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Jung v. Marriott Hotel Services

November 18, 2010

ANNA JUNG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARRIOTT HOTEL SERVICES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Gene E.K. Pratter

MEMORANDUM

Introduction

Plaintiff Anna Jung claims that Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. ("Marriott") is liable for injuries she sustained in an icy January 22, 2008 slip and fall accident that occurred on Marriott's premises in downtown Philadelphia.

Marriott seeks summary judgment, arguing that generally slippery conditions then extant permit invocation of the "hills and ridges" doctrine. Marriott further contends that Ms. Jung has adduced no competent evidence that Marriott allowed icy conditions to arise and then remain as the cause of Ms. Jung's fall. Thus, Marriott claims it cannot be held liable for the injuries she sustained.

Ms. Jung argues in opposition that generally slippery conditions were not prevailing at the premises at the time of her accident. She contends, instead, that she has marshaled competent evidence that she slipped on a discrete patch of ice on Marriott's property. As a result, Ms. Jung contends that Marriott could be held liable for her injuries, and that summary judgment should not be granted.

Having considered Marriott's Motion, Ms. Jung's Response, Marriott's Reply, as well as the oral arguments of counsel, the Court concludes that Marriott's Motion for Summary Judgment must be denied for the reasons that follow.

Legal Standard

Upon motion of a party, 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). Summary judgment may be granted only if the moving party persuades the Court that "there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party." Miller v. Ind. Hosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988). An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable jury could possibly hold in the non-movant's favor with regard to that issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it could affect the result of the suit under governing law. Id.

Evaluating a summary judgment motion, the Court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," and make every reasonable inference in that party's favor. Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005). If, after making all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the Court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 217, 322 (1986); Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987).

The party opposing summary judgment, here Ms. Jung, must support each essential element of her opposition with concrete evidence in the record. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). This requirement upholds the "underlying purpose of summary judgment [which] is to avoid a pointless trial in cases where it is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense." Walden v. Saint Gobain Corp., 323 F. Supp. 2d 637, 642 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (citing Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976)).

Discussion

In their respective papers, the parties here largely dispute whether the "hills and ridges" doctrine applies to the facts of this case, or whether the operative facts are such that an exception to the "hills and ridges" doctrine applies. In Pennsylvania, the "hills and ridges" doctrine "shields land owners or occupiers 'from liability for generally slippery conditions resulting from ice and snow' so long as the property owner or occupier 'has not permitted ice and snow to unreasonably accumulate in ridges or elevations' that remain for an unreasonable amount of time." Tameru v. W-Franklin, L.P d/b/a Sheraton Philadelphia Center City, 2008 WL 4274637, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 11, 2008) (quoting Convery v. Prussia Assoc., 2000 WL 233243, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 1, 2000)).

The doctrine, predicated on the assumption that icy formations are natural phenomena incidental to our climate, applies only where the snow and ice at issue are the result of natural accumulation following a recent snowfall. Id. To sustain a claim on the strength of the inapplicability of the protections of the doctrine, a plaintiff must prove: "(1) that snow and ice had accumulated on the sidewalk in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians traveling thereon; (2) that the property owner had notice, either actual or constructive, of the existence of such condition; [and] (3) that it was the dangerous accumulation of snow and ice which caused the plaintiff to fall." Rinaldi v. Levine, 176 A.2d 623, 625-26 (Pa. 1962).

There are two exceptions to the "hills and ridges" doctrine. First, liability can attach to a premises owner when conditions in the community are not generally slippery and when there is a localized, isolated patch of ice on that premises on which an individual slips. See Tonik v. Apex Garages, Inc., 275 A.2d 296 (Pa. 1971). Second, liability can arise when an icy condition is caused by the defendant's neglect. See Beck v. Holly Tree Homeowners Assoc., 689 F. Supp. 2d 756, 763 (E.D. Pa. 2010). "Where the hills and ridges doctrine is not applicable, ...


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