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Michelle Lampkin, et al v. Louis A. Gappa

March 31, 2011

MICHELLE LAMPKIN, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
LOUIS A. GAPPA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM

This is a diversity action brought by plaintiff Michelle Lampkin. She alleges that defendant Louis Gappa ("Gappa") is liable for false imprisonment and negligence, as a result of a scuffle that arose at Gappa's place of employment, Gappa Fuel Oil Company, Inc. ("Gappa Fuel"). Lampkin further alleges that Gappa Fuel is vicariously liable for Gappa's acts. Gappa has also filed a cross-claim against Gappa Fuel. Pending before the court are (1) Gappa Fuel's motion to dismiss the complaint, and (2) Gappa Fuel's motion to dismiss Gappa's cross-claim.

I.

According to the complaint, Gappa Fuel is a fuel delivery company. Compl. ¶ 7. Pauline Gappa, who is not a party to this case, is the president of Gappa Fuel and is the mother of plaintiff Michelle Lampkin and of defendant Louis Gappa. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9.

Plaintiff Michelle Lampkin exercises power of attorney over Pauline Gappa's affairs. Id. ¶8.

Lampkin alleges that she went to the Gappa Fuel offices on July 22, 2008, to "discuss issues concerning the business of Defendant Gappa Fuel." Compl. ¶ 10.While at the office, Lampkin reached for an envelope addressed to her mother, Pauline. Louis Gappa sought to prevent Lampkin from taking the envelope and also sought to prevent her from leaving the office. Lampkin attempted to call 911 and a struggle ensued. Ultimately, Lampkin fell to the floor and Gappa landed on top of her, causing various injuries. As a result of this incident, Gappa was convicted of false imprisonment on February 17, 2009, in the Court of Common Please of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Id. ¶¶ 11--15.

The complaint alleges that Gappa Fuel is liable for Gappa's conduct because "all of the acts or failures to act which were done or not done by the Defendant Gappa Fuel were done or not done by its agent, workman, servant, and/or employee, Defendant Gappa, acting within the course and scope of his agency or employment for and on behalf of Defendant Gappa Fuel." Compl. ¶ 2. Thus Lampkin's claims against Gappa Fuel invoke the doctrine of vicarious liability, and Gappa Fuel's motion to dismiss contends that Lampkin has failed to state a claim for such liability.

II.

A. Rule 12 (b)(6)

In order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint need only include "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Thus plaintiffs must include "sufficient factual matter . . . to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion, "the facts alleged [in the complaint] must be taken as true and a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). Reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. Id.

B. Vicarious Liability in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, an employer may be held liable for the torts of its employees only if that conduct falls within the servant's scope of employment. Chuy v. Philadelphia Eagles Football Club, 595 F.2d 1265, 1276 (3d Cir. 1979). This rule applies to intentional as well as negligent conduct. Costa v. Roxborough Mem. Hosp., 708 A.2d 490, 493 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998).

To determine if conduct is within the scope of employment, Pennsylvania courts follow § 228 of the Restatement (Second) of Agency. Id. Section 228 states that "[c]onduct of a servant is within the scope of employment if, but only if: (a) it is of the kind he is employed to perform; (b) it occurs substantially within the authorized time and space limits; (c) it is actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the master; and (d) if force is intentionally used by the servant against another, the use of force is not unexpect[ed] by the master."

III.

A. False ...


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