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Carreras v. Morrisania Towers Housing Co. Ltd. Partnership

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

June 27, 2013

Raymond Alberto Carreras, et al., Plaintiffs-Respondents,
Morrisania Towers Housing Company Limited Partnership, et al., Defendants-Appellants-Respondents, McRoberts Protective Agency, Inc., Defendant-Respondent-Appellant, Sonia Meekins, et al., Defendants.

Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, New York (Judy C. Selmeci of counsel), for appellants-respondents.

Gallo, Vitucci & Klar, LLP, New York (Chad E. Sjoquist of counsel), for respondent-appellant.

Steven J. Horowitz, New York, for respondents.

Gonzalez, P.J., Mazzarelli, Moskowitz, Renwick, Manzanet-Daniels, JJ.

Order, Supreme Court, Bronx County (Wilma Guzman, J.), entered on or about August 23, 2012, which, to the extent appealed from as limited by the briefs, denied the motion of defendants Morrisania Towers Housing Company Limited Partnership and NHPMN Management, LLC, for summary judgment dismissing the complaint as against them, and denied defendant McRoberts Protective Agency, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment dismissing the cross claims against it, unanimously reversed, on the law, without costs, and the motions granted. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

Defendant Morrisania Towers Housing Company Limited Partnership owns the residential apartment building located at 280/300 East 161st Street in the Bronx, and defendant NHPMN Management, LLC manages the building. Defendant McRoberts Protective Agency, Inc. provides security services for the premises pursuant to an agreement with Morrisania and NHPMN. Plaintiffs, Raymond Carreras and Yolanda Lopez, Carreras's mother, reside in the building.

Although several witnesses described the fight that led to the shooting of Carreras, we will assume for purposes of this motion that Carreras's own version, as related during his deposition, is true. Carreras testified that on May 7, 2005, he was standing in the lobby of the building when he heard a commotion in the rear courtyard involving loud arguing and cursing. He observed a male, who turned out to be defendant Bakim Meekins, with his hands "in [Carreras's] sister's face, " and heard his 18-year-old sister calling for their mother. There were other people with Meekins. Carreras immediately walked outside and approached his sister and Meekins. When Carreras arrived in the courtyard, Meekins punched him in the head, sending him to the ground. Carreras got back up and grabbed Meekins and banged his head against the concrete floor several times. Carreras testified that he and Meekins fought for at least five minutes, and possibly as long as 20 minutes. Carreras stated that he could not have chosen to stop fighting with Meekins because Meekins was holding his head, although he also testified that Meekins only hit him one time. He also said that he could not have let go of Meekins because "[y]ou can't just let go of somebody thinking they are going to stop hitting you."

Eventually, others broke up the fight. Then Carreras saw defendant Sonia Meekins hand Bakim Meekins a gun. Carreras was unable to run from Meekins because of a metal rod in one of his legs, which had been inserted after he had been shot several months earlier in a separate incident. Meekins shot Carreras, paralyzing him.

Carreras's mother, Lopez, who also grappled with someone on the Meekins side of the fight, testified that she came to the courtyard after the physical confrontation began, and saw her son fighting with Bakim Meekins. She asserted that they fought for approximately 15 to 20 minutes and that she decided not to try to break up the altercation because she felt that doing so would hurt Carreras's reputation.

Carreras commenced this action for negligence against Morrisania and McRoberts [1] for failing to secure the premises, and for assault and battery against Sonia and Bakim. Lopez asserted claims for emotional distress. Plaintiffs' bills of particulars alleged that the premises were inadequately secured and that defendants failed to stop the fight and reasonably guard against criminal activity in the building. Morrisania asserted cross claims for contractual indemnification/contribution against McRoberts and common-law indemnification/contribution against McRoberts, Sonia and Bakim.

McRoberts moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. It argued that, even if it was negligent in securing the building, its negligence did not proximately cause plaintiffs' injuries, because the injuries were unforeseeable and because plaintiffs' voluntary participation in the fight was a superseding cause of their injuries. McRoberts also sought dismissal of the cross claims on the basis that its only duty was contractual and that at the time of the incident in question it was in full compliance with its contractual obligations to have a guard in a security booth and two guards patrolling the building. McRoberts contended that it had no contractual duty to secure the building or to physically intervene in fights.

Morrisania and NHPMN also moved for summary judgment. They argued that they could not be held liable for a crime committed outside of the building and that they did not have a duty to prevent access to the courtyard, which they characterized as an area open to the public, since it was accessible through an unsecured parking lot. They further contended that Sonia's and Bakim's conduct was intentional and unforeseeable, and proximately caused plaintiffs' injuries, severing any causal nexus with any negligence of their own. Morrisania and NHPMN also sought summary judgment on their cross claims against McRoberts, asserting that McRoberts assumed all of their security duties in its contract.

Plaintiffs opposed the motions, arguing that Morrisania and NHPMN were liable because the incident occurred on the premises, and that they failed to exercise reasonable care to discover or prevent the Meekinses' conduct. Plaintiffs asserted that a question of fact existed as to the scope of McRoberts's duties and whether it provided comprehensive security, thereby owing plaintiffs a direct duty. They contended that the lack of reasonable security directly caused their injuries, that Morrisania and NHPMN improperly allowed unfettered access to the front and rear of the building, that the Meekinses entered the premises because of these gaps in security, that McRoberts improperly allowed them to enter, and that McRoberts failed to respond to the ensuing violence in a reasonable fashion. Plaintiffs further argued that their injuries were foreseeable, given the extensive history of violent crime in and around the building, and that Carreras's conduct was not a superseding cause of his injuries because he did not willfully precipitate the confrontation.

The motion court denied Morrisania and NHPMN's motion in its entirety, finding that the argument did occur on the premises. The court found that there was an issue of fact whether the inadequacy of the security proximately caused plaintiffs' injuries. The court dismissed plaintiffs' claims against McRoberts, holding that it did not launch an instrument of harm, that there was no evidence that plaintiffs had relied upon McRoberts, that plaintiffs were not third-party beneficiaries of the contract between McRoberts and Morrisania and NHPMN, and that McRoberts did not entirely assume Morrisania's duty to maintain the premises safely. However, the court refused to dismiss the cross claims against McRoberts, finding that the record was unclear as to whether McRoberts's ...

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