District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis recently denied summary judgment in an automobile accident diversity case where plaintiff claimed a “serious injury” as defined under New York’s no-fault insurance laws. Zhang v. Alvarado, 15-CV-04373 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2017) (NGG) (JO). In denying defendants’ summary judgment, Judge Garaufis employed New York State’s burden-shifting analysis that at first requires defendant to “establish a prima facie case that no such injury was sustained.”
At first glance, readers of our recent post titled “Judge Chen Dismisses Slip and Fall Case after Applying Federal Summary Judgment Standard” would have expected the court to use the federal standard that merely requires a defendant to show an absence of evidence by plaintiff. Indeed, Judge Garaufis expressed these exact reservations in employing the New York standard, but noted that “it must do so” given the Second Circuit’s “explicit adoption of the New York burden shifting scheme” for summary judgment motion in a no-fault injury case.
In Zhang, the plaintiff claimed that he suffered a “serious injury” such that he was not subject to the damage limitations under New York’s no-fault insurance scheme. In analyzing the motion, Judge Garaufis employed the more imposing standard of summary judgment under New York law rather than the federal standard – though the court noted that the distinction was mooted by the fact that the plaintiff had submitted sufficient evidence to defeat summary judgment regardless of which standard was used. The court explained:
The court notes the tension between this burden-shifting scheme and the standard generally applicable to motions for summary judgment in federal court, which permits a defendant to prevail on its motion where it demonstrates that a plaintiff has “fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. . 477 U.S. at 322. However, given the Second Circuit’s explicit adoption of the New York burden-shifting scheme in Yong Qin Luo, as described above, the court concludes that it must do so as well. Perpall v. Pavetek Corp. , No. 12-CV-336 (PKC), 2017 WL 1155764, at *12 n.27 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2017). Moreover, as described in greater detail below, the court concludes that Plaintiff has placed sufficient evidence in the record to raise a triable issue as to whether he suffered a “serious injury” under New York law, such that he would survive summary judgment even under the Celotex standard.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that the Second Circuit in Yong Qin Luo employed the New York standard without analyzing whether the competing federal standard should be used instead. But, as Judge Garaufis noted, for now, the precedent in this Circuit, at least for no-fault insurance cases, would require the use of New York’s burden-shifting analysis for summary judgment motions.
Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner