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Daniel Allen Byram, Administrator of the Estate and Natural Father of v. Mark T. Renehan

December 8, 2011

DANIEL ALLEN BYRAM, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE AND NATURAL FATHER OF JOHNATHON BYRAM, DECEASED,
PLAINTIFF
v.
MARK T. RENEHAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Defendant Joseph Connors moves for summary judgment on the negligence claims against him stemming from a RUV accident in which Johnathon Byram was killed. Mr. Connors argues that under Pennsylvania law, a passenger of a vehicle has no duty to a third person killed by the vehicle's driver. Plaintiff Daniel Allen Byram, decedent's father, argues for liability under three theories: (1) "concert of action"; (2)" substantial assistance"; or (3) the "Good Samaritan" doctrine. The Court does not agree with plaintiff and will grant Mr. Connors' motion.

BACKGROUND

The underlying suit arises out of a tragic RUV accident which took place on Minkler Mountain Rd in Wayne County, Pennsylvania in the early morning of July 5, 2009. Johnathon Byram and Mr. Connors were staying at defendant Mark Renehan's parents' home over the Fourth of July weekend. Both Mr. Byram and Mr. Connors were nineteen at the time and minors under Pennsylvania law. After a night of drinking at the nearby home of Mr. Renehan's aunt and uncle, defendants Patricia and James Renehan, Mr. Renehan told Mr. Byram and Mr. Connors he was ready to go back to his parents' house. The RUV they were taking belonged to Mr. Renehan's parents. Mr. Connors testified at his deposition that, as the three approached the RUV, he and Mr. Renehan helped guide Mr. Byram to the vehicle after he had slipped on the wet grass. Mr. Connors climbed into the back after losing a game of 'rock, paper, scissors' for the front seat. Mr. Connors testified that he then held out his hand to help Mr. Byram into the vehicle. Mr. Renehan drove. Along the way, the RUV flipped over. Mr. Byram, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the vehicle and killed.

Daniel Allen Byram then filed a complaint on behalf of Johnathon on March 17, 2010 (Doc. 1), and an amended complaint, adding additional defendants, on October 14, 2011 (Doc. 109). The allegations against Mr. Connors are outlined in paragraph 94. Mr. Byram primarily alleges that Mr. Connors was negligent in placing Johnathon Byram into the RUV knowing Mr. Renehan was intoxicated and knowing that Johnathon was unable to take precautions, such as buckling his seatbelt, to protect himself.

Mr. Connors now brings a motion for summary judgment. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate 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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Id. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

The Court will grant Mr. Connors' motion for summary judgment on the negligence claims against him because he did not ...


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