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Muldrow v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

February 26, 2014

Lauren Muldrow, Appellant
v.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)

Argued February 10, 2014.

Page 270

Kenneth M. Kapner, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Paul C. Madden and Patrick T. Casey, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE COVEY. Judge Brobson did not participate in the decision in this case.

OPINION

Page 271

ANNE E. COVEY, Judge

Lauren Muldrow (Muldrow) appeals from the Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court's (trial court) February 15, 2013 order granting Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's (SEPTA) Motion for Summary Judgment. There are essentially three issues before this Court: (1) whether the holding in Goldman v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Pa., 57 A.3d 1154 (2012), denies SEPTA immunity protection under the act commonly referred to as the Pennsylvania Sovereign Immunity Act (Sovereign Immunity Act), 42 Pa.C.S. § § 8521-8528; (2) whether Muldrow's cause of action comes within the vehicle liability exception to sovereign immunity; and (3) whether Muldrow's cause of action falls within the personal property exception to sovereign immunity. After review, we affirm.

On December 22, 2009, at approximately 8:45 a.m., Muldrow was a passenger on SEPTA's Route H bus. While attempting to disembark, Muldrow fell down the stairs leading to the street level allegedly sustaining injuries to her head, neck, back, right leg and right knee. Muldrow filed a Complaint with the trial court on February 8, 2012, maintaining that SEPTA's negligence was the cause of her accident and the resulting injuries. SEPTA filed an Answer and New Matter on February 13, 2012. The matter was submitted to arbitration and, on October 3, 2012, the panel of arbitrators ruled in SEPTA's favor and against Muldrow.

Muldrow appealed from the arbitration award to the trial court on October 8, 2012. On December 31, 2012, SEPTA filed a Motion for Summary Judgment against Muldrow alleging that Muldrow was not entitled to recovery because Muldrow's claim did not come within any of the exceptions to SEPTA's statutory sovereign immunity. On January 30, 2013, Muldrow filed an Answer to SEPTA's Motion for Summary Judgment and a Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Relying upon Goldman, Muldrow asserted that SEPTA was not a Commonwealth party and, therefore, SEPTA was not immunized from suit by the Sovereign Immunity Act. In addition, Muldrow argued that her negligence claim fell within the " care, custody and control of personal property" exception established by Section 8522(b)(3) of the Sovereign Immunity Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 8522(b)(3). SEPTA replied to Muldrow's Answer and Cross-Motion on February 5, 2013, contending that it was indeed a Commonwealth party, and reiterating that it was entitled to sovereign immunity under Pennsylvania law.

On February 15, 2013, the trial court granted SEPTA's Motion for Summary Judgment and dismissed Muldrow's lawsuit. On March 12, 2013, Muldrow appealed to the Superior Court. On April 15, 2013, the trial court filed its opinion. On May 8, 2013, the Superior Court transferred the appeal to this Court.[1]

Page 272

Muldrow first argues that because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in Goldman that SEPTA is not an arm of the Commonwealth under the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution (Eleventh Amendment), and SEPTA was a party to that litigation, SEPTA is bound by Goldman . Therefore, Muldrow contends that SEPTA is collaterally estopped from asserting otherwise and Goldman is res judicata on the issue of sovereign immunity. In addition, Muldrow asserts that the cases prior to Goldman which held that SEPTA is statutorily classified by the legislature as a Commonwealth agency were decided under the former version of the Metropolitan Transportation Authorities Act (MTAA) and therefore are inapplicable.[2] Moreover, Muldrow avers that although Goldman stated that SEPTA was statutorily categorized as a Commonwealth agency, the Court was referring to the weight of authority, not holding that it agreed with it, thus, the fact that an enabling statute exists does not automatically give SEPTA the status of a political body. Finally, Muldrow claims that based on SEPTA's inefficiencies and net worth, it is undeserving of sovereign immunity.

SEPTA responds that Goldman does not apply to the instant matter as Goldman involved Eleventh Amendment immunity and this case involves state common law sovereignty. SEPTA maintains that Eleventh Amendment immunity and state statutory immunity are two distinct concepts which do not share common origins or qualifying criteria. Further, SEPTA asserts that the Goldman Court specifically acknowledged the legislature's classification of SEPTA as a Commonwealth agency. In addition, SEPTA contends that our Supreme Court reaffirmed SEPTA's sovereign immunity weeks before the Goldman decision in Frazier v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Bayada Nurses, Inc.), 616 Pa. 592, 52 A.3d 241 (2012), wherein, it held that SEPTA was immune from subrogation claims from a claimant's tort recovery with respect to workers' compensation benefits. Finally, SEPTA retorts that Muldrow does not contest the General Assembly's authority to confer the Commonwealth's sovereign immunity upon SEPTA, only the wisdom of it, and that Muldrow has no evidence to support her assertions that SEPTA is undeserving of sovereign immunity as precedent holds otherwise.

In Frazier, our Supreme Court found SEPTA to be a Commonwealth party for purposes of Section 23 of Act 44[3] of the Workers' Compensation Act[4] and, therefore, it was entitled to sovereign immunity. In Goldman, our Supreme Court expressly held that " [w]e agree with SEPTA that . . . SEPTA has been statutorily classified by the legislature as an agency of the Commonwealth." Id. at, 57 A.3d at 1180. The Goldman Court also held: " we conclude SEPTA is not an arm of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and thus not entitled to claim immunity under the ...


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