The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MUNLEY, District Judge
Before the court for disposition is the defendants' motion for
partial summary judgment. The plaintiff is Lillian Guernsey by
and through her Conservator, Thomas Itterley, ("Guernsey" or
"plaintiff") and the defendants are Country Living Personal Care
Home(s), Inc., Shirley D. Sheridan a/k/a Shirley d. Sherridan and
Shirley D. Sheridan a/k/a Shirley D. Sherridan d/b/a Country
Living Person Care Home (collectively referred to as "Country
Living" or "defendants"). Guernsey has brought suit to recover
damages for a sexual assault that she alleges took place at
Country Living while she was a resident there. The matter has been fully
briefed and is ripe for disposition.
The basic background facts are undisputed by the parties.
Defendant Country Living is a Pennsylvania corporation with the
designated purpose of operating a personal care home. The home is
located in Nicholson, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, and its sole
owner is Defendant Shirley Sheridan. (Pl. Ex. A, Sheridan Dep. at
17). The home first opened in October of 2001 with Laura Wickizer
as the designated administrator. (Pl. Ex. C, Wickizer Dep. at 24,
31). Wickizer is licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of
Public Welfare as a personal care home administrator. (Pl. Ex. C,
Wickizer Dep. at 13).
Plaintiff Lillian Guernsey was a resident of Country Living in
Nicholson, Pennsylvania. At the relevant time, she was eighty-six
years of age, and had suffered from moderate dementia since at
least August 2000. Beginning on October 26, 2001, Daniel Statham
also resided at Country Living. Statham, a thirty-one year old
man, was on probation after serving six years in prison for
aggravated indecent assault. Statham is mentally retarded. (Pl.
Ex. C, Wickizer Dep. at 27-28). He was on probation for six
months for failing to provide his probation office with an
address in violation of "Megan's Law." (Def. Ex. L, Moser Dep. at
33-34, 43). Statham moved into the facility in October of 2001. On February 27, 2002, he
sexually assaulted Plaintiff Guernsey.
Subsequently, plaintiff filed the instant complaint alleging
the following four counts: 1) Negligence (against all defendants)
in, inter alia, failing to protect the plaintiff and properly
supervise her and Statham, 2) Negligence against Shirley Sheridan
individually; 3) Negligence, vicarious liability, against all
defendants; and 4) Negligence, independent liability, against the
businesses. (See Doc. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff seeks both
compensatory and punitive damages. Defendants have moved for
partial summary judgment. They seek judgment on the punitive
damages claim and the independent liability claim against the
Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,
together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v.
Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R.
CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence
of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not
defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary
judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of
material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party
opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v.
Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The
burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the
non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is
material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the
burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment
may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of
record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient
to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party
satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party,
who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by
the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to
interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Id. at 324.
Defendants move for judgment on plaintiff's claim for punitive
damages and on Count Four for independent liability against the
businesses. We will address these issues separately. I. Punitive Damages
Each count of plaintiff's complaint contains a claim for
punitive damages. Defendants assert that the evidence of record
does not support a claim for punitive damages. After a careful
review, we disagree with the defendants and shall deny summary
judgment on the punitive damages claims.
The standard governing the award of punitive damages
in Pennsylvania is settled. Punitive damages may be
awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of
the defendant's evil motive or his reckless
indifference to the rights of others. . . . [W]hen
assessing the propriety of the imposition of punitive
damages, [t]he state of mind of the actor is vital.
The act, or the failure to act, must be intentional,
reckless or malicious.
Hutchison ex rel. Hutchison v. Luddy, 870 A.2d 766
, 770 (Pa.
2005) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Moreover, "in Pennsylvania, a punitive damages claim must be
supported by evidence sufficient to establish that (1) a
defendant had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to
which the plaintiff was exposed and that (2) he acted, or failed
to act, ...