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Luperon v. North Jersey Truck Center

June 19, 2009

DARIANA LUPERON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NORTH JERSEY TRUCK CENTER, INC., MORETRAN LEASING CORP., AND RANDY CAMPOSMATOS, DEFENDANTS.
NORTH JERSEY TRUCK CENTER, INC., AND MORETRAN LEASING CORP., THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COLLIE C. ARNOLD, SMARTWAY TRANSPORT, LLC, AND THE CITY OF NEW YORK, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.
RANDY CAMPOSMATOS, SECOND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
SMARTWAY TRANSPORT, LLC, COLLIE C. ARNOLD AND CITY OF NEW YORK, SECOND THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., United States District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

This action arises out of an alleged motor vehicle accident, in which Plaintiff Dariana Luperon ("Luperon" or "Plaintiff") was a passenger in a vehicle owned by Defendant Randy Camposmatos ("Camposmatos") and operated by third party Edwin Suero, that caused her to sustain severe injuries. In her initial complaint, Luperon brought an action for damages against Camposmatos and Defendants North Jersey Truck Center ("NJTC") and Moretran Leasing Corp. ("MLC") (collectively, "Defendants") for damages arising out of her personal injuries, alleging that NJTC and/or MLC was the owner of the Freightliner tractor that collided with the vehicle in which Luperon was a passenger. NJTC and MLC now move for summary judgment, arguing that neither company was the owner of the tractor at the time of the accident, and even if they were, as Plaintiff contends, they are exempt from liability under the Graves Amendment of 2005, 49 U.S.C. § 30106. Defendant Camposmatos is not a party to the summary judgment motion. For the reasons set forth below, movants'motion is granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are largely undisputed. On August 2, 2007, Luperon was involved in a motor vehicle accident at the corner of Barry Street and Longwood Avenue in the Bronx, New York. The vehicle in which Luperon was a passenger was owned by Defendant Camposmatos and operated by Edwin Suerto. The vehicle in which Luperon was traveling collided with a white Freightliner tractor bearing the Vehicle Identification Number 1FUJBBBD31PJ16210 (the "Freightliner"), which was operated by Third-Party Defendant Collie Arnold ("Arnold"). The Freightliner was registered to Third-Party Defendant Smartway Transport, LLC ("Smartway"), which is a limited liability company owned by Arnold. After the accident, NJTC temporarily took possession of the Freightliner to perform certain auto body repairs to the vehicle.

It appears to be undisputed that prior to May 2006, the Freightliner was owned by NJTC. On or about May 8, 2006, more than a year before the alleged accident, MLC and Smartway entered into a transaction for the transfer of rights in the Freightliner. Affidavit of John Muchmore ("Muchmore Aff.") ¶ 3. As discussed in further detail below, there is a dispute between the parties as to whether the transaction constituted a financing agreement in which ownership of the Freightliner was transferred to Smartway with MLC retaining a security interest in the vehicle, or alternatively whether it constituted a lease of the Freightliner, such that NJTC and/or MLC retained ownership.*fn1 The dispute is premised on the fact that the legal document that was used to complete the Transaction was entitled a "Lease Agreement" and referred to MLC as the "Lessor" and Smartway as the "Lessee." Muchmore Aff., Exh. G. NJTC and MLC contend that at a certain time prior to May 2006, MLC had been engaged in the business of leasing vehicles, but that it had, by that time, transitioned from that business into providing financing for the sale of vehicles. See Deposition of John Muchmore ("Muchmore Dep.") at 31.

NJTC and MLC contend that the form "Lease Agreement" was used instead of a security agreement because MLC "had that form available from prior lease transactions." Muchmore Aff. ¶ 14.

On approximately May 11, 2006, NJTC executed and delivered a Certificate of Title in the name of Smartway to Collie Arnold, the owner of Smartway, and Arnold and Smartway took possession of the Freightliner at that time. Muchmore Aff. ¶ 7, Exh. D. MLC also caused a Notice of Lien to be filed and caused its lien to be noted on the face of the Certificate of Title. Muchmore Aff. ¶ 8-9, Exh. E. The Notice of Lien was forwarded to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") and a Notice of Recorded Lien was returned that reflected MLC as lienholder and Smartway as owner. Muchmore Aff. ¶ 16, Ex. H. As a result of these transactions, NJTC and MLC contend that neither company had any ownership interest in the Freightliner at or after the time of the accident, and therefore they cannot be held liable for Luperon's injuries.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This action was commenced on October 30, 2007, when Luperon filed her complaint against NJTC, MLC and Camposmatos. On December 26, 2007, NJTC and MLC served an answer with a cross-claim against Camposmatos and a third-party complaint against Smartway and Arnold, the alleged owner and operator of the Freightliner, for contribution and indemnification. On February 7, 2008, Camposmatos appeared in this action by serving his answer and cross-claim against NJTC and MLC for contribution and indemnification. Camposmatos subsequently was granted leave to file and serve a second third-party complaint for contribution and indemnification against Smartway, Arnold and the City of New York, which he did on May 13, 2008. On May 29, 2008, NJTC and MLC filed an Amended Third-Party Complaint, adding a cause of action for contribution and indemnification against the City of New York based on the City's negligence in failing to maintain a stop sign at the intersection where the alleged motor vehicle accident that gave rise to this action occurred. On June 18, 2008, the City of New York filed an answer to the Second Third-Party Complaint, including a counterclaim against Camposmatos and cross-claims against Arnold and Smartway. NJTC and MLC filed the instant motion for summary judgment on February 26, 2009. The motion was fully briefed on March 24, 2009 and oral argument was held on April 28, 2009. No other parties, other than NJTC or MLC, have joined the motion for summary judgment.Counsel for Camposmatos appeared at oral argument, but did not address the Court. As the deadline for dispositive motions has long since passed, the balance of the parties -- i.e., Camposmatos, Smartway, Arnold and the City -- will remain parties to this case and will proceed to trial, irrespective of the Court's determination on the instant motion.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard on a Motion for Summary Judgment

A motion for summary judgment must be granted if the moving party shows "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and that it "is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A dispute of fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); id. ("Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted."). A dispute of fact is "genuine" if "the [record] evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 251 (2d Cir. 2001). Summary judgment should be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party has made a sufficient showing as to the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, "the non-moving party may not rely on mere conclusory allegations nor speculation, but instead must offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not wholly fanciful." Golden Pacific Bancorp v. F.D.I.C., 375 F.3d 196, 200 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted); see also Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 219 (2d Cir. 2004) ("Nor is a genuine issue created merely by the presentation of ...


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