Argued: June 17, 2013
BEFORE: HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge
ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge
Connie Mandakis (Plaintiff) appeals an order entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County (trial court) granting summary judgment in favor of the Borough of Matamoras (Borough) and dismissing her claims arising from a trip and fall at a public park. The trial court concluded the Borough was immune under the section of the Judicial Code commonly known as the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Plaintiff contends the trial court erred in concluding the Borough's failure to ensure the safety of its park pavilion by properly maintaining a picnic table did not relate to the care, custody or control of its real property.
The facts of this case are not in dispute. In June 2008, Plaintiff sustained a hip injury, which necessitated surgery, while attending a party at Airport Park. Airport Park is a public park located within and owned, operated and maintained by the Borough. Plaintiff filed a complaint against the Borough, which she later amended, seeking over $40, 000 in damages.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleged her injury occurred when she fell over a defective picnic table. She further averred the Borough acted negligently because it maintained control and ownership of the premises and knew or should have known of the defective and dangerous condition of the picnic table. According to Plaintiff, the injury rendered her unable to continue with her normal lifestyle and forced her to expend funds for medical expenses now and into the future.
The Borough filed an answer and new matter in which it proclaimed immunity from suit pursuant to Section 8542 of the Judicial Code, 42 Pa. C.S. §8542. The Borough then filed a motion for summary judgment. The Borough averred the subject picnic table was furniture, movable, and not affixed to the ground.
In Plaintiff's answer in opposition to the Borough's motion, Plaintiff conceded the subject picnic table was not affixed to the ground. Nevertheless, Plaintiff asserted the picnic table was attendant to the park pavilion and thus should fall under the real property exception contained in Section 8542(b)(3) of the Judicial Code.
After oral argument, the trial court granted the Borough's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiff's complaint. The trial court determined the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act barred Plaintiff's action against the Borough, and the picnic table did not fall within the exceptions set forth in Section 8542(b)(3). This appeal followed.
Plaintiff contends the trial court committed an error of law in concluding her claim did not fall within the real property exception to governmental immunity. Specifically, the trial court erred in concluding the Borough's failure to ensure the safety of its park pavilion by properly maintaining a picnic table at the premises did not relate to the care, custody or control of its real property.
Plaintiff asserts the trial court based its conclusion on an erroneous application of an "of/on" distinction and "fixture" requirement. The trial court premised its decision on finding the picnic table was not affixed to the real property. In so finding, the trial court relied on the Supreme Court's decision in Blocker v. City of Philadelphia, 563 Pa. 559, 763 A.2d 373 (2000). According to Blocker, the defect must be "of" the real property in order to fall under the real property exception. However, Plaintiff contends Blocker departs from prior case law and reached a conclusion not supported by the plain language of the statute. The Blocker opinion suggests the untenable conclusion that a municipality may negligently, recklessly, or even knowingly maintain any number of unreasonably dangerous conditions on its property, provided there is nothing attaching the dangerous condition to the ground. Plaintiff asserts such a result is absurd.
Plaintiff maintains the trial court should have determined the Borough's failure to fix or remove a broken picnic table is a direct function of the municipality's proper maintenance of its park facilities, i.e., the care, custody or control of its real property. Thus, Plaintiff maintains, the trial court's order granting summary judgment to the Borough must be reversed.
The Borough counters the real property exception does not apply to Plaintiff's claims. A broken picnic table caused the incident. Plaintiff "admitted that the picnic tables were movable and not affixed to the ground." Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 30a. The alleged fault with regard to the maintenance and repair of a picnic table is not fault with regard to the care, custody or control of real property. The Borough asserts, pursuant to Blocker and Repko v. Chichester School District, 904 A.2d 1036 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006), this is not a proper claim under Section 8542(b)(3). For the real property exception to be invoked, the offending object must be a fixture attached to the property. Thus, the trial court properly determined the Borough is immune from liability.
Generally, a municipality is immune from suit for injuries to person or property. See Section 8541 of the Judicial Code, 42 Pa. C.S. §8541. However, liability may be imposed where: (1) damages would be recoverable at common law or under a statute creating a cause of action if the injury were caused by a person not protected by immunity, and (2) the claim falls within one of the statutory exceptions to governmental immunity in Section 8542(b) of the Judicial Code. 42 Pa. C.S. §8542; Wilson v. Norristown ...