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Moranko v. Downs Racing LP

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 24, 2014

FAYE M. MORANKO, ADMIN. OF THE ESTATE OF RICHARD L. MORANKO, DECEASED Appellant
v.
DOWNS RACING LP, D/B/A MOHEGAN SUN AT POCONO DOWNS Appellee

Appeal from the Order January 4, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Civil Division at No(s): 2011-CV-10312

BEFORE: PANELLA, J., MUNDY, J., and PLATT, J. [*]

OPINION

PANELLA, J.

Appellant, Faye M. Moranko, Administratrix of the Estate of Richard L. Moranko, deceased, appeals from the order entered January 4, 2013, by the Honorable William H. Amesbury, Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, which entered summary judgment in favor of Appellee, Downs Racing LP, d/b/a Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs ("Mohegan Sun"). This case raises an issue of first impression in this Commonwealth regarding the duty and ultimate liability of a valet service when an automobile is returned to an allegedly intoxicated patron. We find no such duty exists under Pennsylvania law. Accordingly, we affirm the entry of summary judgment.

Moranko instituted this wrongful death and survival action by way of Complaint filed August 9, 2011. Moranko alleges that on January 15, 2011, her son, Richard Moranko (the "decedent"), consumed "copious amounts of alcohol" while at Mohegan Sun. See Complaint, 8/9/11 at ¶ 7. Thereafter, at approximately 8:30 p.m., the decedent retrieved his vehicle from valet services, despite his alleged visible intoxication. See id., at ¶¶ 8-9. After the decedent departed Mohegan Sun, he was involved in an automobile accident resulting in his death. See id., at ¶¶ 12-16. Moranko argues in her Complaint that Mohegan Sun was negligent in serving the decedent alcoholic beverages and in handing over the keys to his vehicle when he was allegedly visibly intoxicated.

On July 30, 2012, following the completion of discovery, Mohegan Sun filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Mohegan Sun argued, inter alia, that Moranko had failed to produce sufficient evidence that it served the decedent alcoholic beverages while he was visibly intoxicated and that there is no cause of action in Pennsylvania allowing recovery against a valet service for giving a visibly intoxicated customer the keys to his vehicle. On January 4, 2013, the trial court granted the motion and entered summary judgment in favor of Mohegan Sun. This timely appeal followed.

Moranko argues that "the trial court erred in granting [Mohegan Sun's] motion for summary judgment when there exists genuine issues of material fact and [Mohegan Sun] was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Appellant's Brief, at 3. We review a challenge to the entry of summary judgment as follows:

[We] may disturb the order of the trial court only where it is established that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion. As with all questions of law, our review is plenary.
In evaluating the trial court's decision to enter summary judgment, we focus on the legal standard articulated in the summary judgment rule. See Pa.R.C.P., Rule 1035.2. The rule states that where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to relief as a matter of law, summary judgment may be entered. Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on an issue, he may not merely rely on his pleadings or answers in order to survive summary judgment. Failure of a non-moving party to adduce sufficient evidence on an issue essential to his case and on which he bears the burden of proof establishes the entitlement of the moving party to judgment as a matter of law. Lastly, we will review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party.

E.R. Linde Const. Corp. v. Goodwin, 68 A.3d 346, 349 (Pa.Super. 2013) (citation omitted).

Herein, although Moranko devotes much of her brief to arguing the evidence supports a finding that the decedent was visibly intoxicated while at Mohegan Sun, we again note that our standard when reviewing a trial court's entry of summary judgment requires that we resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in her favor. See id. Therefore, for the purposes of our analysis, we will accept Moranko's contention and analyze the issues with the understanding that the decedent was visibly intoxicated. The crux of this case then hinges upon whether or not Pennsylvania law imposes a duty upon Mohegan Sun and its valet service to withhold the keys to a vehicle if the owner appears visibly intoxicated. We find that it does not.

It is axiomatic that the elements of a negligence-based cause of action are a duty, a breach of that duty, a causal relationship between the breach and the resulting injury, and actual loss. See Wright v. Eastman, 63 A.3d 281, 284 (Pa.Super. 2013). The question of whether a duty exists, as part of a negligence claim, is a question of law, assigned in the first instance to the trial court and subject to plenary appellate review. See Thierfelder v. Wolfert, 617 Pa. 295, 317, 52 A.3d 1251, 1264 (2012).

The determination of whether a duty exists in a particular case involves the weighing of several discrete factors which include: (1) the relationship between the parties; (2) the social utility of the actor's conduct; (3) the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred; (4) the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and (5) the [over all] public interest in the proposed solution.

Montagazzi v. Crisci, 994 A.2d 626, 631 (Pa.Super. 2010) (citations omitted).

"When considering the question of duty, it is necessary to determine whether a defendant is under any obligation for the benefit of the particular plaintiff ... and, unless there is a duty upon the defendant in favor of the plaintiff which has been breached, there can be no cause of action based upon negligence." Roche v. Ugly Duckling Car Sales, Inc., 879 A.2d 785, 789 (Pa.Super. 2005) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

At the outset, we note that Moranko makes no citation to the record, and we have found no evidence of record, to support her claim that Mohegan Sun served alcohol to the decedent while he was at the casino prior to the tragic accident. Moranko presents no testimony, video surveillance, or other evidence establishing that Mohegan Sun served the decedent alcohol on the casino premises.

To support her claim against the parking service, Moranko does not cite any case law in this Commonwealth which imposes an affirmative duty upon the valet employed by Mohegan Sun. Rather, she relies upon general concepts of "ordinary care" and public policy to create such a duty. More specifically, Moranko relies upon Section 324A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, Liability to Third Person for Negligent Performance of Undertaking, to support the imposition of a duty in this matter.[1] Section 324A provides as follows:

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his undertaking, if
(a) his failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm, or
(b) he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or
(c) the harm is suffered because of reliance of the other or the third person upon the undertaking.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A (1965) (emphasis added).

The comments to Section 324A of the Restatement makes clear that "[t]his section deals with the liability to third persons." Id., Comment a. Here, Moranko's claims do not invoke third party liability, but rather concerns an alleged failure to act resulting in direct harm to the decedent. Therefore, we do not find that Section 324A of the Restatement provides Moranko with a basis for relief.

Moranko alternatively argues that Mohegan Sun's duty is manifest in its failure to comply with internal organizational policies "designed to identify visibly intoxicated patrons and to prevent them [sic] from the gaming floor." Appellant's Brief, at 16 (emphasis added). This internal policy of Mohegan Sun is aimed not at preventing their valets from withholding an automobile from a visibly intoxicated patron, but from keeping visibly intoxicated patrons from gambling on the casino gaming floor. As such, it cannot serve to place a legal duty on Mohegan Sun.

We further find Moranko's reliance on 58 Pa.Code § 501a.3(a) to be misplaced. That section provides, in pertinent part:

§ 501a.3. Employee training program.
(a) The employee training program required under § 501a.2(d)(5) (relating to compulsive and problem gaming plan) must include instruction in the following:
(1) Characteristics and symptoms of compulsive behavior, including compulsive and problem gambling.
(6) Procedures designed to prevent serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated gaming patrons.
(7) Procedures designed to prevent persons from gaming after having been determined to be visibly intoxicated.

58 Pa.Code § 501a.3(a). To the extent this section mandates implementation of employee training procedures to prohibit serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated gaming patrons, the section simply does not impose any duty or legal obligation on a casino or its ...


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