Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

COLLINS v. PROMARK PRODUCTS

April 8, 1991

TERRY COLLINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PROMARK PRODUCTS, INC., DEFENDANT AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF, V. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Whitman Knapp, Senior District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

In this personal injury case, third-party defendant United States (the "government") moves for summary judgment. For reasons that follow, the motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On August 29, 1986, plaintiff Terry Collins, an employee of the government's National Park Service, was injured on Ellis Island while using a stump grinder manufactured by defendant Promark Products, Inc. Since the accident, plaintiff has received workers' compensation benefits pursuant to the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. § 8101 et seq.

In February 1987, plaintiff commenced the main action against defendant Promark Products, Inc., alleging various products liability causes of action. On May 1, 1989, Promark impleaded the government, alleging, among other things, that it had negligently maintained the machine and failed adequately to instruct plaintiff on how to use it. All parties agree that the allegedly negligent acts of the government took place on either of two areas on Ellis Island: "Island 2" or the "Festival Lawn". Both of these areas lay submerged under water until 1899 and 1922, respectively, when the government filled them in to increase Ellis Island's size.

DISCUSSION

The government here contends the payment of workers' compensation benefits to the plaintiff bars the third-party action against it. It arrives at this conclusion by way of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which limits the government's liability to "those torts committed by government employees `under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the [tortious] act or omission occurred.'" Akutowicz v. U.S. (2d Cir. 1988), 859 F.2d 1122, 1125 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)). The government asserts that "the law of the place where the [tortious] act or omission occurred" is the law of New Jersey rather than of New York.

The distinction is critical. Under New Jersey law, the third-party action would not lie because workmen's compensation is deemed to be the sole liability of an employer for an employee's work-related injury. See Ramos v. Browing-Ferris Indus. (1986), 103 N.J. 177, 510 A.2d 1152; see also Welch v. Schneider National Bulk Carriers (D.N.J. 1987), 676 F. Supp. 571. New York, however, does not so limit an employer's liability. See Dole v. Dow Chemical Co. (1972), 30 N Y2d 143, 331 N.Y.S.2d 382, 282 N.E.2d 288. Thus, the issue of which law governs "Island 2" and the "Festival Lawn" is determinative of the instant motion.

Although we have been treated to a host of historical documents tracing the title of Ellis Island as between the government on the one hand and each of the two states on the other, we find dispositive an agreement entered into between the two states in 1833 and consented to by Congress the following year. As Congress noted, the agreement was entered into "for the purpose of agreeing upon and settling the jurisdiction and territorial limits of the two states." Act of June 28, 1834, art. 1, ch. 126, 4 Stat. 708, 709.

The first article of the agreement sets as the boundary line between the states the mid-line of the waters that separate them. Id. The second article expressly reserves to New York state "its present jurisdiction" over Ellis Island and provides that New York "shall also retain exclusive jurisdiction of and over the other islands lying in the waters above mentioned and now under the jurisdiction of that state." Id. The third article reads:

  The state of New York shall have and enjoy
  exclusive jurisdiction of and over all the waters
  of the bay of New York; and of and over all the
  waters of Hudson river lying west of Manhattan
  Island . . . subject to the following rights of
  property and of jurisdiction of the state of New
  Jersey, that is to say:
    1. The state of New Jersey shall have the
  exclusive right of property in and to the land
  under water lying west of the middle of the bay of
  New York, and west of the middle of that part of
  the Hudson River which lies between Manhattan
  Island and New Jersey.
    2. The state of New Jersey shall have the
  exclusive jurisdiction of and over the wharves,
  docks, and improvements, made and to be made on the
  shore of the said state . . .
    3. The state of New Jersey shall have the
  exclusive right of regulating the fisheries on
  the westerly side of the middle of the said
  waters, Provided, That the navigation be not
  obstructed or hindered. ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.