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Derrick Bradley v. Greyhound Lines

June 19, 2012


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


I. Introduction

This case involves a dispute between Derrick Bradley ("Plaintiff") and his employer, Greyhound Lines, Inc. ("Defendant") regarding injuries he sustained on August 25, 2009 while commuting to work as a passenger on a Greyhound bus. On February 29, 2012, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (ECF No. 9) The Motion alleges that Plaintiff failed to timely respond, as required under Rule 36, to a Request for Admissions served on November 15, 2011. Accordingly, Defendant seeks to have the Court deem all matters in the Request admitted and binding upon Plaintiff pursuant to Rule 36; those admissions, in Defendant's view, would render the case appropriate for disposition by summary judgment in its favor.

The Court held an unrecorded pretrial conference with counsel on March 1, 2012 regarding Defendant's Motion. Pursuant to the discussion at conference, the Court entered an Order the following day setting the briefing schedule and directing the parties to engage in limited discovery regarding Plaintiff's employment status at the time of the accident. (ECF No. 10) Plaintiff's employment status bears heavily upon the substantive legal issue raised in the Motion-namely, the proper application of a state common law doctrine known as the "coming and going rule."

The "coming and going rule" bars compensation under the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act"), subject to certain exceptions, for injuries suffered by an employee in the course of commuting to and from work. See, e.g., Wachs v. Workers' Comp. App. Bd., 584 Pa. 478, 483-84 (2005). Defendant's Motion, which raises a question of first impression under Pennsylvania law, argues that the "coming and going rule" does not bar compensation under the Act when a plaintiff is injured while riding to work free of charge, as a "perk" of his employment ,*fn1 on a vehicle operated by his employer. If Defendant is correct, the case cannot proceed in federal court at this time, and Plaintiff is confined to the legal remedies available within Pennsylvania's workers' compensation system. See Workers' Compensation Act, § 303(a), 77 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 481(a).

On March 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed his responsive brief and cross-moved for leave to file new answers to the Request for Admissions. (ECF No. 11) In his responsive brief, Plaintiff counters Defendant's argument that he is eligible to receive compensation under the Act by pointing to payroll and employment records showing that he was not compensated during the time he was commuting. Accordingly, in Plaintiff's view, he was not acting in the course of his employment at the time of the accident, he is not eligible to recover under the Act, and he therefore can maintain this suit. Plaintiff also asserts that he was unaware of the outstanding Request for Admissions until Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment, at which time Plaintiff immediately faxed Defendant a response. See Pl. Exh. C. Plaintiff therefore seeks leave under Rule 36(b) to have the admissions entered by default withdrawn and his answers of March 1, 2012 considered as timely.

On April 9, 2012, Defendant filed a reply brief, and on April 24, 2012, the Court held oral argument on the Motions. Audio File 4/24/12 (ECF No. 15). At argument, the Court directed counsel for Plaintiff to submit an affidavit explaining his internal document and case management procedures as well the reasons for his failure to timely respond to the Request for Admissions. Plaintiff filed his affidavit on April 30, 2012. (ECF No. 17)

The Court turns now to the merits of the pending Motions.

II. Factual Background

Because only limited discovery has taken place, the factual record is not fully developed. The undisputed facts in the record at this time are as follows. Plaintiff has been employed by Defendant as a bus driver for over thirteen years. Pl. Exh. B. According to Defendant's payroll records, Plaintiff got off work at 1:25 a.m. on August 25, 2009, the date of the accident. Pl. Exh.

A. Plaintiff's next scheduled run was set to commence in New York City at 9:00 p.m. that evening. Id. Plaintiff commuted to the 9:00 p.m. run from his home in Mount Laurel, NJ by riding a Greyhound bus. Pl. Exh. B. He was able to ride the bus for free because Greyhound allows employees and their families to ride free of charge anywhere in the United States. Id.

At approximately 6:10 p.m., while Plaintiff was riding as a passenger on the Greyhound bus to New York, the bus suffered a collision, and Plaintiff was injured. Id. Greyhound's payroll records reflect that Plaintiff was not paid during the period he was commuting to work, including during the time of the accident. Pl. Exh. A.

III. Legal Standard

A. Motion for Leave to Withdraw/File New Answers to the Request for Admissions Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(b), a matter is conclusively established if a party fails to respond within 30 days after being served with a request for admission, unless the court, on a motion, permits the admission to be withdrawn or amended. A court may permit withdrawal or amendment "if it would promote presentation of the merits of the action and if the court is not persuaded that it would prejudice the requesting party in maintaining or defending the action on the merits." Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(b). Where a party against whom admissions are entered is ...

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