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Runner v. New York Stock Exchange

June 10, 2009

VICTOR J. RUNNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE, INC., DEFENDANT-CROSS-CLAIMANT-THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF-THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT-CROSS-DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AMEC CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT, INC., DEFENDANT-THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF-CROSS-DEFENDANT-THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, ALBIN GUFSTANSON CO., INC., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT-CROSS-CLAIMANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Defendants appeal a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Thomas P. Griesa, Judge), in which the Court set aside a jury verdict for defendants and concluded that defendants were liable as a matter of law under section 240(1) of New York's Labor Law for an injury plaintiff sustained while using a pulley to move a reel of wire down a small flight of stairs. We certify the question to the New York Court of Appeals because of the absence of authoritative state court decisions, the importance of the issue to the state, and the capacity of certification to resolve this litigation.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSÉ A. Cabranes, Circuit Judge

Argued: April 2, 2009

Before: CABRANES, HALL, Circuit Judges, and SWEET, District Judge.*fn1

We consider here whether (1) section 240(1) of New York's Labor Law, which establishes an absolute liability regime for certain types of elevation-related injuries, covers an injury sustained while lowering a heavy object by means of a makeshift pulley down a small stairway separating two levels of a split-level hallway, and (2) certification to the New York Court of Appeals is appropriate.*fn2

BACKGROUND

In February 2004, plaintiff Victor J. Runner was injured while moving a large reel of wire (about four feet in diameter) between the two levels of a split-level hallway in the basement of the New York Stock Exchange building in lower Manhattan. The reel of wire had to descend approximately four steps from the higher level of the hallway to the lower level. According to defendants, [t]o move the reel to the next level [of the hallway], at their supervisor's direction [plaintiff and his co-workers] secured one end of a rope to the reel, wrapped the rope a few times around a 2 1/2 -inch thick steel pipe placed in a manner so as to horizontally span a door jamb, and then the plaintiff, [who was] situated closest to the pipe, and several co-workers behind him took up the slack on the rope. When the reel started to roll "towards" or "down" the first step it pulled plaintiff forward and his hands became caught between the rope and the pipe, causing amputation of several fingers.

Appellant's Br. 11. In other words, plaintiff and his co-workers served as human brakes on a pulley to prevent the reel of wire from tumbling uncontrollably down the stairs. Plaintiff's account of events is substantially similar to defendants'.

Plaintiff brought a number of state law claims against defendants New York Stock Exchange, Inc., and AMEC Construction Management, Inc., to recover for his injury, but this appeal concerns only one of them: the so-called "scaffold law," codified at section 240(1) of New York's Labor Law.*fn3 A trial was held in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Thomas P. Griesa, Judge) and on February 1, 2007, a jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants. The same day, in an oral ruling from the bench,*fn4 the District Court granted plaintiff's motion to set aside a jury's liability verdict pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In the District Court's view, section 240(1) applied to injuries involving a "gravity-related risk," which, in the District Court's view, existed as a matter of law in the instant case. J.A. 1573 (Trial Tr. 1048:7, Feb. 1, 2007). In addition, the District Court determined that, "[o]n the basis of the evidence beyond any question[,]... the device actually used in the operation did not give proper protection and... was a substantial factor in causing the accident." J.A. 1055 (Trial Tr. 1055:8-11, Feb. 1, 2007). Accordingly, the District Court ordered a new trial for damages.

Rather than proceed with a retrial, the parties agreed to a "high-low" settlement with a right to appeal. Under the settlement agreement, plaintiff received $900,000, which he may retain if our Court reverses the District Court's liability determination. If we affirm, plaintiff will receive an additional $1.5 million from defendants. If we remand for a new trial, plaintiff will receive an additional $350,000 without the need for a new trial. On January 28, 2008, the District Court entered judgment for plaintiff in the amount of $900,000 pursuant to the high-low settlement agreement. On appeal, defendants seek review of the District Court's ruling on Rule 50(b), and a November 16, 2005 order denying in part defendants' motion for summary judgment as relates to section 240(1).

DISCUSSION

Standard of Review

We review a district court's ruling on a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment and a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law de novo, construing all facts in favor of the nonmoving party. See, e.g., Paneccasio v. Unisource Worldwide, Inc., 532 F.3d 101, 107 (2d Cir. 2008) (summary judgment); Cobb v. Pozzi, 363 F.3d 89, 101 (2d Cir. 2003) (post-verdict judgment as a matter of law). Summary judgment is only warranted upon a showing "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "The standard for post-verdict judgment as a matter of law is the same as for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56." Cobb, 363 F.3d at 101 (internal quotation marks ...


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