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McGuire v. United States

April 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 21.) Because genuine disputes of material fact remain, the motion will be denied. This Court has jurisdiction pursuantto 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("federal question").


I. Factual Background

Plaintiff Edward McGuire ("McGuire") was employed as a driver for the Nicholas Trucking Company ("Nicholas"). (Def. Stat. Facts ¶ 1, Doc. 23; Pl. Answer to Stat. of Facts ¶ 1, Doc. 24.) In November 2006, the time of the relevant conduct, McGuire was a large man weighing two-hundred and ninety (290) pounds and was six (6) feet, eight (8) inches tall. (McGuire Dep. 49:2-4, Dec. 14, 2009.) Nicholas had a contract with Defendant the United States Postal Service ("USPS") whereby Nicholas would haul mail from a USPS distribution center in Scranton, Pennsylvania to various post offices. (Def. Stat. Facts ¶ 2; Pl. Answer to Stat. of Facts ¶ 2, Doc. 24.) The mail is transported in receptacles known as "ERCs." (McGuire Dep. 40:22-41:3.) ERCs look like large baker's racks and have wheels allowing them to be pushed or pulled. (McGuire Dep. 41:1-6, 52:16-24.) ERCs normally weigh between three hundred (300) and eight hundred (800) pounds. (Joseph Sakson Dep. 13, Nov. 13, 2009.) During the holiday season, the ERCs could way twice as much due to the added weight of catalogs. (McGuire Dep. 54:17-55:5.)

The present litigation stems from the delivery of mail to the Lake Ariel Post Office ("Lake Ariel"). McGuire would usually back his truck into the loading dock at Lake Ariel, and then manually place a mechanical plate, attached to the dock, into his truck to unload the ERCs. (McGuire Dep. 82:8-19.) McGuire used a hook to pull the dock plate into his truck. (McGuire Dep. 82:15-25.) Without the dock plate extending from the truck to the dock, containers in the truck do not roll free onto the dock because there is a small gully or gap between the truck and the dock. (McGuire Dep. 52:18-53:6, 61:13-19.) This gap is six (6) to eight (8) inches, with perhaps a few more inches of difference with a heavy object on it. (McGuire Dep. 85:22-86:8.)

On November 27, 2006, McGuire delivered mail to Lake Ariel and he did not see the hook used to operate the dock plate. (McGuire Dep. 51:20-52:7.) Instead, McGuire rolled the ERCs out of his truck and into the gap, then he pulled the ERCs out of the gap and onto the dock. (McGuire Dep. 53:7-16.) McGuire informed the employees at Lake Ariel about the missing hook, and he was assured that it would be replaced. (McGuire Dep. 59:10-18.) McGuire did not call the dispatch at Nicholas to inform them of the problem at the Lake Ariel loading dock because the issue was already resolved. (McGuire Dep. 57:14-17.) McGuire had never been given instructions by Nicholas or the Defendants as to what to do if the hook was missing. (McGuire Dep. 56:12-20.)

The following day, November 28, 2006, McGuire again returned to Lake Ariel with six heavy ERCs that needed to be off loaded. (McGuire Dep. 60:9-21.)Although McGuire again could not locate the hook, he did not consider skipping the delivery to Lake Ariel. (McGuire Dep. 86:9-15.) McGuire was afraid of being fired if he did not deliver the mail. (McGuire Dep. 86:9-87:10.) McGuire was able to successfully get the first ERC onto the dock. (McGuire Dep. 60:13-23.) When moving the second ERC, however, McGuire's foot slipped and got caught between the plate and the cement abutment, and the ERC pulled him forward. (McGuire Dep. 60:24-61:8.) McGuire immediately suffered pain in his back, and subsequently pain in his foot. (McGuire Dep. 62:11-15, 62:24-63:4.)

II. Procedural Background

On August 22, 2008, Plaintiffs filed their complaint in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) Defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment on March 22, 2010. (Doc. 21.) This motion has been briefed by both parties, and is now ripe for disposition.


Summary judgment is appropriate 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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Id. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERALPRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for ...

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