United States District Court, D. New Jersey
G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Reed
Chojnacki's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 34),
Defendants Alec Hirsch and Todd Hirsch's motion for
summary judgment, (ECF No. 33), and Defendant Andrew V.
Hollander's motion for summary judgment (ECF No.
This case arises from an alleged arson of Plaintiff Sam
Haigh's boat, the Fiddler ("the Fiddler" or
"Vessel"). (Hollander Statement of Facts (SOF), ECF
No. 36-1 at ¶ 1). Plaintiff brought the present suit
against Defendants Andrew V. Hollander, Reed Chojnacki, Alec
Hirsch, and Samantha Cooper, all teenagers at the time of the
alleged arson, and each teenagers' respective parents or
legal guardians. For the reasons set forth below, including
the conflicting testimony of the four teenagers, summary
judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.
Reed, and Samantha were friends from Red Bank High School,
and Alec was Andrew's friend from Marlboro, New Jersey.
On January 31, 2014, Andrew, Reed, Alec, and Samantha went to
the Dunkin Donuts in Red Bank, New Jersey. (Id. at
¶ 3. Thereafter, the teenagers walked over to the
Navesink River. Since the Navesink was frozen, they entered
onto the ice and headed towards the Fiddler, which was moored
offshore. (Id. at ¶ 4). Alec and Reed
boarded the Vessel. (Chojnacki Dep., ECF No. 34-3, T22-24).
Alec and Reed removed a flare gun, flares, night vision
goggles, and binoculars from the Fiddler. (Hirsch SOF, ECF
No, 33-1, at ¶ 12). The teenagers divided up the
equipment, but either Alec or Andrew kept the flare gun and
flares. (Supp. Investigation Report, ECF No. 33-3 at 66).
two weeks after the January theft, on February 12, 2014, the
New Jersey State Police received a report that the Vessel was
afire on the Navesink River. (Id. at 58). According
to the police report, the fire consumed most of the Vessel,
and there was "nothing suspicious observed at the
scene." (Id.) There were no witnesses.
(Id.) Further, a member of the Monmouth Boat Club
informed the State Police that the Vessel was subject to a
previous act of vandalism two weeks earlier, and it appeared
that a rescue flare was shot into the side of the boat,
igniting a small fire. (Id.)
time later, Plaintiff allegedly received an anonymous letter
that named certain individuals who attended Red Bank High
School, and who were allegedly involved in the burning and
sinking of the Fiddler. (Haigh SOF, ECF No. 38, at ¶ 3).
Plaintiff learned that the individuals named in the letter
were known to his children and their friend, Kobe Miller.
Plaintiff asked Miller to "keep his eyes and ears open
for clues about who may have destroyed the Fiddler."
(Id. at ¶ 5). Miller then provided Plaintiff
with a printed copy of a Facebook chat he had with Andrew on
February 25, 2014, wherein Andrew acknowledged that he was
present when the Vessel was set on fire, and he identified
the individual who lit the fire as "his friend from
Miller: Hey did you hear about the boat that was destroyed on
Andrew: maybe... I know who did it... I was there[.]
Kobe Miller: What happened.
Andrew: Me[J [R]eed[, ] my friend[, ] and Sam were there and
we robbed the boat (well my friend and [R]eed[, ] I stayed on
the ice with Sam) [R]eed found night vision goggles and my
friend found the flare guns and flares and when Sam and
[R]eed went home me and my friend went back out on the ice
and he was drunk . . . and light the flares and left them on
the boat then from a distance my friend shot the flare gun at
the boat 3 times and on the 3rd one it blew it up . . . [Sam
and Reed] weren't there when that happened though just
when it was robbed by pirates . . . Pirates = my friend and
Chat, ECF No. 33-3, at Ex. F).
this admission, Andrew subsequently denied any involvement
with the fire, and instead alleges that he did not learn of
the fire until Reed showed him a news story about the arson.
At his deposition, Andrew recanted and admitted that he lied
when he blamed the fire on "his friend from
Marlboro," Alec. (See Hollander dep., ECF No. 33-4, at
¶ 35:1-12T35:25 to T36:8; T43:15 to T45:12). He
explained that he told Miller he was there during the fire
because "the kid I was talking to was a popular kid and
for someone like me that, you know, was just an average
person that's just going through high school it was nice
when a popular kid acknowledged he wanted help or wanted
anything from me." (Hollander dep., ECF No. 33-4, at T
alleges that he was not involved with the fire, but instead
first learned of it via a Facebook chat with Andrew, who
linked in a newspaper article concerning the fire.
(See Hirsch dep., ECF No. 33-3, at Ex. B, T48:6-l 8;
Facebook Chat ECF No. 33-3, Ex. E). Alec asked Andrew,
"that was you?!" and Andrew responded: "nope
... I know who it was . . . [there was a] gas leak and he
[lit] it on fire and booked it." (See Hirsch
dep., ECF No. 33-3, at Ex. B, T48:6-18; Facebook Chat ECF No.
33-3, Ex. E).
denies any involvement with the boat fire, and instead
alleges that he first learned of the fire at school through
defendants Andrew and Samantha. (Chojnacki dep., ECF No.
34-4, at T 41:1-21 to 42:1). Samantha also stated that around
this time, Andrew was "walking around joking about
lighting the boat on fire." (Cooper Dep., at T
25:16-24). Samantha noted that ...