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Chapman v. Chaon

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 9, 2014

FRANK CHAPMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
JERRY CHAON and TEREX, CORPORATION, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

Here we consider Terex Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 20) filed on June 30, 2014, and accompanied by a supporting brief (Doc. 21).[1] Defendant's statement of material facts is filed as part of its motion. (Doc. 20 at 3-6.) Plaintiff filed his answer to the statement of material facts (Doc. 26) and opposition brief (Doc. 27) on August 14, 2014, after having requested and received an extension of time within which to do so (Docs. 22, 23). Defendant filed its reply brief on August 28, 2014. (Doc. 28.) Therefore, this matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude Defendant's motion is properly granted.

I. Background

Plaintiff Frank Chapman ("Plaintiff") was injured in a workplace incident that occurred at a jobsite located on State Route 6 in Tunkhannock Township, Pennsylvania. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 1, Doc. 20 at 3; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 1, Doc. 26 at 1.) At the time, Plaintiff was an operating engineer for Fahs Construction and was at the jobsite preparing for a deck pour. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶¶ 2-3, Doc. 20 at 3; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶¶ 2-3, Doc. 26 at 1.) The machine used for the job was a piece of new equipment-a Terex Bid-well 3600 bridge paver- recently sold to Fahs Construction. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 4, Doc. 20 at 3; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 4, Doc. 26 at 1.) Defendant avers that Plaintiff has operated a sister machine many times previously and reported that he knew how to operate the Bid-well 3600. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 5, Doc. 20 at 4.) Plaintiff admits he had operated a sister machine but states that his location at the bottom of the ladder was necessitated by the need for him to see what Defendant's representative was doing so he would be fully informed with respect to all aspects of the new equipment. (Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 5, Doc. 26 at 2.) As part of the sale of the new equipment, Defendant includes one visit from the Service Department to assist in orienting and training the crew. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 6, Doc. 20 at 4; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 6, Doc. 26 at 2.) At the time of the incident, Jerry Chaon was at the jobsite commissioning the new machine. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 7, Doc. 20 at 4; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 7, Doc. 26 at 2.)

When asked a question about a control on the machine, to answer the question appropriately Mr. Chaon climbed the vertical ladder affixed to the machine to access the operator's console. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 9, Doc. 20 at 4; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 9, Doc. 26 at 2.) Defendant avers that when Mr. Chaon was on the second to top rung of the ladder affixed to the machine and approximately 7-8 feet above the ground, he slipped and fell. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 10, Doc. 20 at 4.) Plaintiff maintains that the precise height from which Mr. Chaon fell is disputed. Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 10, Doc. 26 at 2.)

Mr. Chaon reported at his deposition testimony that immediately prior to his fall, he was reaching for the next rung, his hand came off and he found himself with both hands in the air and his "fanny taking [him] in the other direction." (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 11, Doc. 20 at 5; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 11, Doc. 26 at 2.) Defendant maintains no one knows what caused Mr. Chaon to fall (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 12, Doc. 20 at 5); Plaintiff avers his inattentiveness was at least one factor that precipitated the fall (Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 12, Doc. 26 at 2). When he fell, his back hit Plaintiff in the face. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 13, Doc. 20 at 5; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 13, Doc. 26 at 2.) Plaintiff lost consciousness and was taken from the scene to the hospital. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 18, Doc. 20 at 6; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 18, Doc. 26 at 3.) Mr. Chaon was also injured in the fall and was taken to the hospital. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 19, Doc. 20 at 6; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 19, Doc. 26 at 3.)

At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was standing at the base of the ladder, waiting to go up the ladder next. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 14, Doc. 20 at 5; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 14, Doc. 26 at 2.) Defendant states that Plaintiff knew Mr. Chaon was climbing the ladder, saw his foot on the first rung, then looked away. (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 15, Doc. 20 at 5.) Plaintiff denies this, asserting Defendant's statement that Plaintiff was looking away is taken out of context: immediately after Plaintiff's testimony that he was looking away, he indicated that he was looking in Mr. Chaon's direction at the time Mr. Chaon struck him. (Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 15, Doc. 26 at 3.) Immediately before Mr. Chaon's back came into contact with Plaintiff's face, Plaintiff was looking up to see if Mr. Chaon was clear because "you don't enter a ladder until another man is off it." (Def.'s St. Mat. Facts ¶ 16, Doc. 20 at 5; Pl.'s Ans. St. Mat Facts ¶ 16, Doc. 26 at 5.)

II. Dicsussion

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant demonstrates there is no "genuine issue as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

"An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher v. County of Bucks , 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248). In determining whether a genuine issue of fact exists, a court must resolve all factual doubts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co. , 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).

The initial burden is on the moving party to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986) (citations omitted). The moving party may meet this burden by "pointing out to the district court [] that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof." Id. at 325. The non-moving party may not rest on the bare allegations contained in his or her pleadings, but is required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 to go beyond the pleadings by way of affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324.

Where underlying facts are in dispute, the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Abramson v. William Patterson College of N.J. , 260 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Drinkwater v. Union Carbide Corp. , 904 F.2d 853, 854 N.1 (3d Cir. 1990). "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of evidence." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 255. Therefore, when evidentiary facts are in dispute, when the credibility of witnesses may be in issue, or when conflicting evidence must be weighed, a full trial is usually necessary.

B. Defendant's Motion

Defendant asserts that summary judgment in its favor is appropriate in this case because Defendant neither owed nor breached any duty to Plaintiff and, therefore, it cannot be held liable for Plaintiff's injuries and damages in this negligence action. (Doc. 21 at 5-12.) We conclude Plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence for a jury to find liability on the part of Defendant.

The parties agree that Pennsylvania law applies in this case. (Doc. 21 at 6-7; Doc. 27 at 13.) In Pennsylvania, the elements of a cause of action based on negligence are:

(1) a duty or obligation recognized by the law requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct for the protection of ...

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