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Mestre v. Garden Homes Management Corp.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 9, 2019

DANIEL S. MESTRE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
GARDEN HOMES MANAGEMENT CORP., Defendant/Third-Party, Plaintiff,
v.
R. JEFFREY BUTLER, Third-Party Defendant.

          BRIAN P. MCVAN MCVAN & WEIDENBURNER ON BEHALF OF PLAINTIFF

          CHRISTOPHER T. CHANCLER POST & SCHELL PC ON BEHALF OF DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims concerning an assault that occurred at a mobile home community. Defendant's motion will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 7, 2014, Plaintiff Daniel Mestre resided with his sister, Kathleen Barrett, in the Town and Country Mobile Home Community, Chesilhurst, New Jersey, [1] owned by Defendant Garden Homes Management Corporation. At approximately 6:00 p.m. on that day, Jeffrey Butler, the husband of Kathleen, [2] came to Plaintiff's trailer to discuss comments Plaintiff had allegedly made about Butler to his sister. Butler hit Plaintiff twice on the head with a metal pipe. Plaintiff contends that this was a sudden attack without warning, lasting approximately 25 to 45 seconds.

         Plaintiff sustained serious personal injuries as a result of this altercation, including a concussion, nasal fractures, multiple rib fractures and a collapsed lung. He was hospitalized from June 7, 2014 to June 23, 2014. Butler was charged with assault in relation to this incident but ultimately found not guilty.[3]

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant is liable for plaintiff's injuries because it owed a duty to maintain its business premises in a reasonably safe and secure condition and had a duty to warn its residents of dangerous conditions and to take reasonable measures to protect them. Plaintiff claims Defendant breached this duty and was negligent in failing to act reasonably to protect the community in accordance with its own rules and regulations by failing to take meaningful measures to remove Butler from the community prior to the alleged assault. Plaintiff claims this breach of duty was the cause of his injuries.[4]

         Defendant has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff has not identified any facts that could sustain a prima facie case of negligence against Defendant. Defendant argues that it had no legal duty to protect Plaintiff from the unforeseeable criminal acts of a third party. Plaintiff has opposed Defendant's motion. Plaintiff argues that Butler's attack on Plaintiff was foreseeable because defendant had notice of Butler's past criminal conduct as well as addition criminal and dangerous conduct on the relevant premises.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction

         This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Plaintiff is a citizen of Pennsylvania, and Defendant is a citizen of Connecticut (its state of incorporation and its principal place of business).

         B. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

         An issue is “genuine” if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. 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. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

         C. Analysis

         The law on premises liability for business invitees has been long-established. “Business owners owe to invitees a duty of reasonable or due care to provide a safe environment for doing that which is within the scope of the invitation, ” and that duty of care “requires a business owner to discover and eliminate dangerous conditions, to maintain the premises in safe condition, and to avoid creating conditions that would render the premises unsafe.” Nisivoccia v. Glass Gardens, Inc., 818 A.2d 314, 316 (N.J. 2003) (citations omitted).

         In order to make out a prima facie case of premises liability, a plaintiff is required to show either (1) that defendant knew of the unsafe condition for a period of time prior to plaintiff's injury sufficient to permit defendant in the exercise of reasonable care to have corrected it; or (2) that the condition had existed for a sufficient length of time prior to plaintiff's injury that in the exercise of reasonable care defendant should have discovered its existence and corrected it. Lanigan v. Marina Dist. Development Co., LLC, Civ. A. No. 08-5201, 2011 WL 1211320 (D.N.J. March 28, ...


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