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Sanchez-Guardiola v. City of Philadelphia

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

March 10, 2014

Daria Sanchez-Guardiola, Appellant
v.
City of Philadelphia

Argued February 10, 2014.

Editorial Note:

This opinion appears in the table format in the Atlantic Reporter

Appealed from No. August Term, 2011, No. 01838. Common Pleas Court of the County of Philadelphia. Younge, J.

Matthew J. Zamites, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Nicholas Poduslenko, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge (P.). OPINION BY JUDGE SIMPSON. Judge Cohn Jubelirer did not participate.

OPINION

ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge

In this negligence action, plaintiff-appellant Daria Sanchez-Guardiola (Plaintiff), appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court)[1] that granted the City of Philadelphia's (City) motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiff's personal injury complaint with prejudice. The trial court entered judgment for the City on the basis that a movable platform or stage located inside the City's Airport, which caused Plaintiff's trip and fall, could not be considered real property for purposes of the real property exception to governmental immunity in 42 Pa. C.S. § 8542(b)(3). Plaintiff contends the trial court erred in entering summary judgment where the City relied primarily on an affidavit of one of its employees, and where a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the placement of the stage made it part of the real property or a dangerous condition on the property. Upon review, we affirm.

I. Background

In May 2010, Plaintiff tripped and fell at the Philadelphia International Airport. As Plaintiff walked between terminals B and C with her husband and brother, she spotted a statute of the Philly Phanatic to her left in the food court. Wishing to take a picture of the Phanatic, Plaintiff turned left and walked toward the statue. She walked between two large flower pots, which blocked from view an unmarked platform or stage, approximately 12 to 14 inches high, of a color and material similar to the surrounding carpet. Plaintiff did not see the platform, which caused her to trip and fall. As a result, Plaintiff sustained serious and permanent back injuries.

Thereafter, Plaintiff filed suit against the City alleging, among other things, the City's negligent construction, maintenance and placement of the platform caused her injuries. The City filed an answer and new matter. In new matter, the City asserted, among other defenses, governmental immunity under Sections 8541-64 of the Judicial Code, 42 Pa. C.S. § § 8541-64, often referred to as the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (Tort Claims Act).

Following the close of discovery, the City filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that Plaintiff's negligence claim did not fall within any of the eight exceptions to governmental immunity in 42 Pa. C.S. § 8542(b). In particular, the City averred Plaintiff's claim did not fall within the real property exception. Section 8542(b)(3) of the Tort Claims Act provides an exception to immunity for:

The care, custody or control of real property in the possession of the local agency, except that the local agency shall not be liable for damages on account of any injury sustained by a person intentionally trespassing on real property in the possession of the local agency.

42 Pa. C.S. § 8542(b)(3) (emphasis added). Averring the platform or stage constituted personal property in the nature of furniture neither affixed nor attached to real property (floor surface of the airport terminal), the City asserted negligent maintenance of personal property does not fall within the real property exception. Blocker v. City of Phila., 563 Pa. 559, 763 A.2d 373 (2000); Repko v. Chichester Sch. Dist., 904 A.2d 1036 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006);

Page 398

Rieger by Rieger v. Altoona Area Sch. Dist., 768 A.2d 912 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001).

Following oral argument, the trial court granted the City's motion for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiff failed to establish her case fell within the real property exception in 42 Pa. C.S. ยง 8542(b)(3). In an opinion in support of its order, the trial court explained the evidence established the platform or stage over which Plaintiff fell was not attached or affixed to the realty. Rather, the platform constituted " a piece of personal property akin to furniture that could ...


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