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Pitterman v. General Motors LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 11, 2016

BERNARD PITTERMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS LLC, Defendant.

RULING RE: PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT WITH RESPECT TO DEFENDANT’S AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES (DOC. NO. 77)

Janet C. Hall United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises out of events that occurred on July 13, 2011, when M.R.O, an 8-year-old child, died in connection with an automobile accident involving a 2004 Chevrolet Suburban, which is manufactured by the defendant General Motors LLC (“GM”). The plaintiffs in this case are: (1) Bernard Pitterman, as administrator of the Estate of M.R.O.; (2) Bernard Pitterman, as guardian of the Estate of G.O., who is the victim’s brother; and, (3) Rose O’Connor, who is the victim’s mother (plaintiffs will be referred to, collectively, as “Pitterman”).

In response to the initial Complaint (Doc. No. 1) (“Compl.”), GM filed an Answer (Doc. No. 8) (“Compl. Answer”), in which it asserted 15 affirmative defenses. Pitterman subsequently filed a Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to Defendant’s Affirmative Defenses (Doc. No. 77) (“Pls.’ Aff. Def. MFSJ”), in which it moved for summary judgment on affirmative defenses 2-10 and 13. See id. at 1-2. Shortly thereafter, Pitterman filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 88) (“Am. Compl.”). In response, GM filed another Answer (Doc. No. 91) (“Am. Compl. Answer”), in which it asserted 12 affirmative defenses. Pitterman has not updated his Motion for Summary Judgment since GM filed its Amended Complaint Answer. However, both GM and Pitterman have filed briefs, subsequent to the filing of the Amended Complaint and Amended Complaint Answer, which have addressed Pitterman’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

Although the Complaint Answer contains 15 affirmative defenses and the Amended Complaint Answer contains only 12, there is significant overlap in the affirmative defenses asserted in both Answers. Accordingly, the court can proceed to rule on Pitterman’s Motion for Summary Judgment. To the extent that the number associated with an affirmative defense differs between the two Answers, the court will endeavor to be as clear as possible in this Ruling so as to avoid any confusion going forward.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

On July 13, 2011, M.R.O. died in connection with an automobile accident involving a 2004 Chevrolet Suburban. See Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement re: Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to Defendant’s Affirmative Defenses ¶ 1 (Doc. No. 77-2) (“Pls.’ L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt.”); see also Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement of Material Facts and Disputed Issues of Material Fact ¶ 1 (Doc. No. 99) (“Def.’s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.”). Prior to the accident, Rose O’Connor had parked the subject Suburban in the driveway of the family home. Pls.’ L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 3.[2] Rose O’Connor was inside the family home when the accident occurred. Id. ¶ 4; see also Def.’s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶ 4. Rose O’Connor was not operating the vehicle at the time of the accident. Id. ¶ 5.[3]

III. LEGAL STANDARD

On a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); White v. ABCO Engineering Corp., 221 F.3d 293, 300 (2d Cir. 2000). Once the moving party has met its burden, in order to defeat the motion the nonmoving party must “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, and present such evidence as would allow a jury to find in his favor, see Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000).

In assessing the record to address questions of fact, the trial court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. Graham, 230 F.3d at 38. Summary judgment “is properly granted only when no rational finder of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party.” Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000). “When reasonable persons, applying the proper legal standards, could differ in their responses to the question” raised, on the basis of the evidence presented, the question must be left to the finder of fact. Sologub v. City of New York, 202 F.3d 175, 178 (2d Cir. 2000).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Second Affirmative Defense[4]

Pitterman moves for summary judgment as to the second affirmative defense asserted by GM in its Complaint Answer. See Pls.’ Aff. Def. MFSJ at 1. However, GM has not reasserted in its Amended Complaint Answer what was, in the Complaint Answer, the second affirmative defense. Accordingly, the Motion for Summary Judgment as to the second affirmative defense is terminated as moot.

B. Third Affirmative Defense

Pitterman moves for summary judgment as to the third affirmative defense asserted by GM in its Complaint Answer. See id. However, GM has not reasserted in its Amended Complaint Answer what was, in the Complaint Answer, the third affirmative defense. Accordingly, the Motion for Summary Judgment as to the third affirmative defense is terminated as moot.

C. Fourth Affirmative Defense

Plaintiffs M.R.O. and G.O. - but not plaintiff Rose O’Connor - move for summary judgment as to the fourth affirmative defense asserted by GM in its Complaint Answer. See Memorandum in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to Defendant’s Affirmative Defenses at 4 (Doc. No. 77-1) (“Pls.’ Mem. in Supp.”). GM has reasserted this affirmative defense in the Amended Complaint Answer, except in the Amended Complaint Answer it is numbered as the second affirmative defense.[5] In this affirmative defense, GM argues that, “Plaintiffs’ alleged damage or loss, if any, was caused or contributed to by the negligence, fault, or other wrongful conduct of [Rose O’Connor] . . . including but not limited to failing to use the parking brake and failing to exercise due care for the safety of M.R.O. by allowing her to occupy the subject vehicle with the key left in the vehicle.” Compl. Answer at 9 ¶ 4; see also Am. Compl. Answer at 8 ¶ 2.

Pitterman argues that M.R.O. and G.O. are entitled to summary judgment on this affirmative defense based on Connecticut’s parental immunity doctrine. See Pls.’ Mem. in Supp. at 4-10. Specifically, Pitterman argues that, because M.R.O. and G.O. would not be able to sue their mother, Rose O’Connor, for the injuries they suffered as a result of the accident, Rose O’Connor cannot be considered a party “whose comparative responsibility would diminish any award to [her] minor children.” Id. at 7.

GM does not dispute the general proposition that the parental immunity doctrine bars a defendant from asserting an affirmative defense that attempts to reduce a minor’s award because of a parent’s negligence. Rather, GM argues that section 52-572c of the Connecticut General Statutes, which abrogates the parental immunity doctrine “[i]n all actions for negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle . . . resulting in personal injury, ” allows GM to assert this affirmative defense. See Defendant General Motors LLC’s Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to Defendant’s Affirmative Defenses at 5 (Doc. No. 100) (“Def.’s Mem. in Opp’n”).

Because only M.R.O. and G.O. are moving for summary judgment as to this affirmative defense, the operative question before the court is whether M.R.O. or G.O. would be able to sue Rose O’Connor in connection with the accident. If they would not be able to sue her, then she could not be considered a party to their suits for comparative responsibility purposes. Whether they would be able to sue her turns on whether section 52-572c would apply to the facts of this case. If that section were to apply, then the parental immunity would be abrogated and M.R.O. and G.O. would be able to sue Rose O’Connor. If that section were to not apply, then they would not be able to sue her. Thus, the fundamental question is whether there is any genuine issue of material fact as to ...


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