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Mele v. GSA Northeast Distribution Center

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 26, 2017

NELLIE MELE and GERALD MELE, Plaintiffs,
v.
GSA NORTHEAST DISTRIBUTION CENTER, CBRE, INC., FLUIDICS INC., and JOHN DOES (1-10), Defendants.

          William Joseph Stopper, Esq. STOPPER LOPEZ, LLC Attorney for Plaintiffs.

          Kristin Lynn Vassallo Assistant U.S. Attorney OFFICE OF THE U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY Attorney for Defendant GSA Northeast Distribution Center.

          Frank Anthony LaSalvia, Esq. KENNEDY, CAMPBELL, LIPSKI & DOCHNEY Attorney for Defendant CBRE, Inc.

          James A. Wescoe, Esq. WEBER GALLAGHER SIMPSON STAPLETON FIRES & NEWBY, LLP Attorney for Defendant Fluidics, Inc.

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Nellie Mele (hereinafter, “Mrs. Mele”) and her husband, Gerald Mele, brought this action alleging that Mrs. Nelle tripped and fell over a wheel chock as a result of Defendants' negligence.[1] This matter comes before the Court on the motions of Defendants Fluidics, Inc. (hereinafter, “Fluidics”) and CBRE, Inc. (hereinafter, “CBRE”) for summary judgment. [Docket Items 19 and 20.] For the reasons stated herein, Fluidics' motion will be granted and CBRE's motion will be denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Mrs. Mele was an employee of the Occupational Training Center (“OTC”). At approximately 10:00 a.m. on May 20, 2014, Mrs. Mele tripped and fell while walking into her place of employment, an office building located at 1900 River Road in Burlington, New Jersey. (Pl.'s Response to Interrog. ¶ 2; Mele Dep. 73:1-6.) The fall took place as Mrs. Mele was returning to work after her morning break while walking through a door commonly referred to by the parties as “Door 141.” Door 141 would lock from the inside if allowed to fully close and could not be propped open using the door's hinge mechanism. (Chichilitti Dep. 25:5-11.) Accordingly, wheel chocks[2] or sticks were often used to prop open the door, so that employees could easily enter and exit the facility during work breaks and to allow ventilation into the building. (Mele Dep. 98:7-99:13, 117:8-118:9.)

         On the day of the fall, a wheel chock was propping open Door 141. (Pl.'s Response to Interrog. ¶ 2.) Mrs. Mele testified that she had previously been aware of the chock at Door 141, but was unsure how many days it had been there prior to the date of her fall. (Mele Dep. 98:3-6, 113:20-115:1.) Neither Mrs. Mele nor any of Defendants' witnesses know who originally placed the wheel chock at Door 141. (Mele Dep. 114:17-115:1, 115:22-25, 136:7-23; Chichilitti Dep. 27:18-20; Glassberg Dep. 36:14-22.)

         Mrs. Mele testified that, while reentering Door 141 after her morning break on May 20, 2014, her right foot caught the top of the wheel chock and she fell into the door and onto the ground. (Mele Dep. 89:2-18, 103:3-14.) Mrs. Mele claims that the fall seriously injured her right shoulder and right hand. (Mele Dep. 57:21-58:6.) As a result of the injuries she allegedly sustained, Mrs. Mele underwent shoulder surgery in October 2014 (Mele Dep. 56:1-4), and received rehabilitation treatment in 2015. (Mele Dep. 58:7-25.) She continues to take pain and sleeping medication because of ongoing pain and numbness that she feels in her shoulder. (Mele Dep. 63:3-25, 64:19-25, 124:21-125:3, 127:19-128-16.)

         At the time of the fall, Mrs. Mele was employed by OTC, which was located in a warehouse facility at 1900 River Road. (Pl.'s Response to Interrog. ¶ 2) Between December 14, 2010 and the time of the fall, the warehouse facility was owned by 1900 River Road, LLC and leased to the General Services Administration (hereinafter, “GSA”), an agency of the U.S. Government. (Exhibit B to Fluidics Summary Judgment Motion) According to the lease, 1900 River Road, LLC was “responsible for the total maintenance and repair of the leased premises” (Id. at 19, ¶ 4.11.A), and for maintaining the buildings and space in a “safe and healthful condition according to OSHA standards.” (Id. at 36, ¶ 9.4.)

         On or before January 1, 2010, CBRE (also referred to in contracts as “CB Richard Ellis”) entered into an arrangement with 1900 River Road, LLC, whereby CBRE would act as the property manager for the building at 1900 River Road. (Glassberg Dep. 12:9-15, 26:7-9.) Among the various roles it performed as property manager, ...


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