New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JOHNSON R. v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-009-430, Claim No. 86438, Motion No. M-61758


Synopsis


Claimant's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, based upon the doctrine of collateral estoppel was granted.

Case Information

UID:
2000-009-430
Claimant(s):
RANDY J. JOHNSON, as Administrator of the Estate of LISA M. JOHNSON, Deceased and RANDY J. JOHNSON, Individually
Claimant short name:
JOHNSON R.
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
86438
Motion number(s):
M-61758
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Nicholas V. Midey, Jr.
Claimant's attorney:
ROBERT E. LAHM and ASSOCIATES
BY: Matthew E. Whritenour, Esq., of Counsel.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Louis J.Tripoli, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney General Of Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 22, 2000
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant has brought this motion to amend his claim and for an order of summary judgment on the issue of liability.

The following papers were considered by the Court in connection with this motion:
Notice of Motion, Affidavit, with Exhibits 1,2


Memorandum of Law (In Support) 3

Affirmation in Opposition 4


Memorandum of Law (In Opposition) 5

This is a claim for wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering arising from a two car collision, which occurred on December 18, 1991. Claimant's decedent, his wife Lisa M. Johnson, was a backseat passenger in one of the vehicles involved in that collision, which was operated by Shannon T. Hubiak. On the date of the accident, the Hubiak vehicle was traveling north on New York State Route 8 in the Town of Paris, Oneida County. As Mr. Hubiak descended a hill, he lost control of his vehicle, which then slid into the southbound lane where it collided with a southbound vehicle. Both Mr. Hubiak and Mrs. Johnson died as a result of the collision. This claim was subsequently filed with the Court on December 4, 1992.

Additionally, a claim asserting wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering was also commenced by Antoinette S. Hubiak, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Shannon Thomas Hubiak. By a decision filed May 27, 1998, my esteemed colleague, Hon. Thomas J. McNamara, found the State 100% liable for the death of Mr. Hubiak.[1]

Prior to Judge McNamara's decision in the Hubiak claim, a stipulation of discontinuance in this claim (Johnson), signed by counsel for both parties, had been filed with the Court on June 9, 1997. After Judge McNamara's decision in the Hubiak claim, claimant brought a motion to reinstate his claim, and by a decision and order filed December 28, 1999, this Court reinstated the claim.[2] Claimant, asserting the doctrine of collateral estoppel, now brings this motion seeking an order granting him summary judgment on the issue of liability, based upon the prior finding of liability against the State in the Hubiak claim. The State contends that the doctrine of collateral estoppel does not apply to the facts of this claim, and also contends that there exists other triable issues of fact.

Summary judgment is the procedural equivalent of a trial (Andre v Pomeroy, 35 NY2d 361) and should be granted only when it has been established that there is no triable issue (Moskowitz v Garlock, 23 AD2d 943). The role of the Court, therefore, on a motion for summary judgment is not to resolve material issues of fact, but instead is to determine whether any such issues exist (Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395). If such issues exist, the motion for summary judgment must be denied. Only the existence of a material issue of fact, however, and not one based on conclusory or irrelevant allegations, will be sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment (Rotuba Extruders v Ceppos, 46 NY2d 223).

In order to invoke the doctrine of collateral estoppel, claimant must establish that (1) the identical issue in the pending action was necessarily decided in the prior action, and (2) the party against whom collateral estoppel is being asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in question (Schwartz v Public Administrator of the County of Bronx, 24 NY2d 65; Kaufman v Lilly and Co., 65 NY2d 449).

The decisive issue in both Hubiak and in this claim is whether the injuries and damages resulting from the collision on Route 8 were caused, in whole or in part, by the negligent acts, omissions and/or conduct of the State. The damages in both cases arose from the same incident, and both decedents were traveling in the same vehicle. In Hubiak, Judge McNamara found the State 100% liable for the accident which claimed the lives of Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Hubiak because of the State's failure to coordinate salting and plowing schedules. Significantly, Judge McNamara found the State 100% responsible in the Hubiak claim, and did not contribute any comparative fault to Mr. Hubiak, the operator of that vehicle. Furthermore, it is undisputed that Lisa Johnson was a backseat passenger in the Hubiak vehicle at the time this accident occurred.

The Court also finds that the State had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of liability in the Hubiak claim. The State contends that the Court should consider such factors as the potential availability of new evidence, the possibility that Lisa Johnson may have in some way contributed to the accident, and that the State could not foresee the possibility of future litigation on this claim at the time of the Hubiak trial, and that these factors mitigate against the application of collateral estoppel in this claim.

The State, however, has not provided the Court with any indication that new evidence would be introduced at the trial of this claim, nor is there any indication whatsoever that Lisa Johnson in any way contributed to the accident. While it is true that the State had no basis to believe that it would bear responsibility in the death of Lisa Johnson (since her claim had been discontinued prior to the trial of the Hubiak claim), and even though damages in this claim could be substantial, the Court notes that the damages awarded by Judge McNamara in the Hubiak claim were also substantial. Under the circumstances of the Hubiak claim, the State had a full and fair opportunity to contest the issue of liability, and most certainly provided a full and vigorous defense to that claim.

It was found in the Hubiak case that the State breached its duty to maintain Route 8 in a reasonably safe condition. It stands to reason that if the State owes a duty to the driver of a vehicle, it would in turn owe a duty to any and all passengers of that vehicle. Since the State has already been found liable in causing the accident there is no legitimate reason to reargue that issue. Therefore, for all of the aforementioned reasons, summary judgment is hereby granted. The Court therefore finds that not only was the identical issue of liability determined in the Hubiak claim, which is the subject of this claim, but also that the State had a full and fair opportunity to litigate this issue in that claim. Accordingly, the Court finds that collateral estoppel is applicable in the instant claim on the issue of liability.

The State also contends that notwithstanding the issue of collateral estoppel, other triable issues of fact exist which would make summary judgment in this claim improper. The Court finds that any such issues relate solely to the question of damages, to be determined at a later date.

Accordingly, claimant's motion to amend the pleadings in this claim so as to assert the doctrine of collateral estoppel is granted, and summary judgment on the issue of liability finding the State fully liable, is hereby granted.

Therefore, it is

ORDERED, that Motion No. M-61758 is GRANTED, and it is further

ORDERED, that the Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of the claimant in accordance with this decision and order. A trial limited to the issue of damages will be scheduled as soon as reasonably practicable.

September 22, 2000
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY, JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]
See, Hubiak v State of New York, Claim No. 88482, Decision filed May 27, 1998, McNamara, J.
[2]
See, Decision and Order, Motion No. M-60245, filed December 28, 1999.