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McDannell v. Thos. Somerville Co.

June 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane



In this action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant terminated his employment in retaliation for his filing worker's compensation claims, and that the termination therefore constituted unlawful discharge under Pennsylvania law. After removing the action to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, Defendant moved for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 30.) The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge J. Andrew Smyser, who issued a report and recommendation recommending that the motion for summary judgment be granted. (Doc. No. 42.) Plaintiff filed objections to the report and recommendation, and Defendant filed a brief in response. (Doc. Nos. 43, 44, and 47.) The motion for summary judgment is now ripe for disposition. Following consideration of the report and recommendation and Plaintiff's objections thereto, and following an independent examination of the evidence submitted by the parties, the Court finds Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim. The Court's decision is explained below.


The undisputed facts relevant to Plaintiff's claims and Defendant's motions show that Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a truck driver from in or around November 1999 until his employment was terminated on April 6, 2007. Between November 1999 and January 25, 2005, Plaintiff was involved in six accidents in which he injured himself, resulting in his missing more than one year of work. Plaintiff filed workers' compensation claims following each of these accidents and received workers' compensation benefits. The evidence shows that Plaintiff was permitted to return to work without any penalty following the accidents and after receiving workers' compensation benefits.

In 2007, Plaintiff was involved in another two accidents, on February 21 and again on April 2. Plaintiff did not seek workers' compensation for injuries sustained in either of these accidents.

On or about February 21, 2007, Defendant issued a policy that provided, among other things, that an employee found to have had three accidents within a three-year period or less could be immediately discharged from his employment. Although Plaintiff presented evidence from supervisory employees that they did not believe the policy was retroactive in scope (i.e., to take into account preventable accidents that occurred prior to the policy's enactment), it is undisputed that decisions regarding the policy's application and the determination of policy violations were made at the corporate level. One of Defendant's Vice Presidents charged with interpreting the preventable accident policy, Bruce Levingston, attested that the policy was to be applied retroactively.

On or about April 6, 2007, Plaintiff was notified that his employment was being terminated because he had been found to have had three preventable accidents within a three-year period. The evidence shows that the decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment rested with Vice Presidents Bruce Levingston and Douglas Riley. Plaintiff's immediate supervisors, Steve Reinick and Robert Ward, a branch manager and warehouse manager, respectively, did not participate in the decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment.


Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), a district court may designate a magistrate judge to consider pretrial motions such as a motion for summary judgment and to submit recommendations regarding the disposition of such motions. Following the issuance of a report and recommendation, the Court reviews de novo those portions of the report to which a party objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Following such review, the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendations made by the magistrate judge. Id.

Summary judgment is proper where "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 249. The evidence presented must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. The inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52.

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 694 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's claims, the nonmoving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in the complaint. Instead, the nonmoving party must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the nonmoving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material ...

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