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Ruspi v. Glatz

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 24, 2013

LUIS RUSPI
v.
WERNER GLATZ, RICHARD CLERKIN, PPL CORPORATION, PPL ENERGY SUPPLY, LLC, PPL HOLTWOOD, LLC AND PPL GENERATION, LLCRAYMOND PAWELSKI AND CHESTER PAWELSKI
v.
WERNER GLATZ, RICHARD CLERKIN, PPL CORPORATION, PPL ENERGY SUPPLY, LLC, PPL HOLTWOOD, LLCAPPEAL OF: LUIS RUSPI, RAYMOND PAWELSKI AND CHESTER PAWELSKI

Appeal from the Order Entered June 11, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Wayne County Civil Division at Nos.: 391-Civil-2009 429-Civil-2009

BEFORE: PANELLA, J., ALLEN, J., and PLATT, J.[*]

OPINION

PLATT, J.

Appellants, Luis Ruspi, Raymond Pawelski, and Chester Pawelski, appeal in these consolidated cases from the order of June 11, 2012 entering final judgment, after denial of a motion for post-trial relief, against defendants Werner Glatz and Richard Clerkin, jointly and severally. The entry of final judgment rendered final and appealable the order of August 10, 2010, granting summary judgment in favor of codefendants PPL Corporation, PPL Energy Supply, LLC, PPL Holtwood, LLC and PPL Generation, LLC (collectively, PPL, or Appellees).[1] Appellants challenge the grant of summary judgment as improper, arguing inter alia that federal law and regulation of hydroelectric plants preempt state law on tort liability and statutory immunity. We affirm.

This matter arises out of a boating collision that occurred on Lake Wallenpaupack.[2] Appellee PPL Holtwood, LLC owns and operates Lake Wallenpaupack for the generation of hydroelectric power, under a license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) pursuant to the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 791a-828c.[3] (See Appellees' Brief, at 4; Trial Court Opinion, 8/10/10, at 7). The license, in pertinent part, requires PPL to hold the lake open to "substantial public use, " free of charge, "by providing public access to the lake at boat launches, campgrounds and public beaches for recreational purposes." (Trial Court Opinion, 8/10/10, at 6).

On June 6, 2008, at approximately 11:00 p.m., Appellants were night fishing on the lake in a boat owned by Appellant Chester Pawelski when a boat owned by Richard Clerkin and operated by Werner Glatz broadsided Chester's boat. Appellants Luis Ruspi and Raymond Pawelski were severely injured in the collision and Appellant Chester Pawelski's boat sustained damage.[4]

On May 14, 2009, Appellants Raymond and Chester Pawelski filed a complaint in the Wayne County Court of Common Pleas alleging negligence and gross negligence against Werner Glatz, Richard Clerkin, and Appellees. Luis Ruspi filed a similar complaint on May 27, 2009. The trial court consolidated the actions on October 15, 2009.[5]

On May 12, 2010, Appellees filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that they are immune from tort liability under the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act (RULWA), 68 P.S. §§ 477-1─477-8. ([PPL] Motion for Summary Judgment, ¶ 23). Appellants filed separate answers, both arguing that federal law preempted state law immunity from tort liability. (See Plaintiffs' Answers to PPL Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, at ¶ 23). Alternatively, they asserted that PPL knew boaters congregated at a location called Party Cove and consumed alcoholic beverages, but failed to warn or to take precautionary measures, precluding RULWA immunity. (See id. at ¶ 13).

The trial court granted Appellees' motion on August 10, 2010, following a hearing, ruling that PPL was immune from liability under RULWA.[6] On August 19, 2011, after a bench trial, the court entered a verdict in favor of Appellants, finding Richard Clerkin and Werner Glatz jointly and severally liable for Appellants' personal injuries and property damage. On August 29, 2011, Richard Clerkin filed a motion for post-trial relief, which the trial court denied on November 8, 2011. On June 11, 2012, Appellants filed a praecipe for entry of a final judgment and, on that same date, the trial court entered final judgment in favor of Appellants and against Defendants Clerkin and Glatz. Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal on July 3, 2012.[7] On August 6, 2012, Appellants filed a timely Rule 1925(b) statement of errors.[8]

Appellants raise three issues for our review, all of which, in effect, challenge the trial court's order granting Appellees' motion for summary judgment.

1. Is the RULWA preempted by the Federal Power Act and its comprehensive regulations?
2. Does Lake Wallenpaupack qualify as "land" under the RULWA?
3. Does PPL's failure to guard or warn boaters regarding the dangerous conditions created by Party Cove preclude it from availing itself of immunity under the RULWA?

(Appellants' Brief, at 4).[9]

Our standard of review on an appeal from the grant of a motion for summary judgment is well-settled:

A reviewing court may disturb the order of the trial court only where it is established that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion. As with all questions of law, our review is plenary.
In evaluating the trial court's decision to enter summary judgment, we focus on the legal standard articulated in the summary judgment rule. Pa.R.C.P. 1035.2. The rule states that where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to relief as a matter of law, summary judgment may be entered. Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on an issue, he may not merely rely on his pleadings or answers in order to survive summary judgment. Failure of a non-moving party to adduce sufficient evidence on an issue essential to his case and on which it bears the burden of proof establishes the entitlement of the moving party to judgment as a matter of law. Lastly, we will view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party.

Murphy v. Duquesne Univ. of the Holy Ghost, 777 A.2d 418, 429 (Pa. 2001) (case citations and quotation marks omitted).

In their first issue, Appellants claim that the Federal Power Act preempts Pennsylvania's RULWA. (See Appellants' Brief, at 13-19). We disagree.

Issues of preemption comprise pure questions of law, of which the standard of review is de novo and the scope of review plenary. Dooner v. DiDonato, 601 Pa. 209, 971 A.2d 1187, 1193 (2009).
Federal preemption has its origin in the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the United States Constitution:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
U.S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Under the Supremacy Clause, state laws in conflict with acts of Congress are "without effect." Altria Group, Inc. v. Good, 555 U.S. 70, 129 S.Ct. 538, 543, 172 L.Ed.2d 398 (2008). In determining whether a federal statute preempts a state law, "the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in every preemption case." Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). There exists, however, a general
presumption against federal preemption, such that "the historic police powers of the state are not to be superseded by federal law unless that is the clear and manifest purpose of Congress." In re Novosielski, 605 Pa. 508, 992 A.2d 89, 99 (2010).
That clear and manifest purpose can be found in three forms. First, "Congress may indicate preemptive intent through a statute's express language or through its structure and purpose." Altria, 129 S.Ct. at 543. The existence of an express preemption clause does not end the analysis however, "because the question of substance and scope of Congress' displacement of state law still remains." Id. Second, preemption may be inferred from a federal statute, "if the scope of the statute indicates that Congress intended federal law to occupy the legislative field...." Id. Finally, "even where Congress has not completely displaced state regulation in a specific area, state law is nullified ...

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