails “to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential
to that party's case, and on which that party will bear
the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477
U.S. at 322-23. “[A] complete failure of proof
concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's
case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.”
Id. at 323; Katz v. Aetna Cas. & Sur.
Co., 972 F.2d 53, 55 (3d Cir. 1992).
threshold matter, Plaintiff has not sought leave of this
Court to amend his Complaint to bring any § 1983 claims
against Defendant Lanigan in his personal capacity.
Accordingly, the Court need only address the remaining state
law claims raised against the Corrections Defendants,
contained in Counts I and III of the Complaint. The Court
retains supplemental jurisdiction over those claims, pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
Count I: Negligence
Count I, Plaintiff brings a claim for negligence, pursuant to
the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (“NJTCA”),
N.J.S.A. § 59:1-1, et seq. As the parties do in
their briefs, the Court construes Count I as including two
claims: (A) one claim related to the allegedly dangerous or
defective condition of the Machine; and (B) a second claim
for negligent training or supervision. At the outset, the
parties dispute which standard for negligence liability under
the NJTCA should apply to Plaintiff's claim. Defendants
argue that Plaintiff's negligence claim, insofar as it
alleges a dangerous or defective condition, is governed by
the “palpably unreasonable” standard codified at
N.J.S.A. § 59:4-2. Plaintiff argues that his entire
negligence claim should be governed by the ordinary
negligence standard codified at N.J.S.A. § 59:2-2. As
explained below, Defendants have correctly identified the
Dangerous Condition Claim
the NJTCA, N.J.S.A. § 59:2-2 sets forth the general rule
of vicarious liability for a public entity, while N.J.S.A.
§ 59:4-2 provides the rule for liability for a public
entity with regard to any dangerous condition of public
property. Ogborne v. Mercer Cemetery Corp., 197 N.J.
448, 452 (2009). Specifically, “N.J.S.A. 59:2-2 governs
a plaintiff's cause of action when it turns on whether a
public employee was ordinarily negligent in undertaking the
action that caused the plaintiff's injury.”
Id. at 457. N.J.S.A. § 59:2-2 provides:
a. A public entity is liable for injury proximately caused by
an act or omission of a public employee within the scope of
his employment in the same manner and to the same extent as a
private individual under like circumstances.
b. A public entity is not liable for an injury resulting from
an act or omission of a public employee where the public
employee is not liable.
N.J.S.A. § 59:2-2.
contrast, N.J.S.A. § 59:4-2 “states that a public
entity will only be liable for injuries resulting from a
dangerous condition of property created by an employee's
negligence if the entity acted in a palpably unreasonable
manner in failing to protect against the condition.”
Ogborne, 197 N.J. at 458. That provision provides:
public entity is liable for injury caused by a condition of
its property if the plaintiff establishes that the property
was in dangerous condition at the time of the injury, that
the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition,
that the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable
risk of the kind of injury which was incurred, and that
a. a negligent or wrongful act or omission of an employee of
the public entity within the scope of his employment created
the dangerous condition; or
b. a public entity had actual or constructive notice of the
dangerous condition under section 59:4-3 a sufficient time
prior to the injury to have taken measures to protect against
the dangerous condition.
Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose
liability upon a public entity for a dangerous condition of
its public property if the action the entity took to