Kourradi v. Brown

Decision Date28 April 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action 18-13038 (ZNQ) (LHG)
PartiesESABEL KOURRADI, Administratrix for the Estate of MOHAMMED A. ALASHI, et al., Plaintiff, v. DENCIL E. BROWN, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey


THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon several motions for summary judgment and sanctions by Plaintiff Esabel Kourradi, Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs Dencil E. Brown (Brown) and New Penn Motor Express, LLC (“New Penn”), and Third-Party Defendant John Timothy Ricciardi (“Ricciardi”). The Court has carefully considered the parties' submissions and decided the Motion without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78 and Local Civil Rule 78.1. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motions.


This survivorship and wrongful death action commenced in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County, Law Division and was removed to this Court on the basis of diversity.[1](ECF No. 1.) The Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant Brown-while operating a motor vehicle belonging to New Penn-negligently struck Mohammed A. Alashi (Alashi), the decedent, on April 24, 2018, as he walked northbound on Route 1 in South Brunswick, New Jersey. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2, 4, ECF No. 23.) Plaintiff alleges that because of Brown's negligence Alashi sustained severe injuries, suffered great pain, and mental anguish before his death. (Id. at ¶ 5.) In addition, Decedent's estate incurred bills and expended large sums of money in connection with Alashi's medical treatment. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that Alashi's executrix, Esabel Kourradi, and his 11-month-old child suffered pecuniary loss as a result of his death. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Plaintiff seeks damages under New Jersey's Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1, and under the Survivor's Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-3. (Id. at ¶ 7.)

In their responsive pleadings, Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs Brown and New Penn brought claims against John Timothy Ricciardi along with fictitious persons and companies. (Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 2-4, ECF No. 25.) Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs allege that Third-Party Defendant Ricciardi, while acting within the scope of his employment for the fictitious persons and/or companies, also negligently struck Alashi with his tractor and “caused and/or contributed to the damages alleged in Plaintiff's [Amended] Complaint.” (Id. at 6-8.) Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs claim that the fictitious persons and/or companies are strictly liable for Ricciardi's negligence through the doctrine of respondeat superior or otherwise vicariously liable for his negligent operation of the vehicle. (Id. at 9.) Brown and New Penn claim that Third Party Defendants were responsible for the repair, service, inspection, and maintenance of the tractor Ricciardi operated on the day of the incident. (Id. at 10.) They also claim that fictitious persons acting in the course and scope of their employment for fictitious companies “caused and/or contributed to the damages in alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint.” (Id. at 12-13.) In sum, Brown and New Penn seek contribution and/or indemnification from Third-Party Defendant. (Id. at 14-16.) In turn, Third-Party Defendant seeks contribution and/or indemnification from Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 26.)

For the purposes of the motions for sanctions, the Court will briefly recite the relevant procedural history in this case. On June 26, 2020, the Honorable Lois Goodman issued an Amended Scheduling Order directing Plaintiff to serve their expert reports by July 27, 2020. (ECF No. 62.) Because Plaintiff failed to timely serve her expert reports, Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs and Third-Party Defendant jointly requested leave to file a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 66.) Judge Goodman granted leave, and Plaintiff raised no objections. (ECF No. 67.) After Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs and Third-Party Defendant filed their motions for summary judgment, (ECF Nos. 68, 69, 71), Plaintiff filed opposition along with two liability expert reports (dated May 21 and June 19, 2019) from accident reconstructionist Stephen Motyczka; Plaintiff's counsel also alleged he had timely served the May report. (ECF No. 70). On November 9, 2020, Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs filed their reply, arguing that the expert reports had not been timely served. (ECF No. 72.) At that point, Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs sought to either have their motions for summary judgment granted or to bar Motyczka's reports as either untimely or as inadmissible net opinion and to recoup their costs for filing the motions for summary judgment. (Id.)

On November 10, 2020, Plaintiff requested leave to serve the May 21, 2019 report out of time. (ECF No. 73.) On February 2, 2021, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to serve a single, consolidated Motyczka report by February 8, 2021. (ECF No. 79.) However, in doing so, the Court found that Plaintiff's counsel had failed to comply with the Amended Scheduling Order, which prejudiced Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs and Third-Party Defendant because they ultimately incurred the cost of filing motions for summary judgment and replying to Plaintiff's numerous letters. (Id. at 3.) The Court acknowledged that barring the Motyczka Report could have effectively ended Plaintiff's case, a remedy the Court found draconian. (Id.) Instead, the Court ordered Plaintiff to reimburse all defendants for the fees and costs associated with preparing and filing dispositive motions they otherwise would not have filed had it not been for Plaintiff's failure to meet the deadline for expert disclosures. (Id.; ECF No. 88.)

On March 22, 2021, Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs and Third-Party Defendant deposed Motyczka. (Ex. M, Motyczka Dep., ECF No. 98-17.) During the deposition, Motyczka denied preparing the May 21, 2019 Report and testified that he no longer stood by any of the opinions contained therein, especially the opinion that Brown and Ricciardi contributed to the accident. (Motyczka Dep. at 72:21-73:17, 112:19-123:8.)

Thereafter, Defendants Brown and New Penn served Plaintiff's counsel with a letter asking her to dismiss the Amended Complaint with prejudice or Defendants would seek Rule 11 sanctions. (ECF No. 97-21.) Defendants explained that, in light of what transpired at Motyczka's deposition, Plaintiff's allegations against Defendants were “unwarranted by existing law and that the factual contentions in Plaintiff['s] Amended Complaint [did] not have evidentiary support.”

(Id. at 3.) Defendants warned Plaintiff that if she did not dismiss the action, then Defendants would re-file their motion for summary judgment along with a motion for sanctions under Rule 11. (Id.) On April 22, 2021, Defendants served Plaintiff with a letter pursuant the “safe harbor” provision of Rule 11 and attached thereto their motion for sanctions. (ECF No. 97-22.)

On March 26, 2021, Third-Party Defendant served Plaintiff and Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs with a similar letter requesting that the Amended Complaint and the Third-Party Complaint be dismissed considering Motyczka's deposition. (ECF No. 102-18.) He also warned Plaintiff that if she failed to dismiss the Amended Complaint, he would file a motion for summary judgment along with a motion for sanctions under Rule 11. (Id. at 3.) On May 6, 2021, he sent Plaintiff a letter pursuant the “safe harbor” provision of Rule 11 and attached thereto his motion for sanctions. (ECF No. 102-19.)

At this juncture, Plaintiff's counsel has conceded that he will not be calling accident reconstruction expert Stephen Motyczka at trial. (Opp'n Br. at 2, ECF No. 96.) To the extent the parties rely on or reference Motyczka's reports in their submissions, the Court will not consider them in deciding the motions for summary judgment.


On April 24, 2018, Alashi was a struck by a commercial vehicle operated by Defendant Brown in the course of employment with Defendant New Penn and then was subsequently struck again by a commercial vehicle operated by Third-Party Defendant Ricciardi. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“DSMF”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 95-1.) South Brunswick Police investigation determined Alashi was walking in the travel portion of the northbound lanes of Route 1 in South Brunswick, New Jersey, at approximately 4:45 a.m. when he was struck by Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs' tractor. (Id. ¶ 4.) Alashi was pronounced deceased at the scene around 5:06 a.m. (Ex. A, Police Report at 9, ECF No. 96-1.) The police concluded the impact between Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs' tractor and Alashi occurred 578 feet north of the nearest intersection with Henderson Road. (Id. ¶ 5.) At the time and location of the impact, it was dark and there were no overhead lights. (Id. ¶ 6.) Alashi had been wearing a “black hooded sweatshirt, black pants, black cap, and carrying a brown and tan backpack.” (Ex. A, Michael DiCiccio Dep. at 38:17-25, ECF No. 96-3; Police Report at 8.)

There are two northbound lanes on Route 1, and Brown was driving on the right lane while Alashi was walking on the left side of the right lane. (Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts (“PSMF”) ¶¶ 37, 39, 41.) The speed limit was 55 mph. (PSMF ¶ 18, ECF No. 96-2.) Though the parties dispute the drivers' speeds at the time of the accident, the police determined the maximum speeds for Brown and Ricciardi were approximately 61.39mph and 60.92mph respectively. (Ex. C, Police Report, ECF No. 96-1.) Brown had driven through the accident location on multiple occasions and had never encountered a pedestrian on or in the travel portion of the...

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