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Anna Perasso v. Caesars Cove Haven

June 12, 2012

ANNA PERASSO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAESARS COVE HAVEN, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 15.) Plaintiff Anna Perasso entered into the Defendants' dark, windowless hotel suite, was unable to find a light switch, and fell on a step adjoining two different levels while trying to turn on the lights. These facts are not contested. Instead, the parties disagree as to viability of a negligence claim predicated on these facts. Because the danger presented is not patently obvious on the facts in the record, the Court will deny the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Anna Perasso and her significant other Dennis Alicea were guests of the Cove Haven Resort in Lakeville, Pennsylvania on July 17, 2008. (Defs.' Stmt. at ¶ 1, Doc. 17.) Upon entering their Garden of Eden Suite, the two found it dark and without windows. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-5.) Perasso proceeded to take about ten to fifteen steps before she tripped and fell onto a lower level floor. (Id. at ¶ 8.) There was, however, a light switch immediately opposing the front door, about three feet away from it. (Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.) Perasso did not request any help in locating the switch nor is there evidence that there were defects in the lighting. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.)

Richard Armezzani, the Chief Engineer at Cove Haven, confirmed that these suites were constructed without windows and that the policy was to leave the lights off when they were unoccupied. (Armezzani Dep. 7:13-15, 25:1-6, 33:4-12, Aug. 16, 2011, Pl.'s Ex. C.) Each Garden of Eden suite contained three different levels: a living room level, a bedroom level, and a pool level. (Id. at 37:10-15, 38:24-39:6). Pertinent to this matter, the living room level is set above the bedroom level with a single carpeted stair in-between with no warning or handrail. (Id. at 37:10-38:20.)

At her deposition, Anna Perasso testified that when Alicea opened the door for her, all she could see was darkness. (Perasso Dep. 28:14-23, Aug. 16, 2011, Pl.'s Ex. A.) Though it was dark, Perasso entered ahead of Alicea and "just went right in" and started looking for a light switch. (Id. at 30:2-12.) It was so dark that, instead of looking for the light switch, she had to feel for it. (Id. at 30:19-22.) Perasso wandered deeper into the suite even as Alicea started to close the outside door, cutting off the outside light. (Id. at 31:2-9, 31:21-32:17.) She ordered Alicea to leave the door open right as she fell on the stair between the two levels. (Id.)

On July 16, 2010, Perasso filed the instant Complaint against Caesars Cove Haven, Inc., Cove Haven, Inc. t/d/b/a Caesars Cove Haven, Cove Haven, Inc. t/d/b/a Cove Haven Resort, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (the "Cove Haven Defendants") alleging negligence and seeking damages in excess of $75,000 for personal injuries sustained in her fall. (Compl., Doc. 1.) After an unsuccessful attempt at mediation, Cove Haven filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on March 1, 2012. This Motion is now ripe and is ready for the Court's review.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). 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. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. 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 2D Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 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 on an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

"When considering whether there exist genuine issues of material fact, the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving 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).

"To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must show specific facts such that a reasonable jury could find in that party's favor, thereby establishing a genuine issue of fact for trial." Galli v. New Jersey Meadowlands Comm'n, 490 F.3d 265, 270 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). "While the evidence that the non-moving party presents may be either direct or circumstantial, and need not be as great as a preponderance, the evidence must be more than a scintilla." Id. (quoting Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

Perasso asserts a claim of state-law negligence as against all of the Cove Haven Defendants. In Pennsylvania, negligence requires a plaintiff to "establish the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, that duty was breached, the breach resulted in the plaintiff's injury, and the plaintiff suffered an actual loss or damages." Merlini ex rel. Merlini v. Gallitzin Water Auth., 980 A.2d 502, 506 (Pa. 2009). The Defendants argue ...


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