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Cater v. Starbucks Corp.

August 10, 2010

GEORGE CATER AND CHERYL CATER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STARBUCKS CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs George Cater and Cheryl Cater filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, alleging negligence and loss of consortium arising from a fall on the allegedly icy Starbucks parking lot (docket no. 1). The defendants were Starbucks and Paul Mastropieri, the owner of the parking lot, who leased to Starbucks the building in which Starbucks was located and which was adjacent to the parking lot (docket no. 1).

On grounds of diversity defendants removed the suit to this court (docket no. 1). In its answer, Starbucks brought a cross-claim for indemnification and breach of contract against Mastropieri (docket no. 3). Starbucks then joined as third-party defendants the Beer Yard, which shared the parking lot with Starbucks, and Anthony Marchesani, who plowed the parking lot (docket nos. 9 & 10). Marchesani then brought a claim for indemnification against Mastropieri (docket no. 20). The Caters, in an amended complaint (docket no. 30), then brought claims against the third-party defendants, Marchesani and the Beer Yard.

Several motions for summary judgment have been filed, including: Starbucks' motion for summary judgment against the Caters, based on an open, obvious, and known condition/assumption of risk (docket no. 89); Starbucks' motion for summary judgment against the Caters and Mastropieri, based on a lack of duty and for indemnification (docket no. 90); Mastropieri's motion for summary judgment on all claims against him (docket no. 88), Beer Yard's motion for summary judgment on all claims against it (docket no. 86); and Marchesani's motion for summary judgment on all claims against him (docket no. 87).

The present memorandum and accompanying order address Paul Mastropieri's motion for summary judgment (docket no. 88), to which the plaintiffs (docket no. 97) and Starbucks (docket no. 102) have responded in opposition. Mastropieri has replied (docket no. 108-09). The motion is now ripe for disposition.

I. Facts

Cheryl Cater alleges that she fell in the parking lot located at 218 East Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania. The property, owned by Mastropieri, consists of a circular building leased to Starbucks and a rectangular building leased to the Beer Yard, a retail store and beverage distributor. The property includes a common parking lot and driveway between the two buildings.

In 1996, Starbucks and Mastropieri entered into a commercial lease for the circular building located at 218 East Lancaster Avenue. Starbucks Exh. C. The commercial lease defines the "premises" leased as "the building containing approximately 4,080 square feet of floor area." Starbucks' Lease at ¶ 1.*fn1

The lease specifies that, except for certain repairs specified by the prior section which are not at issue, the "Landlord shall pay for and make all other repairs and/or replacements to the Premises and the Building (including Common Areas as defined below)." Id. at ¶ 6.2. "Common Areas" is defined as "all portions of the Property (excluding the Premises and two (2) other premises identified as [the building now leased by the Beer Yard and the Kay & Sons Premises])." Id. at ¶ 12.1. The parking lot is a common area. The lease further states that:

Except for repairs and replacements to the Premises that Tenant must make under Section 6.1, Landlord shall pay for and make all other repairs and/or replacements to the Premises and the Building (including Common Areas as defined below). Landlord shall, at its sole cost and expense, make the repairs and replacements necessary to maintain the Building in a sound condition comparable to other similar buildings in the Wayne metropolitan area. Such repairs, replacements, and maintenance shall include the upkeep of the roof, foundation, exterior walls, interior structural walls, and all structural components of the Building and Property and structural and non-structural components of the Common Areas pursuant to Section 12. . . .

Tenant may at its option, undertake such repairs and deduct the cost thereof from the installments of Base Rent and Estimated Monthly Rent next falling due. Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the event of an emergency, Tenant may give Landlord such shorter notice as is practicable under the circumstances, and if Landlord fails to make such repairs immediately, Tenant may immediately undertake such repairs and deduct the cost thereof from the installments of Base Rent and all other charges next falling due.

Id. at ¶ 6.2. Under Section 12, Mastropieri is to pay the operating expenses-- "expenses actually paid in any calendar year directly attributable to maintaining, operating and providing services to and for the Common Area." Id. at ¶ 12.1-12.5.

The parties do not dispute that since 2005, Starbucks has paid Anthony Marchesani to remove snow from the parking lot. See Mastropieri's Exh. A, at 13-14 (Depo. of Marchesani). David Pogach, Starbucks' facility manager, testified in his deposition that Starbucks has paid for snow removal solely because it viewed Mastropieri as failing to live up to his obligations under the lease. Starbucks' Exh. J-1, at 24-25. However, Kevin Chang, who worked for Pogach and had the responsibility of interpreting leases, stated in an email that snow removal was not included in the landlord's responsibilities and Starbucks had to arrange for snow removal. See Deposition of David Pogach, at 114-16 & email attached as Exh. C to Mastropieri's opposition to Starbucks' motion for summary judgment based upon a lack of duty and right to indemnification (docket no. 99).

Pogach also testified that Mastropieri had originally arranged for snow and ice removal and Starbucks did "nothing" but then Mastropieri stopped arranging for snow and ice removal. Deposition of David Pogach, at 25. In contrast, Mastropieri testified at his deposition that he never made ...


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