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Brian M. Hammond v. Lincoln Technical Institute

January 30, 2012

BRIAN M. HAMMOND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LINCOLN TECHNICAL INSTITUTE, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Azrack, United States Magistrate Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

On February 9, 2010, plaintiff Brian M. Hammond ("plaintiff") filed a summons and complaint in New York Supreme Court, alleging a cause of action in negligence arising out of injuries plaintiff sustained during a class at defendant Lincoln Technical Institute, Inc. ("defendant" or "Lincoln Tech"). Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleged that he suffered injuries to his foot after a large metal part flew off of a machine in defendant's auto shop and struck him, and that the incident was caused by defendant's negligent maintenance and operation of the machinery, and negligent failure to adequately supervise the students in class.

Id. ¶¶ 12--20. On April 28, 2010, defendant removed the action to this Court. Id. The parties proceeded with discovery, as well as unsuccessful settlement discussions. See docket 10-CV-1933.

Defendant has moved for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("F.R.C.P.") 56, arguing that plaintiff is unable to establish the elements of negligence. Mem. of Law in Supp. Def. Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def. Mem."), ECF No. 30. In response, plaintiff argues that defendant failed to meet its burdens of production and persuasion demonstrating entitlement to summary judgment, that there are disputed questions of fact relating to defendant's negligence, and that plaintiff is entitled to an inference of negligence under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, thus satisfying the elements of his prima facie negligence case. Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp."), ECF No. 38. The parties have consented to my disposition of this motion. ECF No. 34.

For the following reasons, I conclude that: (1) plaintiff is not entitled to an inference of negligence under res ipsa loquitur because the machinery was not within defendant's exclusive control; and (2) plaintiff failed to put forth evidence establishing that defendant breached its duty to maintain the machinery or negligently failed to supervise plaintiff's class, and therefore plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of negligence. Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

I.BACKGROUND

The facts below come from the parties' depositions, affidavits, and exhibits, as well as the parties' Rule 56.1 statements of fact. Most of the evidence comes from plaintiff's deposition testimony, Decl. in Supp. of Def. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. E ("Hammond Dep."), the deposition testimony of Robert Paganini, the Director of Education for defendant, Decl. in Supp. of Def. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. G ("Paganini Dep."), and the affidavit of Reyon S. Sylvester, a student in plaintiff's class who witnessed the incident, Decl. in Opp. of Def. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. A ("Sylvester Aff.").

A.The Incident

Plaintiff is a twenty-two year old former student at Lincoln Tech. Pl.'s Local Rule 56.1 Stmt. of Facts ("Pl.'s 56.1") ¶ 6, ECF No. 32. Lincoln Tech is a technical school offering, among other programs, automotive repair certification training. Id. ¶ 8. Before studying at Lincoln Tech, plaintiff studied automotive repair at a technical high school and worked as an apprentice in Richie's Auto Clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Id. ¶ 7. After graduating from high school in 2009, plaintiff enrolled at Lincoln Tech. Hammond Dep. 32:22--33:03, 78:17--23.

On the date of the incident prompting this action, December 10, 2009, plaintiff was enrolled as a student at Lincoln Tech and attended a class on steering and suspension. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 12. The class took place in a shop area of the school that had numerous automotive bays for class instruction. Id. ¶¶ 12, 19. On the morning of the incident, there were three to four classes working in the shop area, Paganini Dep. 28:21--25, each with approximately twenty to thirty students, Hammond Dep. 46:25--47:24.

At approximately 10:00 or 11:00 am, plaintiff and other students performed an inspection that had been previously demonstrated in class.*fn1 Hammond Dep. 12:03--04; Sylvester Aff.; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 18, 13. Plaintiff and several other students were standing underneath a car raised on a drive-on ramp approximately six or seven feet off the ground, inspecting the front suspension of the car. Hammond Dep. 13:10--14:04, 67:15, 69:10--15. The instructor's assignment required use of a jack in the front of the car,*fn2 which lifted the car an additional foot or so. Id. at 69:16--22.

Plaintiff showed the other students how to raise the front jack, then examined the front suspension of the car. Id. 70:16--71:9. Plaintiff testified that he did not think that other students touched the machine while he did this, but that it is possible that someone "pressed the button [on the machine] and turned around really fast." Id. at 119:01--05. While standing under the car facing the front tires, plaintiff heard a hissing sound from the rear of the car and instinctively turned toward the noise. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 14. Plaintiff saw a portion of the rear jack fly out and strike another student in the chest, then land on plaintiff's foot. Id. ¶ 16. Sylvester, another student in plaintiff's class, affirmed that he "heard a hissing noise coming from a hydraulic lift where [plaintiff] was working along with another student . . . then saw the hydraulic lift malfunction and a metal piece of the lift [fly] off." Sylvester Aff.

Plaintiff then fell to the ground and was assisted by classmates before being transported in an ambulance to a nearby hospital. Pl.'s 56.1 ΒΆ 17; Hammond Dep. 83:10--84:09. Although the first doctor to examine him diagnosed only a sprain, plaintiff was eventually diagnosed with fractures in his foot and ankle. Id. at 84:7--85:12; 90:10--91:13. He wore a hard cast for five months. Id. ...


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