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Castle v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. New York

December 18, 2017

MARTIN W. CASTLE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MAINETTI, MAINETTI & O'CONNOR, P.C. JOSEPH E. O'CONNOR, ESQ. MICHAEL E. KOLB, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiff

          HON. GRANT C. JAQUITH CATHLEEN B. CLARK, ESQ. Acting United States Attorney for the N.D.N.Y. Assistant United States Attorney Counsel for Defendant James T. Foley U.S. Courthouse

          DECISION AND ORDER

          GLENN T. SUDDABY, Chief United States District Judge

         Currently before the Court, in this negligence action pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) filed by Martin W. Castle, Jr., ("Plaintiff") against the United States of America (“Defendant”), are the following three motions: (1) Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment; (2) Defendant's motion for summary judgment; and (3) Plaintiff's cross-motion requesting the exclusion of certain evidence under Fed.R.Evid. 403. (Dkt. Nos. 51, 57, 62.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's cross-motion is denied.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

         Generally, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts two distinct claims. (Dkt. No. 40 [Am. Compl.].) First, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant is liable for personal injuries, property damages, and other injuries and damages that he sustained in a motor vehicle accident on June 6, 2014, which involved Plaintiff's motorcycle and a postal vehicle driven by an employee of Defendant (“First Claim”). (Id. at 2-5.) Second, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant is liable for personal injuries, property damage, and other injuries and damages resulting from the June 6, 2014, motor vehicle accident because Defendant's employees were negligent, careless, and acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others when devising (and failing to change) a mail route that required USPS drivers to violate New York Veh. & Traff. Law (“VTL”) § 1161 and act in a manner that is hazardous to other motorists, including Plaintiff (“Second Claim”). (Id. at 5-7.)

         B. Undisputed Material Facts on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Before reciting the material facts related to Plaintiff's motion, the Court must address Defendant's failure to fully comply with Local Rule 7.1 of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court. Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) requires a Statement of Material Facts that sets forth, in numbered paragraphs, each material fact about which the moving party contends there exists no genuine dispute, supported by a specific citation to the record where that fact is established. N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3). The opposing party must file a response to the Statement of Material Facts that mirrors that Statement by admitting and/or denying each of the movant's assertions in matching numbered paragraphs, supported by specific citations to the record where the factual issue arises. Id. If the opposing party does not specifically controvert any properly supported facts in the Statement of Material Facts, the Court shall deem them to be admitted. Id.

         In responding to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, Defendant did not file a statement with corresponding numbered paragraphs in accordance with Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). (Dkt. No. 61, at 2-4 [Def.'s Opp'n Mem. of Law].)[1] Defendant argues that Plaintiff did not submit a Statement of Material Facts with numbered paragraphs to which it could respond; however, Plaintiff did indeed submit numbered paragraphs containing asserted facts that Defendant was required to admit or deny. The only specific fact from Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts that Defendant explicitly denies is Paragraph 16, in which Defendant argues that, contrary to Plaintiff's assertion, Defendant did not intend to admit that Mr. Wachtel violated VTL Section 1161, citing to a correction it made to a typo in its response to Plaintiff's interrogatories. (Id. at 2-3; Dkt. No. 61, Attach. 1, at 2.) Consequently, with the exception of this single supported denial, Defendant's failure to admit or deny the remainder of the facts means that this Court deems those unaddressed facts that are supported by the record evidence as admitted.[2]

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts were asserted and supported with accurate record citations by Plaintiff in his Statement of Material Facts and either admitted based on similar statements made in Defendant's Statement of Material Facts or based on Defendant's failure to deny specific facts. (Compare Dkt. No. 51, Attach. 17 [Pl.'s Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 61, at 2-4 [Def.'s Opp'n Mem. of Law].)

1. On June 6, 2014, David Wachtel was employed by the United States Postal Service (“USPS”).
2. On that day, he was operating a postal vehicle known as a long life vehicle (“LLV”) in the course of such employment.
3. Defendant contends that, at the time of the incident in question, Mr. Wachtel was “actually engaged in work on a highway” within the meaning of VTL § 1103(b) because Mike Krout Road was and is a public highway and “Mr. Wachtel was working within the course of his employment with the USPS by delivering mail on Rural Route 6 in accordance with that Route's line of travel.” 4. Defendant relies on no other facts in support of its contention that Mr. Wachtel was “actually engaged in work on a highway” within the meaning of Section 1103(b).
5. Defendant does not contend that, on June 6, 2014, Mr. Wachtel constructed, repaired, or maintained any roads that were part of Rural Route 6.
6. Defendant does not contend that, on June 6, 2014, it was Mr. Wachtel's intention to construct, repair, or maintain any roads that were part of Rural Route 6, or that he was assigned to do so.
7. Defendant does not contend that the LLV that Mr. Wachtel was operating on June 6, 2014, was designed or equipped to perform any kind of road construction, repair, or maintenance work.
8. On June 6, 2014, Plaintiff was operating a motorcycle in an easterly direction on Mike Krout Road.
9. On June 6, 2014, as Plaintiff was proceeding in an easterly direction on Mike Krout Road, Mr. Wachtel made a U-turn, as defined in VTL § 158-a, on that road at or near 100 Mike Krout Road.
10. On that day, as the postal vehicle was making such a U-turn, there was contact between the LLV and the motorcycle being operated by Plaintiff.
11. The contact occurred in the vicinity of 100 Mike Krout Road in the Town of Saugerties, State of New York.
12. As a result of the contact or impending contact, Plaintiff was caused to be ejected from the motorcycle and sustained personal injuries.
13. The part of Mike Krout Road that is in front of 100 Mike Krout Road is on a curve.
14. Section 1161(a) of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law provides that “[n]o motor vehicle shall make a U-turn upon any curve, or upon the approach to, or near the crest of a grade, where such motor vehicle cannot be seen by the driver of any other motor vehicle approaching from either direction within five hundred feet.” 15. The LLV at 100 Mike Krout Road would not have been visible to a vehicle approaching from the east if it was 500 feet away from the LLV.
16. Mr. Wachtel pled guilty to violating Section 1161(a).
17. Plaintiff's line of sight from the point where he came out of the curve on Mike Krout Road to 100 Mike Krout Road was estimated by Defendant's expert, Eugene Camerota, to be approximately 336 feet and by Plaintiff's expert to be less than 350 feet.
18. Plaintiff presented a claim to the USPS on August 5, 2014.

         C. Undisputed Material Facts on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts were asserted and supported with accurate record citations by Defendant in his Statement of Material Facts and expressly admitted by Plaintiff in his response thereto or denied without appropriate record citations. (Compare Dkt. No. 57, Attach. 2 [Def.'s Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 62, Attach. 3 [Pl.'s Rule 7.1 Resp.].)

1. Plaintiff's lawsuit arises out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred in the late morning on June 6, 2014.
2. June 6, 2014, was a clear, sunny day in Saugerties, New York.
3. The accident occurred at 100 Mike Kraut Road, Saugerties, New York.
4. Mike Krout Road is a publically maintained road that is open to the public for purposes of vehicular traffic.
5. When the accident occurred, Plaintiff was driving a 1980 Yamaha 400 Special motorcycle on Mike Krout Road.[3]
6. Before the accident, Plaintiff's father had noticed that the rear tire needed replacing.
7. Plaintiff's father informed Plaintiff that the rear tire needed replacement.
8. Plaintiff's father did not anticipate that anyone would ride the motorcycle until he had an opportunity to replace the bald rear tire.
9. At the time of the accident, Plaintiff was heading home on Mike Krout Road after leaving his work at Blue Mountain Paving.
10. Mr. Wachtel was driving the USPS vehicle that Plaintiff hit on June 6, 2014.
11. At the time of the accident, Mr. Wachtel was a rural mail carrier for the USPS.
12. At the time of the accident, Mr. Wachtel had been employed as a mail carrier for the USPS for the prior 28 years.
13. At the time of the accident, Mr. Wachtel was engaged in his work for the USPS delivering mail along Mike Krout Road.
14. Mr. Wachtel's mail route, which took him along Mike Krout Road, was known as Rural Route 6.
15. The mail route that Mr. Wachtel was required to follow for Rural Route 6 was set forth on PS Form 4003, also known as a “line of travel report.”[4]
16. Rural Route 6 required that the carrier turn around at 100 Mike Krout Road.
17. When Mr. Wachtel departed the Saugerties Post Office on the morning of June 6, 2014, to perform his mail deliveries, the four-way hazard lights on Mr. Wachtel's LLV were operational and were in the “on” position.
18. In order to fulfill their mission of delivering mail, USPS rural letter carriers must make frequent stops and drive below the posted speed limit.
19. In order to deliver mail, rural carriers must also frequently ride on the shoulder of busy roads and perform U-turns in the middle of a road.
20. These operations and maneuvers will restrict, impede, or interfere with the normal flow of traffic.[5]
21. The USPS mail trucks, known as LLVs, are equipped with hazard lights that are utilized when a USPS driver is engaged in the delivery of mail.
22. Mr. Wachtel first started as the mail carrier on Rural Route 6 in 1988.
23. Mr. Wachtel switched to a different route for a time, but he returned to ...

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