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Hernandez v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 15, 2013

LINDA HERNANDEZ, ET AL.,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL

MEMORANDUM

JOHN R. PADOVA, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Linda and Esau Hernandez commenced this negligence action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County against the City of Philadelphia (the "City") and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak") after Linda Hernandez tripped and fell on a sidewalk that runs underneath a railroad overpass. After Defendants removed the action to this Court, Amtrak filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that we should enter judgment in its favor because it had no duty to maintain the sidewalk. Plaintiffs thereafter filed a Cross-Motion to Remand in which they contend that, if we grant summary judgment in Amtrak's favor, we should remand the case back to state court because we will no longer have subject matter jurisdiction over the case. For the following reasons, we grant both the Motion for Summary Judgment and the Motion to Remand.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed. On January 13, 2011, Linda Hernandez was walking on Castor Avenue, between Sedgley and Glenwood Avenues in Philadelphia. (Hernandez Dep. at 24-25; Hernandez-1; Shomper Dep. at 9-10.) As she emerged from under a railroad bridge that crosses over Castor Avenue, she stepped from the sidewalk into the street to avoid snow that was piled up on the sidewalk. (Hernandez Dep. at 24, 31, 65). When she attempted to return to a cleared portion of the sidewalk, her sneaker got caught in a two-inch deep hole in the sidewalk, which was covered with snow and ice, causing her to lose her balance and fall backwards. (Id. at 21, 24, 28, 69-69.) Hernandez suffered injuries to her lower back, neck and right knee as a result to of her fall. (Id. at 71-72.)

The City owns the street and sidewalk that runs underneath the Castor Avenue overpass. (Shomper Dep. at 12, 21, 23; see Shomper-1 (deed conveying land to City).) At the same time, Amtrak has a right of way for the overpass, which begins at the outside edge of the Castor Avenue sidewalk. (Shomper Dep. at 11-12.) Under the bridge, Amtrak's right of way therefore begins with the wall supporting the overpass. (Id.) Beyond the overpass on Castor Avenue, there is an embankment that runs from the outside edge of the sidewalk up to the railroad tracks, and there is a billboard on that embankment. (See Hernandez-1; Shomper Dep. at 15-16.) Amtrak owns the land on which the billboard is located. (Shomper Dep. at 17.) It is responsible for maintaining that land for railroad purposes and obtains advertising revenue from the billboard. (Id. at 17-18.) The embankment is fenced off, and there is a sign that says No Trespassing. (Id. at 18.)

Plaintiffs' Complaint asserts state law negligence and loss of consortium claims against both the City and Amtrak. The Complaint alleges, inter alia, that the City and Amtrak "jointly and/or severally owned, possessed, managed and controlled" the sidewalk, and failed to repair its hazardous condition. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.) In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Amtrak argues that it had no duty to maintain the sidewalk. Plaintiffs have filed no opposition to Amtrak's Motion, but the City, which has asserted a cross-claim against Amtrak, has filed an opposition brief. In addition, Plaintiffs have filed a Cross-Motion to Remand, to which no opposition has been filed.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id . In ruling on a summary judgment motion, we "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Abramson v. William Paterson Coll. of N.J. , 260 F.3d 265, 276 (3d Cir. 2001) (internal quotation omitted). If a reasonable fact finder could find in the nonmovant's favor, summary judgment may not be granted. Congregation Kol Ami v. Abington Twp. , 309 F.3d 120, 130 (3d Cir. 2002).

"[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the nonmoving party fails to respond with a factual showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for Summary Judgment

Amtrak argues that it is entitled to the entry of summary judgment in its favor because it had no duty to maintain the sidewalk on which Linda Hernandez fell and, therefore, is not liable in negligence for her injuries. It contends that, under Pennsylvania law, railroad companies are not responsible for maintenance or repair of sidewalks that pass under railroad trestles unless the sidewalk leads to a station or other facility, thereby conferring an economic benefit upon the railroad. The City disagrees with Amtrak's characterization of Pennsylvania law and argues that Amtrak, as an abutting property owner, did, in fact, have a duty to maintain the sidewalk on which Linda Hernandez fell.

Under Pennsylvania law, the general rule is that an "owner or tenant in possession [of land] is primarily liable and responsible for keeping in repair the sidewalk in front of the property owned or occupied by him." Ignatowicz v. City of Pittsburgh , 100 A.2d 608, 609-10 (Pa. 1953) (citations omitted); Flynn v. City of Chester , 239 A.2d 322, 323-24 (Pa. 1968) (noting that primary liability for injuries due to a defective or dangerous sidewalk generally lies with the abutting property owners); see also Philadelphia City Code § 11-505(1) (stating that "the sidewalks of all public streets... shall be graded, curbed, paved and kept in repair at the expense of the owners of the land fronting thereon"). As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has explained, "[i]t is only just and reasonable to allow the risks and burdens incident to ownership to fall on those who enjoy benefits through occupancy and control." Ignatowicz , 100 A.2d at 610.

For over one hundred years, however, Pennsylvania court have excepted railroads from general rules requiring land owners to pay for street improvements on adjacent land, reasoning that street improvements do not generally benefit railroads. In City of Philadelphia v. Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railway Co. , 33 Pa. 41, 1859 WL 8587 (Pa. 1859), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the City could not assess a railroad for the cost of paving a road adjacent to the railroad track, noting that "the paving laws are means of compulsory contribution among common sharers in a common benefit, " and declaring that "a railroad cannot, from its very nature, derive any benefit from the paving, while all the rest of the neighborhood may." Id. at *3. Similarly, in City of Allegheny v. Western Pennsylvania Railroad Co. , 21 A. 763 (Pa. 1891), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the City of Allegheny could not assess a special municipal tax against a railroad for the paving of a street that abutted the railroad's right of way, explaining that the "constitutionality of assessments for street improvement can only be sustained upon the ground that the property assessed is benefited by the improvement" and concluding that the roadbed of a railroad company "is one species of property which... can ...


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