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Taylor v. Northeast Bradford Sch. Dist.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

October 9, 2014

Evelyn M. Taylor and Frank Taylor, Appellants
v.
Northeast Bradford School District

Submitted September 8, 2014

Appealed from No. 2010 CV 0752. Common Pleas Court of the County of Bradford. Beirne, President Judge.

Shannon M. Pringle, Towanda, for appellant.

Richard A. Polachek, Wilkes-Barre, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 145

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

Evelyn M. Taylor (Taylor) appeals the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bradford County (trial court) granting summary judgment to the Northeast Bradford School District (District) on a personal injury claim. The trial court held that Taylor's lawsuit did not fall within the real property exception to governmental immunity in what is commonly called the " Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act" [1] (Tort Claims Act) because her injury resulted from personalty, not realty. We reverse and remand.

The following facts are not in dispute. On December 20, 2008, Taylor attended a Christmas band concert in the gymnasium of the Northeast Bradford School. Before the concert began, a partition between two sections of the gym was partially opened to allow guests, including Taylor, to get to their seats. Once the concert began, the partition was closed to improve the acoustics in the gym. During the intermission, a door in the partition was opened to allow guests to walk to an area where raffle tickets were being sold. The door did not open to the floor; approximately one foot of the partition crossed the bottom of the doorway opening. This configuration required one to step over the partition to pass through the opening. Taylor, wishing to purchase a raffle ticket, followed a group of guests to the pocket door.

Page 146

Taylor did not make the step and fell, which caused her to suffer two broken front teeth, various facial cuts and bruising.

In a December 5, 2012, deposition, Taylor provided more information about her injury. She testified that she had been to concerts in the District's gymnasium on at least two other occasions, although she could not remember if she had ever walked through the pocket door before. In response to questioning, Taylor explained that " I saw a lady go through this [pocket door], so I followed her." Reproduced Record (R.R. ) at 101. When asked if she was " just following traffic," Taylor responded " [c]orrect." R.R. 109. Taylor acknowledged that she did not see anyone else trip over the partition wall at the bottom of the pocket door and she had no trouble seeing where she was walking. Taylor also testified that there was no sign warning guests of the step. Counsel for the District then questioned Taylor concerning the particulars of the fall. The following dialogue occurred:

Q: Do you know if your foot came into contact with any portion of the partition below the door?
A: No. I landed on my knees and my face.
Q: Okay. My question is, [d]o you know what specific part of the doorway frame ... your leg or foot came into contact with, causing you to trip?
A: I do not.
Q: Okay. Do you know which leg it was?
A: No, I do not.

R.R. 106.

Taylor filed a negligence claim against the District seeking damages for her injuries. The District moved for summary judgment, asserting governmental immunity and denying that the District was negligent in its care, custody or control of the partition. In her brief opposing the District's motion, Taylor countered that the real property exception to immunity was applicable because the partition constituted a " fixture" as defined by this Court in Blocker v. City of Philadelphia, 729 A.2d 187 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999) ( Blocker I ), rev'd, 563 Pa. 559, 763 A.2d 373 (Pa. 2000). Taylor further argued that the ...


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