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SMITH v. HAGGERTY

October 3, 2001

WAYNE SCOTT SMITH
v.
WILLIAM E. HAGGERTY, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM B. REEDER, DECEASED MARCY A. FAHNESTOCK ANDREW T. LINTS AND THOMAS LINTS V. WILLIAM B. REEDER, DECEASED, BY AND THROUGH WILLIAM E. HAGGERTY AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM B. REEDER; SONDRA L. REEDER; AND DAVID GLENLAST



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Franklin S. Van Antwerpen, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

• Introduction

Plaintiffs Marcy Fahnestock, Thomas Lints, and Andrew Lints filed suit on April 12, 2000 to recover for personal injuries arising from a recreational boating accident on the Susquehanna River on May 31, 1998. The initial complaint, filed on April 12, 2000, named Sondra Reeder and William Reeder,*fn1 deceased, as defendants. On June 26, 2000, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint naming, in addition to Sondra and William Reeder, their son-in-law, David Glenlast as a defendant. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and to Strike claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) was denied by this Court by Order of August 7, 2000.

Defendants joined Thomas Lints as an additional defendant on the claims brought by Andrew Lints and Marcy Fahnestock. Subsequently, the matter was consolidated with a related cause of action filed by Wayne Scott Smith against William Reeder.

Before this Court are two motions for summary judgment, filed by Defendants David Glenlast and the Reeders respectively. Defendant Glenlast filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on July 16, 2001 with respect to the claims against him. The Reeders filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on August 22, 2001 with respect to the claims against Sondra Reeder. The Memorandum in Support of the motion also states that Sondra Reeder has been appointed executrix of the estate of her late husband, replacing the initial administrator, William E. Haggerty. The Reeders also move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages and attorney's fees.*fn2

The accident occurred on the navigable waters of the United States. Therefore we have admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333.

For the reasons stated herein, Defendant Glenlast's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted, and Defendant Reeders' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part. We find that neither Sondra Reeder nor David Glenlast owed any duty of care to the Plaintiffs, and thus both motions are granted with respect to the claims against them in their personal capacities. However, the Reeders' request that the claims for punitive damages be dismissed is denied at this time because facts at trial could warrant an award of punitive damages. The Reeders' motion to dismiss the claims for attorney's fees will be granted.

• Standard of Review

The court shall render summary judgment only "if 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986) ("Anderson I"). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. See id. at 248. All inferences must be drawn and all doubts resolved in favor of the non-moving party. See United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962); Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 341 (3d Cir. 1985).

On motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrates the absence of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must respond with facts of record that contradict the facts identified by the movant and may not rest on mere denials. See id. at 321 n. 3 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)); see also First Nat'l Bank of Pa. v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 824 F.2d 277, 282 (3d Cir. 1987). The non-moving party must demonstrate the existence of evidence that would support a jury finding in its favor. See Anderson I, 477 U.S. at 249.

• Factual Background

This matter arises out of a May 31, 1998 motorboat accident involving two recreational motorboats on the Susquehanna River in Lacaster County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("Comp.") at ¶¶ 12 and 16. At the time of the accident, Mr. Reeder was the owner and sole operator a 19-foot Starcraft Crusier boat. Comp. at ¶¶ 14, 94, and 103; Deposition Testimony of Sondra Reeder ("N.T. Reeder") at 12, 14, 29, 41; Deposition Testimony of Pa. Fish and Boat Commission Officer, Leon Creyer ("N.T. Creyer") at 27; Deposition Testimony of David Glenlast ("N.T. D. Glenlast") at 18. Immediately prior to and at the time of the accident, the Reeder's daughter, Chandra Glenlast was being towed from the Reeder boat for the purposes of water skiing. Deposition Testimony of Chandra Glenlast ("N.T. C. Glenlast") at 25-27; N.T.D. Glenlast at 18; Comp. at ¶¶ 15, 19.

Plaintiff Thomas Lints was operating his 19-foot 1988 Citation 190 XL. Comp at ¶¶ 16, 18. Plaintiffs Andrew Lints (Thomas Lints' son) and Marcy Fahnestock were riding on the Lints boat as passengers at the time of the accident. Comp. at ¶ 16. Both boats were on the Susquehanna River in the vicinity of Weiss Island. Comp. at ¶¶ 18-19, N.T. Creyer at pp. 19-20. Just as Mr. Reeder engaged the throttle and began to accelerate and tow the water skier, Chandra Glenlast, the Reeder boat and Lints boat collided. As a result of this collision, Plaintiffs Marcy Fahnestock and Drew Lints suffered serious injuries. Comp. at ¶¶ 24-25. Plaintiff Thomas Lints is claiming damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Comp. at Counts V, VIII and XI.

• Discussion

Plaintiffs' theory of liability against Defendants Sondra Reeder and David Glenlast, passengers in the Reeder boat, is that they were obligated, under the Inland Navigation Rules, 33 U.S.C. § 2001, et. seq. to serve as lookouts and watch for other boats to avoid the collision, and that failure to perform this duty constitutes negligence for which they are liable. Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant Reeders' Motion for Summary Judgment, filed September 7, 2001, at 2-3. Defendants Sondra Reeder and David Glenlast contend that under maritime law and Pennsylvania statutory, regulatory and common law, no such duty exists.

Plaintffs further claim that they are entitled to punitive damages under a "reckless indifference to the rights of others" standard pursuant to Martin v. Johns-Manville Corp., 494 A.2d 1088 (Pa. 1985), rev'd on other grounds, 528 A.2d 947 (1985) (plurality opinion). Id. at 12. Finally, Plaintiff's allege that they are entitled to attorneys fees because Defendants acted in bad faith. Id. at 15, citing Sosebee v. Rath, 893 F.2d 54 (3d Cir. 1990).

? Applicable Law

Substantive maritime law applies to a cause of action brought in admiralty. Fedorczyk v. Carribbean Cruise Lines, 82 F.3d 69, 73, citing East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, Inc., 476 U.S. 858 (1986). "Although the corpus of admiralty law is federal in the sense that it derives from the implications of Article III evolved by the courts, to claim that all enforced rights pertaining to matters maritime are rooted in federal law is a destructive oversimplification of the highly intricate interplay of the States and the National Government in their regulation of maritime commerce. It is true that state law must yield to the needs of a uniform federal maritime law when this Court finds inroads on a harmonious system. But this limitation still leaves the States a wide scope." Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 373 (1959) (internal citations omitted). In the field of maritime torts, the federal government has left "much regulatory power to the states." Id. at 374, quoting Wilburn Boat Co. v. Fierman's Fund Ins. Co., 348 U.S. 310, 313 (1955). "State law may supplement maritime law when maritime law is silent or where a local matter is at issue, but state law may not be applied where it would conflict with maritime law." Floyd v. Lykes Bros. Steamship Co., Inc., 844 F.2d 1044, 1047 (3d Cir. 1988), citing Coastal Iron Works, Inc. v. Petty Ray Geophysical, 783 F.2d 577, 582 (5th Cir. 1986). Federal maritime law incorporates or adopts state law except where a significant conflict with federal policy exists. Calhoun v. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., 40 F.3d 622, 627-628 (3d Cir. 1994), aff'd, 516 U.S. 199 (1996).

A conflict between state and federal law exists in admiralty law when state law prejudices the characteristic features of federal maritime law or interferes with "the proper harmony and uniformity of that law." Id at 626, quoting Southern Pac. Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 216 (1917). The Third Circuit views maritime preemeption doctrine to be basically the same as preemption doctrine in non-maritime cases. Id. at 619. "Stated succinctly, in the absence of an express statement by Congress (express preemption), (implied) preemption could occur either where Congress intended that federal law occupy the field (field preemption) or where there is an actual conflict between state and federal law such that: (1) compliance with both federal and state law is impossible; or (2) state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Id. citing California v. ARC America Corp., 490 U.S. 93, 100 (1989)

Since this accident occurred on the navigable waters of the United States, the Inland Navigation Rules, 33 U.S.C. § 2001 et. seq., obviously apply. In addition to these federal "Rules of the Road," both parties cite to Pennsylvania regulations (e.g. 58 Pa. Code § 109.4. Water skiing, aquaplaning, kite skiing and similar activities) in support of their positions. We find that there is nothing in the relevant Pennsylvania regulations applicable to the case at hand that conflicts with the applicable federal statutes or general maritime law and that Congress did not, either expressly or impliedly, preempt state regulations such as the ones at issue here. Furthermore, we find that these state rules concern an ...


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