NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court."
Although it is posted on the internet, this opinion is binding only on the
parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3.
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-2076-16T3
JUAN G. CALDAS,
JANARD MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INC.,
BLUE KNIGHT SNOW PLOWING, LLC,
Submitted March 21, 2018 – Decided April 26, 2018
Before Judges Alvarez and Nugent.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey,
Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-
Law Office of Paul Grosso, attorneys for
appellant (Clark M. Sarkisian, on the brief).
Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers, LLP,
attorneys for respondent (Jeffrey S. Simons,
on the brief).
Plaintiff, Juan G. Caldas, was injured at work when he slipped
on ice on property his employer leased from defendant, Janard
Management Services, Inc. Janard successfully moved for summary
judgment. Plaintiff appealed. Because a landlord is not liable
for injuries suffered by a commercial tenant's employee due to
lack of maintenance of the leased premises when the lease places
responsibility for such maintenance solely upon the tenant — which
the lease did here — we affirm.
In February 2015, plaintiff filed a complaint against Janard.
Janard answered and filed a third-party complaint against Blue
Knight Snow Plowing, LLC. After the parties completed discovery,
plaintiff and Janard filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
The trial court denied plaintiff's motion and granted Janard's
The motion record contains these undisputed facts. When
plaintiff fell, he worked for a company that operated its business
on premises leased from Janard.1 The lease was a fifteen-year
triple net lease.
The lease required plaintiff's employer, as tenant, to "take
good care of the premises and . . . at the Tenant's own cost and
Plaintiff's employer was Rudox Engine & Eq. Co. when it signed
the lease. It had merged with Ener-G Rudox before plaintiff fell.
expense, make all repairs . . . and maintain the entire premises,
without limitation, including, but not limited to . . . driveway
and parking areas." The lease stated:
Landlord shall not be responsible for . . .
injury to persons, occurring in or about the
demised premises, by reason of any existing
or future condition, defect, matter or thing
in said demised premises . . . or for the
acts, omissions or negligence of other persons
or Tenants in and about the said property.
Plaintiff's employer agreed to indemnify and hold Janard
harmless for liability for property damage and injury claims. The
parties acknowledged "the Landlord shall not be liable for any
damage or injury to person or property caused by or resulting from
steam, electricity, gas, water, rain, ice or snow."
Plaintiff slipped and fell on the leased premises. He
declared in the first paragraph of the statement of material facts
he submitted in support of his summary judgment motion, "Plaintiff,
Juan Caldas . . . slipped and fell on ice, around a Key Box on
[his employer's] premises on December 16, 2013." Plaintiff had
driven a truck through the gate with the key box but returned to
retrieve his cellular phone and wallet. Almost immediately after
turning his key in the gate's key box, he slipped and fell.
Janard and plaintiff's employer were once owned by members
of the same family. The father and mother owned Janard, and the
father, mother, and their three children owned plaintiff's
employer before the merger. After the merger, the father, mother,
three children, and the other company to the merger held ownership
interests in the company that employed plaintiff. When Janard and
plaintiff's employer executed the fifteen-year lease — before the
merger — the father signed on behalf of plaintiff's employer and
the mother signed on behalf of Janard.
In 2013, the year plaintiff fell, the father was in charge
of engineering at plaintiff's employer. The mother also worked
at plaintiff's employer as a marketing manager and had an office
on the premises. In her role as an owner of Janard, she collected
rent from plaintiff's employer. The father was a boss at the
company that employed plaintiff. The father had an office on the
premises and spent long hours there most days. During each working
day, he would converse with others in senior administrative and
Plaintiff's employer contracted with third-party defendant,
Blue Knight Snow Plowing, LLC, to remove snow and ice. Blue
Knight's owner confirmed it performed snow and ice removal for
plaintiff's employer. The owner never heard of Janard.
Based on the foregoing facts, the trial court denied plaintiff
summary judgment and granted Janard summary judgment. In a January
11, 2017 letter opinion supplementing its January 6, 2017 orders,
the court found controlling our decision in Geringer v. Hartz
Mountain Dev. Corp.,
388 N.J. Super. 392 (App. Div. 2006). There,
we held, "'there is no landlord liability' for personal injuries
suffered by a commercial tenant's employee on the leased premises
'due to a lack of proper maintenance or repair, when the lease
unquestionably places responsibility for such maintenance or
repair solely upon the tenant.'" Id. at 401 (quoting McBride v.
Port Auth. of New York and New Jersey,
295 N.J. Super. 521, 522
(App. Div. 1996)).
We affirm, substantially for the reasons expressed by the
trial court in its supplemental opinion. We reject plaintiff's
argument that Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors,
132 N.J. 426 (1993),
compels a different result. In that case, our Supreme Court
explained the factors to be considered when determining whether a
duty is owed — and if so, to what extent — in a premises liability
action. The factors include the relationship of the parties, the
nature of the attendant risk, defendant's opportunity and ability
to exercise reasonable care, and the public interest in the
proposed solution. Id. at 439. In Geringer, we noted, "in light
of the undisputed nature of the record germane to the maintenance
and repair of the [alleged dangerous condition], such a result
comports with the factors identified in Hopkins." Geringer,
388 N.J. Super. at 401. We reach the same conclusion here.
We also reject — as did the trial court — plaintiff's
arguments suggesting the applicability of cases concerning a
commercial landlord's duty to maintain public sidewalks abutting
its premises. This case did not involve a public sidewalk. To
the contrary, plaintiff acknowledged his accident occurred on the
leased premises. Nothing in the record suggests members of the
public ever entered upon the employer's premises at the location
where plaintiff fell.
Lastly, we reject plaintiff's argument that Janard should be
charged with a non-delegable duty of maintenance because of the
dual ownership and employment of Janard's owners. Imposing
liability under such circumstances would disregard the companies'
status as separate and distinct legal entities and effectively
nullify the exclusivity of the maintenance and repair obligations
in the lease, thereby diminishing the value of the consideration
exchanged for plaintiff's employer's exclusive possession of the
Plaintiff's remaining arguments are without sufficient merit
to warrant further discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).