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Total Landscaping Care, LLC v. Tower Cleaning Systems

March 1, 2012

TOTAL LANDSCAPING CARE, LLC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWER CLEANING SYSTEMS, INC., D/B/A US MAINTENANCE OR USM DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

February ___, 2012

Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 10), Defendant's Response and Cross Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and/or Summary Judgment (Doc. 11), and Plaintiff's Response (Doc. 13). Upon consideration of the parties' motions with exhibits and declarations, the Court will: (1) deny Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in part, and (2) grant Defendant's Cross Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and/or Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of an alleged unlawful arbitration finding. Plaintiff, Total Landscaping, LLC ("Total Landscaping"), a Connecticut limited liability company, brings this action against Defendant, Tower Cleaning Systems, Inc., doing business as US Maintenance or USM ("Tower Cleaning", or "USM"), a Pennsylvania corporation.

On November 12, 2006, Plaintiff Total Landscaping entered into a Subcontractor Agreement with Defendant USM. Under the Subcontractor Agreement, Total Landscaping, the subcontractor, was to provide snow and ice removal services at locations designated by USM. As the general contractor, USM entered into agreements with its retail store customers, including but not limited to Home Depot, for the provision of snow and ice removal services.

In an underlying lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of Connecticut, both USM and Home Depot were named defendants in an action brought by Karen Salva, a patron who claims she was injured on January 1, 2008 in a slip-and-fall incident caused by ice at a Home Depot location in Darby, Connecticut (the "Salva lawsuit"). This Home Depot location, at the time of the slip-and-fall incident, was being serviced for snow and ice removal by Total Landscaping under its Subcontractor Agreement with USM. Under its customer contract with Home Depot, USM agreed to indemnify Home Depot and assumed Home Depot's defense costs in the Salva lawsuit. Subsequently, USM tendered defense of itself and Home Depot to Total Landscaping, which Total Landscaping declined to accept under the Subcontractor Agreement. To date, the Salva lawsuit is pending in the Superior Court of Connecticut, and is scheduled to proceed to trial in a few weeks from the date of the present opinion.

As a result of Total Landscaping's refusal to indemnify and accept tender of defense for USM and Home Depot in the Salva lawsuit, on or about May 17, 2010, USM submitted a demand for arbitration to the AAA, seeking defense and indemnification costs from Total Landscaping for USM and Home Depot in connection with the Salva lawsuit. Total Landscaping objected to the demand for arbitration via letter to the AAA, Tower Cleaning submitted a response dated September 17, 2010, and Total Landscaping submitted an Answering Statement to the AAA thereafter. Despite the written objections of Total Landscaping, the arbitration proceeded and USM and Total Landscaping submitted Arbitration Briefs and exhibits, along with a Reply and Sur-Reply.

On October 18, 2010, upon conclusion of the arbitration process, arbitrator Walter R. Milbourne issued an award (the "Award") which is the subject of the present matter. In the Award, Mr. Milbourne entered judgment in favor of USM, and granted declaratory relief to both USM and Home Depot. The Award order set forth that Total Landscaping: (1) "shall immediately assume the defense of ; and (2) "shall reimburse USM all costs consisting of attorneys fees and AAA fees incurred in bringing this action with the [AAA]. The Administrative fees of the [AAA] totaling $975.00, and the compensation of the arbitrator totaling $900.00 shall be borne Respondent (sic.). Therefore, [Total Landscaping] shall reimburse [USM] the sum of $1,425.00, representing that portion of said fees in excess of the apportioned costs previously incurred by [USM]."

On November 15, 2010, Plaintiff Total Landscaping initiated the present action against Defendant USM, claiming that the Award was improperly issued. Accordingly, Plaintiff Total Landscaping seeks that the Court vacate the Award, and enjoin Defendant USM from further attempting to pursue its claims through the AAA. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), a party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed, as long as the party does so "early enough not to delay trial."Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). A motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to the same standard of review applicable to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Turbe v. Gov't of V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). "The only notable difference between these two standards is that the court in a motion on the pleadings reviews not only the complaint but also the answer and written instruments attached to the pleadings." Sprague v. Neil, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77767, 2007 WL 3085604, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 19, 2007) (citing 2 Moore's Fed. Practice Civil §

12.38 (2004)). Like a motion to dismiss, in considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Taliaferro v. Darby Twp. Zoning Bd., 458 F.3d 181, 188 (3d Cir. 2005); Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 249 (3d Cir. 2000).

A motion for judgment on the pleadings should be granted only if it appears to a certainty that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved. See id. It must be shown that there remains no material issue of fact to be resolved and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008); Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2005). The Court, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, may convert the 12(c) motions in the present matter to motions for summary judgment. Fed R. Civ P. 56. Thus, the motions presently before the Court will be evaluated under the standard set forth below.

Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [it] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed R. Civ P. 56(c). See 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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party 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, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e), the opposing party 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-moving party. See Horsehead Indus., Inc. v. Paramount Communications, Inc., 258 F.3d 132 (3d Cir. 2001). The court must award summary judgment on all claims unless the non-moving party shows through affidavits or admissible evidence that an issue of material fact ...


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