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Stamper-Murray v. U.D.H. Management Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 22, 2015

MARY STAMPER-MURRAY, et ux., Plaintiff,
v.
U.D.H. MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, d/b/a, HAMPTON INN HARRISBURG, EAST, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

This case, which comes before us for resolution of a defense motion for summary judgment, arises out of an August 2013 slip and fall accident at the Hampton Inn-Harrisburg East, an accident which the plaintiff alleges resulted from her stumbling over an uneven sidewalk outside this hotel. (Doc. 1.) The defendant has moved for summary judgment in this case, arguing as a matter of law that it cannot be said that the accident was caused by this uneven sidewalk. (Doc. 14.) For the reasons set forth below, we disagree, and conclude that the issue of causation in this case presented a disputed question of fact for trial. Therefore, it is recommended that this motion for summary judgment be denied.

II. Statement of Facts and of the Case[1]

With respect to the cause of this accident, the disputed facts of record in this case reveal the following: On the morning of August 19, 2013, Mary Stamper-Murray was walking on the concrete sidewalk between the Hampton Inn Hotel and parking lot when she slipped and fell, suffering the injuries that are at issue in this case. As she walked along the sidewalk Mrs. Stamper-Murray initially did not observe any irregularities in the sidewalk, but immediately upon falling as she lay bleeding on the pavement she felt the sidewalk where she had fallen and observed that it was uneven with slabs of concrete which had separated and were out of alignment. Other evidence also supports the fact that the sidewalk was uneven at the site where Mrs. Stamper-Murray fell and that this unsafe condition was well known. Specifically, several Hampton Inn employees testified that the sidewalk was uneven at the location outside the hotel where the plaintiff fell, and described the uneven pavement as a longstanding condition at the hotel.

Nonetheless this evidence, seizing upon the fact that Mrs. Stamper-Murray did not initially observe any hazard on the sidewalk but only identified the uneven footing once she had fallen, the defendants have moved for summary judgment in this case, arguing that the plaintiff's allegations that her injuries were caused by the uneven pavement are so wholly speculative that the defense is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law in this case. (Doc. 14.) This motion is fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 15-18.), and is, therefore, ripe for resolution.

For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the motion for summary judgment be denied.

II. Discussion

A. Rule 56-The Legal Standard

The defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that the court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P., Rule 56 (a). Through summary adjudication a court is empowered to dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, and for which a trial would be "an empty and unnecessary formality." Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply Int'l, Inc., No. 07-0493, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31615, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2010).

The substantive law identifies which facts are material, and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248-49.

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, " summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the non-moving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In making this determination, the court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

B. Disputed Factual Issues Preclude Summary Judgment in this Case

In this case we find that disputed material issues of fact preclude summary judgment in favor of the defendants. As a federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction in this case, we are obliged to apply the substantive law of Pennsylvania to this dispute. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d. Cir. 2000). Construing this case under settled Pennsylvania tort law, in order to establish a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must prove the following elements: (1) a duty or obligation to the plaintiff recognized by law; (2) a breach of that duty to the plaintiff; (3) a causal connection between the ...


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