Booze And Boating Don’t Mix (But They Do Lead To An Interesting Discussion Of Negligent Entrustment)

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Boat and beer (pd)Some sets of facts just seem tailor-made for a potential lawsuit. Climbing up a ladder with a chainsaw to cut your neighbor’s tree limbs that are hanging over your lawn comes to mind.  Also on that list, a day out on a boat with your friends from the local bar, more than a few beers, and a jet-ski. Those were the basic facts in Votor-Jones v. Kelly. In that case, what started out as a fun day out at sea for a group of friends became a very bad day for plaintiff and an opportunity for the court to opine on the rarely-invoked tort of negligent entrustment.

In Kelly, plaintiff was “one of seven employees and patrons of Kelly’s Tavern invited on a social trip organized by the tavern’s owner and plaintiff’s boyfriend.” While plaintiff described the event as a “bar outing,” it was not the more formal, “large scale ” “customer appreciation days” that the bar had organized in the past. Instead, it was “small and planned the night prior at the suggestion of the boat’s operator.” Each attendee was required to bring their own food and alcohol. To that end, plaintiff and her boyfriend testified that, on the morning of the cruise, they went to the bar and fulled their cooler with approximately 24 beers and a bottle of wine. The group had a total of four or five coolers like this on the boat.

The attendees had a “tacit agreement” that they would not drink until 4pm, but some apparently ignored this agreement. One defendant acknowledged that she was drinking prior to boarding the boat and plaintiff testified that she saw this woman have “at least three beers on the dock” before the cruise began. Once the cruise started, this same woman was seen with a beer in her hand and was described by plaintiff as being “loud,” “boisterous,” and “excited.” Plaintiff conceded that she did not know if the woman was drunk, but did see her “wobbling on the boat, as was everyone else.”

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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie . . . Just Not In A Hallway Where They Might Create A Dangerous Condition?

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Sleeping dog (pd)When is a sleeping dog a dangerous condition? This is the burning question that the Appellate Division answered in Parella v. Compeau.

In Parella, plaintiff attended Christmas dinner at a friend's house along with approximately 20 other guests. After the second course, she got up from her chair to put her dish in the kitchen sink and check on her child who was in an another room. To do so, she had to walk behind several seated guests. She did not have to ask anyone to move until she got to the last guest in the row. That guest moved her chair in and plaintiff made a move familiar to anyone who has been to a crowded holiday dinner — she "lifted [her] glass and plate, turned her back to the wall and shuffled her feet to pass behind [the] chair." "As she cleared the chair, plaintiff turned right to enter the hall toward the kitchen, and fell." 

What caused her fall was a "tan, fairly large dog" that was "lying in the hallway, past the threshold of the dining room." The dog did not belong to defendants, the owners of the house and the hosts of the party, and was one of two dogs in the house for the party. When plaintiff fell, the wine glass she was holding broke, cutting her finger and severing a tendon. Plaintiff sued, alleging that defendants failed to warn of her of a dangerous condition — the dog — in their home. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants and plaintiff appealed.

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Court Approves Service Of Complaint Via Facebook, No Word On How Many “Likes” It Received

     by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Facebook (pd)Facebook is useful for a lot of things — humble bragging about your children, posting professionally taken candid photographs of your smiling family, announcing your engagement/marriage/pregnancy/baby's gender to several hundred of your closest friends, etc. In K.A. v. J.L., a New Jersey court added another item to this list. After observing that courts in other jurisdictions were almost evenly split on the issue, the court allowed plaintiffs in that case to serve defendant via Facebook. (When it researched the issue, I assume the court reviewed one of my prior posts about two New York courts that also allowed service via Facebook.)

K.A. involved very unusual facts. Plaintiffs sued defendant to "enjoin defendant from holding himself out as the father of their [adopted] son." Defendant, who was not the son's biological father of record, sent the son a friend request over Facebook. The son declined. Defendant then reached out to the son over Instagram, claiming that he was the son's biological father. Defendant allegedly informed the son that he knew where the son was born, and disclosed both the identity of the son's birth mother and that the son had "biological siblings at large." (Plaintiffs allege that defendant also sent a Facebook friend request to the son's sister, who, like the son, declined the invite.) Defendant also "incorporated a picture of [the son] into an image comprised of three separate photographs, each featuring a different person," and purportedly claimed that the collage was a picture of his children. Defendant shared this picture with the public on his Facebook account. Plaintiffs believe defendant obtained the image of the son from the son's Facebook account.

Plaintiffs claimed that defendant was a "complete stranger to them," and that they had no contact with him prior to the events that led to the litigation.  Plaintiffs' counsel attempted to serve cease and desist letters on defendant at his last known address via certified and regular mail. The certified letters were returned as unclaimed, but the letters sent by regular mail were never returned. Plaintiffs then sued, seeking an injunction preventing defendant from contacting their son or claiming to be his father. They sought permission from the court to serve the complaint on defendant via Facebook.

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Court Adopts Low Tech Solution to High Tech Evidence Problem

Smart phone(PD)
Litigation has been transformed over the past decade or so by e-discovery. An entire industry has developed around the collection and presentation of emails, text messages, social networking posts, etc. In large commercial cases, it is not unusual to have an outside vendor handling this evidence from discovery through trial. But what about a different kind of case, for example, a contested domestic violence hearing, where the victim, often acting pro se, comes to court with a smart phone containing allegedly threatening text messages, and seeks to introduce those messages into evidence.  They only exist on the phone, so there is nothing that the victim can physically introduce into evidence, and therefore no documentary evidence of the messages that can be reviewed on appeal. How then does a court accept evidence from a plaintiff's cell phone into the court record?

This was precisely the question facing the court in E.C. v. R.H., a recent unpublished Law Division decision. In that case, plaintiff alleged that defendant harassed her through unwanted texts, social media posts, and voice mails. She asked the court to enter a restraining order against defendant. At the start of the hearing on her application, plaintiff sought to introduce evidence of several allegedly harassing communications that were stored on her cell phone. The court observed that the court rules, which were designed to handle tangible evidence, were not designed to handle a request like this: "[S]ome of the more traditional methods of introducing evidence into court do not address the specialized needs and practical problems which may arise when parties come into court and seek to introduce information stored on their cell phones directly into evidence." The Court further observed that this problem was exacerbated in the domestic violence context, which involves "expedited summary proceedings [and] self-represented litigants who have little or no legal training at all." 

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Failure To Launch! Bride’s Post-Wedding Cold Feet = Equitable Fraud = Annulment

Divorce(2)
In a case involving facts that could have been the plot of a soap opera episode or Lifetime Original Movie, a New Jersey court recently held that a husband could annul his marriage due to his wife's equitable, not actual, fraud.

In Easton v. Mercer (names were changed by the court to protect the innocent), plaintiff began dating defendant and, two years later, proposed to her. Defendant's parents objected because they "disapproved of [plaintiff] as a suitable husband for their daughter." True love, however, would not be denied. Without telling defendant's parents, plaintiff and defendant scheduled a small wedding to take place three weeks after plaintiff's proposal. Prior to the wedding, they applied for a marriage license, which was issued seven days later. They then got married in a small ceremony, administered by a reverend, and attended by approximately 15 guests. All of the guests were invited by plaintiff. Defendant did not invite any guests, including her parents, with whom she still lived and who were still unaware that the wedding was taking place. This, as they say, is when the plot thickens.

 

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