United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
January 2, 2004.
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL INC. CORPORATE PARENT t/a PHILADELPHIA DOWNTOWN MARRIOTT HOTEL
The opinion of the court was delivered by: STEWART DALZELL, District Judge
Bobby Rucker suffered an injury at a Marriott hotel, and he sued the
entity that he believed to be responsible for owning and operating those
premises, Marriott International, Inc. ("Marriott International").
Marriott International has moved for summary judgment,*fn1 and we here
address that motion and other related matters.
On October 15, 2001, Rucker visited the Marriott hotel located at 1201
Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania*fn2 as part of his duties as a
deliveryman for Consolidated Freightways. While making his delivery,
Rucker allegedly "skidded" on a greasy loading dock, fell to the ground,
and suffered personal injuries. Compl. ¶ 6.
Rucker initiated this action by filing a complaint in the Philadelphia
County Court of Common Pleas on August 4, 2003. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex.
A. The complaint named Marriott International as a defendant because
Rucker believed that it was the "the owner  and/or operator " of the
Hotel and was therefore "responsible for [its] maintenance." Compl. ¶
3. The complaint's sole cause of action sounded in negligence.
Marriott International removed the case to this Court on August 15,
2003 and shortly thereafter answered the complaint. In its answer,
Marriott International "specifically denied that [it was] the owner or
operator" of the Hotel. Answer ¶ 2.
On November 17, 2003, Marriott International filed a motion for summary
judgment asserting that it did not owe Rucker a duty of care because it
did not own or operate the Hotel and concluding that, absent any duty to
him, Rucker's negligence
claim could not succeed as a matter of law. Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot.
Summ. J. at 5. The exhibits supporting the motion for summary judgment
revealed, for the first time, that Philadelphia Market Street HMC Limited
Partnership (the "Market Street Partnership") actually owns the Hotel and
that Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. ("Marriott Services") operates it.
See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. C. Marriott Services is a
wholly-owned subsidiary of Marriott International. See Def.'s
Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D ¶ D, at 2.*fn3
In his response to the motion for summary judgment, Rucker insists that
he "properly named Marriott International" as a defendant. See
Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. at 8. Rucker also suggests that we should
permit him to amend his complaint to join the Market Street Partnership
and Marriott Services as defendants, with the amendment relating back to
the date on which he filed the original complaint. We address each
argument in turn.
A. Summary Judgment
Rucker's only claim against Marriott International is for negligence.
In Pennsylvania,*fn4 "[t]he necessary elements to maintain an action in
negligence are: a duty or obligation recognized by the law, requiring the
actor to conform to a certain standard of conduct; a failure to conform
to the standard required; a causal connection between the conduct and the
resulting injury and actual loss or damage resulting to the interests of
another." Morena v. South Hills Health System, 501 Pa. 634, 642
n.5, 462 A.2d 680, 684 n.5 (1983).
Marriott International argues that it deserves summary judgment because
it owed no duty to Rucker and, thus, it could not have been negligent.
See Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 5. Although Rucker
believed that Marriott International owed him a duty of reasonable care
by virtue of its apparent ownership and operation of the Hotel, Marriott
International has presented uncontroverted evidence that it neither owned
nor operated the Hotel on October 15, 2001. See Def.'s Mot.
Summ. J. Ex. C. As
Rucker has not explicitly advanced any other basis for imposing on
Marriott International a duty to maintain premises that it did not own or
operate, we hold that Marriott International owed no duty to him.
Still, Rucker suggests that we should pierce Marriott International's
corporate veil and hold it responsible for the negligence of its "shell
corporations which were created . . . to avoid any potential
liability." See Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. at 8. This
suggestion faces a heavy burden because "courts will disregard the
corporate entity only in limited circumstances when used to defeat public
convenience, justify wrong, protect fraud or defend crime." Kiehl v.
Action Mfg. Co., 517 Pa. 183, 190, 535 A.2d 571, 574 (1987). In this
case, there is no evidence that Marriott International created the Market
Street Partnership or Marriott Services for any of the purposes that
Kiehl forbids, so there is no basis for piercing the corporate
Marriott International owed no duty to Rucker, and it is not legally
responsible for the acts and omissions of its wholly owned subsidiaries.
In these circumstances, Marriott International could not have been
negligent, so we shall enter summary judgment in its favor. See
Clark v. Marriott Envtl. Servs., No. 93-3279, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
1328 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 6, 1994) (R. Kelly, J.) (granting summary judgment to
defendant when its wholly owned subsidiary was responsible for
maintaining the premises where plaintiff slipped and fell).
B. Amending the Complaint
Perhaps expecting that his claims against Marriott International would
not survive summary judgment, Rucker also has requested "leave to amend
[his] Complaint to relate back to the date of the original pleading."
Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. at 9. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
15(a) permits amendment of a complaint "by leave of court" and directs
that such leave "shall be freely given when justice so requires."
The Rule leaves to our discretion whether to permit amendment, but the
Supreme Court has emphasized that district courts should grant permission
"freely," except in cases of "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive
on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by
amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by
virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment."
Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); see also Zenith
Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, 401 U.S. 321, 330-31 (1971)
("[I]n deciding whether to permit . . . amendment [to the answer], the
trial court was required to take into account any prejudice that [the
plaintiff] would have suffered as a result."); In re Burlington Coat
Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997) ("Among the
grounds that could justify a denial of leave to amend are undue delay,
bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, and futility."). In short,
Rule 15(a) creates a presumption in favor of permitting a party to amend his
pleading, but we may refuse to allow amendment that would unduly
prejudice an opposing party.
The Market Street Partnership and Marriott Services would suffer
prejudice if we allowed Rucker to amend and join them as defendants.
Rucker has not yet asserted any claims against either of these entities.
If he filed a new lawsuit against them, Pennsylvania's two-year statute
of limitations for negligence actions would condemn it to an
unceremonious demise. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(7).
Thus, permitting Rucker's amendment would prejudice the Market Street
Partnership and Marriott Services because it would breathe new life into
claims that are now time-barred.
Whether this prejudice would be "undue" that is, undeserved
is a more difficult question. When the amending party could have
identified the proper party in its original pleading*fn5 and when
amending the pleading would prejudice the opposing party, we cannot
permit the amendment unless the amending party demonstrates that the
opposing party's actions justify the imposition of the prejudice. Here,
that Marriott International deserves any prejudice that it suffers
because it failed to disclose that the Market Street Partnership owned
the Hotel and that Marriott Services operated the Hotel until after the
statute of limitations had expired.*fn6 See Pi.'s Mem. Opp'n
Summ. J. at 5-6.
Marriott International may not have assisted Rucker in identifying the
proper defendants, but it had no obligation to do so. Marriott
International was obliged to answer the complaint, and, about six weeks
before the statute of limitations ran, it timely filed an answer in which
it "specifically denied" that it owned or operated the Hotel.
See Answer ¶ 2. Even though it did not identify the
entities that actually did own and operate the Hotel, this response fully
complied with the Rules.*fn7 Marriott International had no obligation to
disclose the Hotel's owner and/or operator arose until Rucker sought
discovery, which he did nearly two weeks after the statue of limitations
had expired. See PL's Surreply at 4 n.1 (reporting that Rucker
sent discovery requests on or about October 28, 2003). Because Marriott
International had no duty to identify the owner and operator of
the Hotel until after the statute of limitations had passed, we
hold that allowing Rucker to amend his complaint would unduly prejudice
the Market Street Partnership and Marriott Services. See Jacobs v.
McCloskey & Co., 40 F.R.D. 486 (E.D. Pa. 1966) (John W. Lord,
J.) (concluding that permitting plaintiff to amend complaint to add a new
defendant after expiration of statute of limitations would unduly
prejudice the new defendant). Thus, we shall not permit Rucker to amend
An appropriate Order follows.
AND NOW, this 2nd day of January, 2004, upon consideration of
defendant's motion for summary judgment (docket entry # 8), plaintiff's
response thereto, defendant's motion to file reply brief (docket entry #
10), and plaintiff's motion to file surreply (docket entry # 11) and in
accordance with the accompanying Memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED that:
1. Defendant's motion to file reply brief is GRANTED;
2. The Clerk shall DOCKET defendant's reply brief, a copy of which is
attached hereto, as entry # 12;
3. Plaintiff's motion to file surreply is GRANTED;
4. The Clerk shall DOCKET plaintiff's surreply brief, a copy of which
is attached hereto, as entry # 13;
5. Plaintiff's request to amend the complaint is DENIED;
6. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED;
7. JUDGMENT IS ENTERED in favor of defendant Marriott International,
Inc. and against plaintiff Bobby Rucker; and
8. The Clerk shall CLOSE this civil action statistically.