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Beck v. Holly Tree Homeowners Association

March 1, 2010

MARILYN BECK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOLLY TREE HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court are the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants, Holly Tree Homeowners Association ("Holly Tree") and RMS Management, Inc. ("RMS") (collectively, "Defendants") (Doc. 28); the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Third Party Defendants, Ray's Snow Plowing and Ray Gambone (collectively, "Third Party Defendants") (Doc. 29); Plaintiff's Opposition in response to both motions (Doc. 30); and, the Response in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants, Holly Tree and RMS (Doc. 31). For the reasons set forth below, this Court will grant the motion filed by Defendants and dismiss the motion filed by Third Party Defendants.

BACKGROUND

This action arises from Plaintiff's slip and fall accident which occurred while she was a resident at a townhouse she owned in the Holly Tree Estates in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. Defendants, Holly Tree and RMS, are the homeowners' association and property management company, respectively, that were allegedly responsible for maintaining the common area walkway on which Plaintiff fell. As a townhouse owner, Plaintiff was required to pay dues to the property manager, and Plaintiff received snow removal services with respect to the parking areas and the common sidewalks. Plaintiff alleges that, on December 5, 2005, at around 6:00 p.m., she was walking from the mailbox, located in a common area of her townhouse complex, back to her townhouse when she stepped on what appeared to be dry concrete and slipped. The curb did not appear to be icy or snow-covered, and Plaintiff did not see what caused her to fall. After she fell, a neighbor who resided in the community, William Parlaman, observed Plaintiff lying on the ground and went to her aid. As a result of her fall, Plaintiff sustained a severe wrist fracture. At issue in this case is whether Defendants are liable for damages allegedly sustained by Plaintiff as a result of the slip and fall accident. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Holly Tree breached its contractual obligations by failing to properly maintain the common areas of the association property (Count I). Plaintiff also alleges that Holly Tree was negligent in failing to provide maintenance in the form of snow and/or ice removal (Count II). Plaintiff further claims that RMS was negligent in failing to provide maintenance in the form of snow and/or ice removal (Count III).

In addition, Holly Tree and RMS have brought a third party complaint against Ray's Snow Plowing and Ray Gambone, alleging breach of contract and claiming joint and several liability or indemnification and/or contribution from Ray's Snow Plowing and Ray Gambone. Holly Tree and RMS contracted with Third Party Defendants, Ray's Snow Plowing and Ray Gambone, for the provision of snow removal and ice melting services. (Third Party Compl. ¶ 7.) They allege that Third Party Defendants were responsible for the care and maintenance of the common area, as well as for inspection of the premises, plowing, snow and ice removal, and application of ice melt products. (Third Party Compl. ¶ 13.) They also allege that Third Party Defendants were contractually obligated to indemnify them against certain claims arising out of the performance of the work, and "to provide a certificate of insurance naming the property owner and property manager as an additional insured." (Third Party Compl. ¶ 19.) Accordingly, Holly Tree and RMS bring three claims against Third Party Defendants, grounded in theories of common law indemnification (Count I), contractual indemnification (Count II), and breach of contract (Count III). Therefore, an additional issue in this case is the extent to which Third Party Defendants are liable for Plaintiff's injuries and/or for breaching any contractual obligations owed to Holly Tree and RMS.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where the movant establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Levy v. Sterling Holding Co., LLC, 544 F.3d 493, 501 (3d Cir. 2008). A factual dispute between the parties will not defeat a motion for summary judgment unless it is both genuine and material. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Dee v. Borough of Dunmore, 549 F.3d 225, 229 (3d Cir. 2008). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Fakete v. Aetna, Inc., 308 F.3d 335, 337 (3d Cir. 2002). The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the non-moving party to carry its burden of proof. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986).

Once the movant has carried its burden under Rule 56, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). Under Rule 56(e), the opponent must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial and may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. See Martin v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295 (3d Cir. 2007). At the summary judgment stage, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Jiminez v. All American Rathskeller, Inc., 503 F.3d 247, 253 (3d Cir. 2007). In doing so, the court must construe the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Horsehead Indus., Inc. v. Paramount Commc'ns, Inc., 258 F.3d 132, 140 (3d Cir. 2001). The court must award summary judgment on all claims unless the non-movant shows through affidavits or admissible evidence that an issue of material fact remains. See, e.g., Love v. Rancocas Hosp., 270 F. Supp. 2d 576, 579 (D.N.J. 2003); Koch Materials Co. v. Shore Slurry Seal, Inc., 205 F. Supp. 2d 324, 330 (D.N.J. 2002).

DISCUSSION

Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) Pennsylvania's "hills and ridges" doctrine precludes Plaintiff from recovering in this suit; (2) Plaintiff has not established that Defendants had notice of any alleged dangerous condition; and (3) Plaintiff has not established that her slip and fall was caused by black ice. Similarly, Third Party Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to establish the requisite causal connection; therefore, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for negligence or breach of contract against Defendants and, as a result, all third party claims must also fail. In response, Plaintiff argues that Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment because: (1) the icy conditions on the day of the fall were not the result of a purely natural accumulation, precluding application of the hills and ridges doctrine; (2) Defendants had notice of the icy conditions; and (3) there is a genuine issue of material fact as to the cause of Plaintiff's fall. Since Third Party Defendants' motion hinges on the Court's finding as to whether Defendants are entitled to summary judgment, this Court will proceed by addressing Defendants' motion first.

I. Holly Tree and RMS's Motion

Defendants argue that they are protected from liability by the hills and ridges doctrine because Plaintiff cannot prove that: (1) the snow accumulated into hills and ridges which unreasonably obstructed travel and constituted a danger; (2) Defendants had notice of that condition; and (3) Plaintiff fell as a result of that condition. (Defs.' Reply 11-14.) Defendants' argument is premised on the assumption that there were generally slippery conditions, and that under such circumstances, Defendants had no duty to clear the snow. (Defs.' Reply 14.) Thus, Defendants maintain that absent a finding of hills and ridges, they neither owed nor breached any duty to Plaintiff, and as a result, cannot be held liable for Plaintiff's slip and fall. (Defs.' Reply 14.)

Defendants also contend that they had no notice of any alleged dangerous condition, and that absent such notice, a landowner cannot be liable to an invitee injured by such a condition. (Defs.' Reply 13.) Specifically, Defendants point to the testimony of Plaintiff and her neighbor, Mr. Parlaman, that snow had been falling for only approximately a half hour to an hour prior to the time of the incident. (Defs.' Reply 13.) Defendants assert that Plaintiff has failed to show that they had either actual or constructive notice of any alleged hazardous condition. (Defs.' Reply 13.)

Defendants further argue that Plaintiff cannot prove what actually caused her to fall and can only speculate as to the possible cause. (Defs.' Reply 11.) Defendants rely on Plaintiff's testimony that she never saw what caused her to fall and could only assume she fell on black ice because it looked invisible. (Defs.' Reply 14.) Furthermore, since Plaintiff testified that she walked through a small amount of snow on the grass before approaching the walkway, Defendants argue that the only realistic explanation for Plaintiff's fall is that she slipped as a result of snow on the bottom of her shoes. (Defs.' Reply 14.)

II. Third Party Defendants' Motion

Third Party Defendants, Ray's Snow Plowing and Ray Gambone, argue that Plaintiff has failed to produce evidence of the proximate cause of her injuries. As a result, she has failed to state a cause of action for negligence, and in turn, has failed to state a cause of action for breach of contract against Defendants, Holly Tree and RMS. Therefore, all third party claims must fail. Specifically, Third Party Defendants aver that Plaintiff testified that the area where she slipped did not appear wet, icy, or covered with snow, and, therefore, Plaintiff has failed to show that there was any ice on the curb where she slipped and that ice was the actual cause of her injuries. (Third Party Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. ΒΆ 10.) Furthermore, they contend that the statement provided by Mr. Parlaman does not indicate that Plaintiff slipped on black ice, that Plaintiff told him she slipped on black ice, or that he observed black ice in the area where Plaintiff fell. (Third Party Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 6.) Mr. Parlaman also testified that he saw no ice where Plaintiff fell and only a fresh coating of light snow. ...


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