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JAMES KING v. CITY PHILADELPHIA (06/26/87)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: June 26, 1987.

JAMES KING, APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County in case of James King v. City of Philadelphia, No. 957, August Term, 1984.

COUNSEL

Robert M. Lipshutz, for appellant.

Claudia M. Tesoro, Chief Assistant City Solicitor, with her, Barbara W. Mather, City Solicitor, and Barbara R. Axelrod, Divisional Deputy in Charge of Appeals, for appellee.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judge Barry, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Barry.

Author: Barry

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 127]

This appeal results from an order of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas which sustained the preliminary objections of the appellee herein, City

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 128]

    of Philadelphia, filed with respect to the complaint of the plaintiff/appellant, James King.

On October 2, 1984, the appellant filed a complaint in the trial court alleging physical injuries stemming from an incident roughly two years before. Appellant alleged specifically that while he, a prisoner, was "in the process of being transported from the Philadelphia Sheriff's cell rooms, plaintiff was handcuffed to a crutch and forced to walk up some steps, causing plaintiff to fall down the steps and injure himself." Complaint, Averment No. 4. Appellant further averred that, due to the fall, he "suffered two pinched nerves, neck and head damage, a concussion, and diffused and continuous pain in the right side of his body. . . ." Id. No. 5.

With respect to fault, the complaint also avers a variety of intentional and negligent acts on the part of the City. Among these was the allegation that the City had "[i]ntentionally, maliciously, carelessly, recklessly and/or negligently endanger[ed] plaintiff and caus[ed] him harm by handcuffing [him] to the crutch and forcing him to ascend stairs in said condition, in disregard of the clear danger of harm to plaintiff by doing so[.]" Id. No. 7(b). Further, appellant alleged mis- or malfeasance on the part of the City by virtue of its

[f]ailure to maintain proper care, custody and control of real property in the custody of the defendant; to wit, its failure to provide a safe means for a person on crutches to go from one building level to another without stairs in the aforementioned cell room, in violation of 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8542(b)(3).

Complaint, Averment No. 7(h). Appellant also averred that, due to all of this conduct, the City violated his civil rights and was thus liable for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The City in response filed preliminary objections, (Nos. 7 & 12) declaring, among other things, that the

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 129]

    appellant's cause of action did not fall within the exceptions to governmental immunity and that appellant had, therefore, failed to state a cause of action upon which relief could be granted.

The trial court sustained the City's preliminary objections, having concluded (1) that the real estate exception to immunity did not apply; (2) that only the individual Sheriff, and not the City, could be liable for the allegedly intentional and malicious acts averred; and (3) that appellant had "not alleged any conduct of the City that would make it liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Appellant then brought the present appeal.

In reviewing an order sustaining a demurrer, this Court accepts the well-pleaded facts in the pleading under attack as true, and recognizes that a complaint should be dismissed for failing to state a cause of action only in clear cases, free of doubt and reservation. Rousseau v. City of Philadelphia, 100 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 173, 176, 514 A.2d 649, 651 (1986). Appellant argues (1) that the trial court erred in concluding that facts were not averred bringing the complaint within the ambit of the real property exception; and (2) that our precedent precluding imputation of intentional or malicious conduct on the part of employees to government units should be overruled.*fn1 We affirm.

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 130]

In so ruling we are in agreement with the City that appellant did not, in fact, allege any defect in real property in the possession of the City which may be acknowledged as the cause for appellant's injury. Such an allegation was, of course, necessary for the cause of action to come within the real estate exception to governmental immunity as codified in the Judicial Code.*fn2 See Page 130} Fizzano v. Borough of Ridley Park, 94 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 179, 182, 503 A.2d 57, 58 (1986) ("The conduct complained of must be directly related to the condition of the property.") (latter emphasis added).

We are of the view, in this respect, that appellant, in averring the City's "failure to provide a safe means for a person on crutches to go from one building level to another without stairs," did not allege any defective condition of real property, but instead only alleged negligent or otherwise unsatisfactory procedures in the transportation of prisoners within the involved building. The very presence of stairs no doubt presents a potential hazard to any individual whose ambulatory capabilities have been in some manner restricted, as is the case, rather clearly, with a person handcuffed to a crutch. That reality, however, does not compel the conclusion that stairs are "defective" real property either in common parlance or for purposes of the Judicial Code. The most that can be said, as suggested above, is that the City's procedure in transporting appellant may have been poorly conceived, and hence that it may have discharged

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 131]

    its supervisory duty in a negligent fashion. The trial court thus did not err in sustaining the preliminary objections. Compare Lewis v. Hatboro-Horsham School District, 77 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 287, 465 A.2d 1090 (1983) (held : child who was injured by line-drive in baseball game did not receive injury attributable to school district's negligent care, custody and control of its real estate; injury was, instead, attributable to poor supervision). And compare Fizzano, 94 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 182, 503 A.2d at 58 (1986) (held : child who was injured by hockey puck while ice-skating at public lake did not receive injury attributable to municipality's "negligent conduct related to the care, custody and control of real property"; injury was, instead attributable to " failure to supervise the activities of third parties") (emphasis added).

Appellant further urges this Court to depart from our precedents precluding the imputation of intentional or malicious conduct on the part of municipal employees to the municipality itself. Such precedent, however, results from the plain reading of the Judicial Code, which contains no exception to immunity which would make governmental units "liable for the willful tortious conduct of its employees." Acker v. Spangler, 92 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 616, 618, 500 A.2d 206, 207 (1985). See also Gilbert v. School District of Philadelphia, 98 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 282, 286, 511 A.2d 258, 260 (1986). We thus decline to repudiate existing case law.

Affirmed.

Order

Now, June 26, 1987, the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Civil Trial Division, August Term, 1984, at No. 957, dated April 3, 1985, is hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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