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Goodman v. Shore Club Condominium Association

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

September 10, 2018

TERRI GOODMAN, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
SHORE CLUB CONDOMINIUM ASSOC., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          JOEL SCHNEIDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the “Motion for Summary Judgment” (“motion”) [Doc. No. 28] filed by defendants Shore Club Condominium Association (“Shore Club”) and Thompson Realty Company (“Thompson”). The Court is called upon to address whether defendants are immune from suit, and whether plaintiffs have presented a prima facie claim of negligence. The Court received plaintiffs' opposition. [Doc. No. 29]. The Court exercises its discretion to decide defendants' motion without oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; L. Civ. R. 78.1. For the reasons to be discussed, defendants' motion is DENIED.[1]

         Background

         The Court will begin with a summary of the background facts. As required in the present context, plaintiffs will be given the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the facts of record and the evidence will be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs in this action are Joel and Terri Goodman, husband and wife residing in Pennsylvania. Second Am. Compl. (“SAC”) at ¶ 1 [Doc. No. 21]. Defendants in this action are Margate City (“Margate”), Thompson and Shore Club.[2] Id. at ¶ 2.

         On January 1, 2016, plaintiff Terri Goodman tripped and fell on the way to her car that was parked in the Adams Avenue parking lot of Shore Club Condominiums where the Goodmans are unit owners. Id. Plaintiff severely fractured her arm as a result of the fall. Id. She required surgery and the placement of pins and plates to repair her arm. Id. at ¶ 9.

         On April 3, 2017, plaintiffs filed the initial complaint in this action. [Doc. No. 1]. On November 16, 2017, plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint, which is the operative complaint. SAC at ¶¶ 1, 2.

         Plaintiffs allege the parking lot at Shore Club was “poorly lit, defective and dangerous.” Id. Plaintiffs further contend that “[f]or some time prior to the date of the accident . . . defendant Shore Club Condominium Association owned, possessed maintained and controlled the area in question.” Id. at ¶ 7. Plaintiffs also aver the area where plaintiff fell was “possessed, managed and controlled by defendant Thompson Realty Company, which negligently and carelessly maintained and controlled the area.” Id. at ¶ 8. Plaintiffs allege defendants were negligent in “[f]ailing to warn plaintiffs of a dangerous condition, failing to provide proper lighting, failing to fix the dangerous and defective condition which was a tripping hazard, causing a dangerous and defective condition which was a tripping hazard, [and] otherwise acting negligently.” Id. at ¶ 14.

         Shore Club and Thompson filed their motion seeking summary judgment, arguing generally: (1) Shore Club is immune from suit pursuant to its own bylaws; (2) if Shore Club is immune, Thompson cannot be held liable as Thompson is merely an agent of Shore Club; (3) plaintiffs cannot make out a prima facie claim of negligence.[3] Plaintiffs counter that: (1) Shore Club's bylaws do not specifically confer immunity upon the condominium association for a claim of bodily injury; (2) Shore Club cannot be afforded public sidewalk immunity because the area where plaintiff fell was a private parking lot owned and controlled by Shore Club; and (3) they have presented a prima facie claim of negligence sufficient to present to a jury. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' summary judgment motion is denied.

         Discussion

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         A court should grant summary judgment when the record demonstrates “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party on an issue affecting the outcome of the litigation. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). To determine if a material fact exists a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255.

         The moving party has the initial burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Where, as here, the nonmoving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may be entitled to summary judgment by observing that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 325; see also Rahman v. Taylor, C.A. No. 10-0367 (JBS/KMW), 2013 WL 1192352, at *2-3 (D.N.J. Mar. 21, 2013). Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who 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 Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         A plaintiff opposing a defendant's motion for summary judgment has the burden of coming forward with evidence, not mere allegations, that raise a genuine dispute of material fact and suffice to enable a reasonable jury, giving all favorable inferences to the plaintiff as the party opposing summary judgment, to find in plaintiff's favor at trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) further provides that, to create a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmovant must do so by:

citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.

         B. Condominium Association Immunity

         Shore Club contends it is immune pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-13(a), which confers immunity upon condominium associations if said immunity is explicitly set forth in a condominium association's bylaws. Def.'s Br. at 7. Plaintiffs contend Shore Club's reference to N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-13(a) is misplaced because the bylaws do not specifically provide for immunity to the association, nor do they provide immunity specifically for claims of bodily injury. Pl.'s Br. at 3. Plaintiffs point out that the bylaws merely provide limited immunity to the board and the individual members of the ...


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