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Schroller v. United States

United States District Court, Third Circuit

July 26, 2013

MICHELE SCHROLLER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

ROBERT F. KELLY SENIOR JUDGE

Presently before this Court is Defendant, United States of America’s, Motion to Dismiss, and Plaintiffs, Michele and William Schroller’s, Response in Opposition. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant’s Motion is granted.

I.BACKGROUND

The Parties

Plaintiffs, Michele and William Schroller (“Plaintiffs”), are married adult individuals who reside in Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendant, United States of America (the “Government”), is the owner of Valley Forge National Park (“VFNP”). (Id. ¶ 3.) VFNP was established to “preserve and commemorate . . . the area associated with the heroic suffering, hardship, and determination and resolve of General George Washington’s Continental Army during the winter of 1777-78.” See 16 U.S.C. § 410aa. The National Park Service (“Park Service”), which is a bureau of the Government within the United States Department of the Interior, operates and maintains VFNP. (Compl. ¶ 2; see also 16 U.S.C. § 1.)

The Incident

VFNP is located northwest of Philadelphia and encompasses over 3, 500 acres of land and features over thirty miles of trails. (Dep. of John Waterman at 12.) There are “thousands, if not millions” of trees dotting VFNP. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff Michele Schroller (“Schroller”) often walked these trails to enjoy the scenery of VFNP. (Dep. of Michele Schroller at 14-15, 23.)

Plaintiffs allege that at approximately 10:15 a.m. on October 7, 2009, Schroller was walking on the main paved pathway by the Welcome Center of VFNP, when suddenly and without warning, a tree limb fell onto her, hitting her on the head and other parts of the body. (Compl. ¶ 9.) The limb fell from a tree located adjacent to the pathway. (Id.)

Plaintiffs further claim that the falling limb forced Schroller to the ground and caused serious injuries. (Id.) These injuries included: a closed head injury with post-concussion syndrome, a fractured skull, a scalp laceration resulting in scarring and disfigurement, fractured teeth, an acute tear of the right rotator cuff, post traumatic vertigo and other injuries, which have yet to be determined. (Id. ¶ 14.)

Procedural History

On December 19, 2011, Plaintiffs filed suit against the Government pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., for damages suffered from the falling tree limb. (See Compl.) This suit included a loss of consortium claim by Plaintiff William Schroller. (Id.) In total, Plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $150, 000. (Id.) On May 15, 2013, the Government filed a “Motion to Dismiss the Complaint or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment” to which Plaintiffs promptly responded. (See Docs. 18, 19.)

II. STANDARD OF LAW

The United States enjoys immunity deriving from its status as a sovereign nation. United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980) (citing United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586 (1941)). This immunity shields the United States from liability unless it consents to be sued. Id. The Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) is one such instance where the United States has waived its sovereign immunity for:

claims . . . for money damages . . . for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the ...

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