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Johnson v. SJP Management LLC

February 12, 2009

JADA JOHNSON
v.
SJP MANAGEMENT LLC, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

This is a diversity action alleging negligence against a property management company and an elevator maintenance company arising out of injuries allegedly suffered by Jada Johnson ("Plaintiff") when elevator doors closed on her arm. Presently before the Court are Defendants' Daubert Motions to Preclude Plaintiff's Expert, Ronald D. Schloss, from Testifying at Trial (Doc. Nos. 25, 28), and Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Doc. Nos. 22, 23). For the following reasons, the Motions will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2005, Plaintiff worked for BISYS Retirement Services, a business located in a four-story office complex known as the Montgomery Corporate Center in Dresher, Pennsylvania. (See Pl.'s Dep. 17; Pl.'s Interrog. ¶¶ 3, 11; Aff. of David Wess ¶¶ 1, 6.) The Montgomery Corporate Center is a modern office complex that was constructed in 2002 and outfitted with 3,500 lb-capacity hydraulic passenger elevators. (See Doc. No. 23, Def. SJP's Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 2.) The elevators feature a door re-opening device called the Lambda 3-D entrance protection system, a state-of-the-art technology that uses infrared beams and detectors that "create an invisible safety net across the elevator entrance" designed to prevent the doors from closing on passengers. (See id., Ex. 3, Unitec Info. Sheet; see also id., Ex. 15, Expert Report of Jon B. Halpern 2.) The Lambda 3-D system has two modes of protection. (See Expert Report Supp. of Jon B. Halpern 1.) The first is a set of 56 infrared beams that projects across the door opening. (Id.) When the beams are obstructed, the controller signals the doors to stay open. (Id.) The second, 3-D mode of protection is a set of 12 beams that projects out from the elevator doors at 45 degree angles. (Id.) When an object moves toward the door and obstructs the beams, the controller signals for the doors to stay open. (Id.) If any beam in the curtain is interrupted, "the Lambda system reopens the elevator door instantly -- without touching passengers." (Doc. No. 23, Ex. 3, Unitec Info. Sheet.) The 3-D protection is automatically disabled when the doors begin to close, because the movement of the doors causes the system to sense an approaching obstruction. (See Schloss Dep. 247-48; Halpern Report Supp. 1.)*fn1 Elevators using Lambda 3-D technology do not require contact with an object or person to signal the doors to re-open, unlike mechanical devices that detect obstructions in the path of the doors only when the leading edge of the door makes contact with a person or object. (See Doc. No. 23, Ex. 17,Expert Report of Thomas R. Davies 2.) If the Lambda 3-D system malfunctions, the elevator doors stay open and do not close. (Schloss Dep. 248; Davies Report 3.)

In January 2005, the owner of the Montgomery Corporate Center entered into a property management contract with SJP Management, LLC ("Defendant SJP"). (See Doc. No. 23, Ex. 1, Contract between the Montgomery Corporate Center and Def. SJP ¶ 3.2.5, Jan. 5, 2005.) Pursuant to the property management contract, Defendant SJP manages, operates, and supervises the Montgomery Corporate Center, including the elevators. (Id.) The property management contract requires that Defendant SJP "negotiate contracts with independent contractors for . . . elevator . . . maintenance." (Id. ¶ 3.2.5.5.) Defendant SJP entered into a maintenance contract with Otis Elevator Company ("Defendant Otis") to maintain the elevators. (See Doc. No. 23, Ex. 2, Contract between Def. SJP and Def. Otis, May 3, 2002.) The elevator maintenance contract requires that Defendant Otis "periodically examine safety devices" and conduct a variety of annual tests on the elevators. (Id. at 3.) The elevator maintenance contract also requires that Defendant Otis install a microprocessor system that continuously monitors the elevators and notifies a dispatching center if any elevator is inoperative. (Id. at 5.) The contract includes a section titled "Shared Responsibility" that requires that Defendant SJP notify Defendant Otis "immediately" via a 24-hour hotline if any one of the elevators malfunctions or is in a dangerous condition. (Id.) Until the problem with the elevator is corrected, the contract requires Defendant SJP to remove the elevator from service and "take all necessary precautions to prevent access or use." (Id.)

Plaintiff testified that on December 14, 2005, at "around 11:00 a.m.," she was in the cafeteria on the ground floor of the Montgomery Corporate Center purchasing food items. (Pl.'s Dep. 58-59.) Plaintiff worked on the second floor. (Id. at 41.) Because Plaintiff was carrying paperwork and the food items that she had purchased from the cafeteria, Plaintiff decided to take the elevator from the ground floor back to her desk on the second floor. (Id.) Plaintiff "was hurrying to get to the elevator [and to] get on [it]" since she "wanted to get back up to [her] desk." (Id. at 61-62.) At 11:17 a.m., Plaintiff pushed a button for the elevators and "a few seconds" later the doors to Elevator No. 2 opened. (Id. at 63; Doc. No. 23, Ex. 6, Elevator Access Card Records.) Plaintiff observed nothing unusual as the elevator doors opened. (Pl.'s Dep. 65.) However, in the "half of a second" that it took Plaintiff to step inside the elevator, the elevator doors "closed abruptly" and made contact with Plaintiff's left and right shoulders, causing her body to get "caught" in between the doors. (Id. at 65, 78, 80.) Both of Plaintiff's feet were inside the elevator as the elevator doors closed on her shoulders. (Id. at 91.) Plaintiff's body was "pinched" between the elevator doors in this position for "between one and three [seconds.]" (Id. at 80, 89.) Plaintiff then "jump[ed] right back out" of the elevator, and the elevator doors continued to close. (Id. at 65, 78, 81, 91.) The "last thing remaining" inside the elevator was Plaintiff's arm. (Id. at 78.) Plaintiff's hand and lower arm became "caught in the elevator" door. (Id. at 81.) Plaintiff's right arm remained stuck in the elevator doors from her elbow to her fingers for "about thirty or forty seconds." (Id. at 65, 82-83, 89-90.) Plaintiff used her left hand to pry open the elevator doors to release her right arm. (Id. at 65.) As a result of the doors closing, Plaintiff suffered injuries to her right hand and forearm. (Id. at 66.) Plaintiff is the only witness to the incident.*fn2 (Id. at 53.)

The occurrence of which Plaintiff complains -- sudden closing of elevator doors, without warning -- had never happened before at the Montgomery Corporate Center. Hundreds of employees utilize the elevators each day. (Wess Aff. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff herself used the elevators "thousands of times" prior to the alleged incident. (Pl.'s Dep. 43.) Plaintiff is not aware of any problems with the elevator doors at any time before the alleged incident:

Q: Had you ever had any problems with the opening or closing of the doors on elevator number two . . . at any time before December 14, 2005?

A: No. . . .

Q: Are you aware of anyone having any problems with elevator number two before December 14, 2005? Yes or no?

A: No.

Q: Are you aware of any problems involving the opening or shutting of the doors involving elevator number two before December 14, 2005?

A: No.

Q: Are you aware of anyone getting injured on any elevator on the first floor at the Montgomery Corporate Center before December 14, 2005?

A: No.

Q: Are you aware of any problems with the mechanism, the sensory devices, the infrared device, or any of the devices involving elevator number two at any time before December 14, 2005?

A: No. . . .

Q: In the thousands of times that you rode these elevators, this is the only time that the doors closed while you or anyone you were aware of was entering the elevator?

A: Yes. . . .

Q: You don't know whether anyone ever complained to the elevator company about this kind of incident happening before?

A: No. I don't know of anyone else. Ever. (Id. at 47-48, 161-62.) Prior to the incident Plaintiff had never reported any problems with the subject elevator to her employer or any other party. (Id. at 48-49.)

There is no evidence in the record that anyone encountered a problem with the elevators similar to that encountered by Plaintiff. David Wess, Defendant SJP's on-site property manager, submitted an affidavit that states "[p]rior to December 14, 2005, there were no reported incidents of elevator doors closing rapidly, without warning, including Elevator No. 2" and "no reported injuries caused by the elevator doors, including Elevator No. 2." (Wess Aff. ¶¶ 4-5.) Plaintiff's co-workers testified similarly that they experienced no problems with the elevators prior to the alleged incident and were aware of no one else who had. For example, Plaintiff's supervisor, Stephanie Szot, testified as follows:

Q: Ms. Szot, have you, yourself, ever had any problems with the elevators in this building?

A: No, I have not.

Q: And have you specifically ever had any problems with elevator number two?

A: No.

Q: Has anyone ever reported to you any safety concerns regarding the elevators?

A: No.

Q: Has anyone ever reported to you the elevator doors suddenly and unexpectedly striking them?

A: No. (Szot Dep. 16-17.) Plaintiff's co-workers Elizabeth Mark and Kate Malinowski offered similar testimony and were aware of nobody other than Plaintiff who experienced a problem with the elevators. (See Mark Dep. 8; Malinowski Dep. 12.)

Plaintiff's Expert Ronald D. Schloss and various other experts reviewed the Elevator Maintenance Records and Access Card Records and concluded that Elevator No. 2 required no repairs or maintenance after the alleged incident in order to return the elevator to normal operation. (Schloss Dep. 223, 226-27; Dinoff Report 4; Davies Report 3.) Schloss, who is the Executive Director of SEEC, LLC, an engineering consulting firm, testified that he had no evidence that the elevator door-close or -open circuitry was ever fixed or replaced as a result of the accident. (Schloss Dep. 223.) After reviewing the Elevator Maintenance Records, Schloss was unaware of any "remedial or corrective measures" that were required after the incident involving Plaintiff.*fn3 (Id. at 226-27.) Lawrence C. Dinoff, an architect, observed that "the elevator operated normally and continuously during the days of December 14, 2005 (the day of the incident) and December 15, 2005, the following day, without any abnormal delays caused by a failure or subsequent repair of [the elevator]." (Dinoff Report 4.) Thomas Davies, an elevator repairman, observed that "[a]n electro-mechanical device will not fix or repair itself, yet there was no prior similar events or malfunction found on the day of the incident or after the incident." (Davies Report 3.)

The elevator access cards for Elevator No. 2 show that the elevator was used, without a problem, four minutes before Plaintiff used the elevator and again twelve minutes after Plaintiff used it. (See Wess Aff. ¶ 7; see also Doc. No. 23, Ex. 6, Elevator Access Card Records.) In his affidavit, Wess indicates that he used Elevator No. 2 "at 11:29 a.m." -- twelve minutes after the incident involving Plaintiff -- "and did not experience any problems." (Wess Aff. ¶ 7.) Wess was not alone. Before the close of business on December 14, 2005, Elevator No. 2 was used more than 100 times after the incident involving Plaintiff. (See Doc. No. 23, Ex. 6, Elevator Access Card Records.) No problems were reported, and no repairs were necessary. (See Wess Aff. ¶ 10.) Defendant Otis was not notified of any problem with the elevator that would require maintenance or repairs since the microprocessor system that monitors the elevators did not report a malfunction. (See Doc. No. 23, Def. SJP's Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 14; see also id., Ex. 4, Elevator Maintenance Records.)

To date, except for the incident involving Plaintiff, there have been "no reports of the elevator doors suddenly and unexpectedly closing on anyone." (Wess Aff. ¶ 10.) The elevator passed all state inspections without deficiencies, including a routine inspection on August 17, 2005, four months before the alleged incident. (See Doc. No. 23, Ex. 5, Elevator Inspection Records 2002-2005; Halpern Report 2-3.) Defendant Otis observed no problems with the doors closing in the course of its maintenance.*fn4 (See Doc. No. 23, Ex. 4, Elevator Maintenance Records; see also Schloss Dep. at 211-12, noting "routine inspection" by Defendant Otis in September 2005.)

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 1, 2007, Plaintiff filed a one-count Complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas alleging that Defendants SJP and Otis were negligent.*fn5 (See Compl.)

Plaintiff alleged that Defendants "knew or should have known" that the elevator doors were a "dangerous and hazardous condition," and that Defendants failed to (1) warn Plaintiff of the condition, (2) repair the condition, and (3) properly inspect and maintain the elevators.*fn6 (Compl. ¶ 9a-h.) On December 26, 2007, Defendants removed the action to this Court, which has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.*fn7 (See Doc. No. 1.)

Plaintiff intends to call Ronald Schloss as her expert witness at trial. In his expert report Schoss states that "the primary cause of [Plaintiff's] incident and subsequent injuries was improper preventive maintenance by Otis Elevator Company." (Schloss Report 3.) Defendants contend that Schloss's opinion "is not based upon sufficient facts or data" and "is the result of no 'principles and methods' of any kind." (Doc. No. 28, Def. Otis's Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Preclude 3; see also Doc. No. 25, Def. SJP's Mot. to Preclude ¶ 1.) Defendants filed the instant Daubert Motions to Preclude Plaintiff's Expert, Ronald D. Schloss, from Testifying at Trial.

(See Doc. Nos. 25, 28.)

Defendants also filed the instant Motions for Summary Judgment. (See Doc. Nos. 22, 23.) Defendants contend that Plaintiff fails to establish a negligence claim since there is no evidence that either Defendant had notice of any defects or malfunctioning of the elevator in question, no evidence that the elevator door failed to work properly, and no evidence that either Defendant caused the alleged incident. (See Doc. No. ...


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