United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
M. MUNLEY United States District Court
the court for disposition is Defendant Salvation Army's
(hereinafter “the defendant”) motion for partial
summary judgment on Plaintiff Dawn Mieczkowski's
(hereinafter “plaintiff”) punitive damages
claims. (Doc. 29). For the reasons that follow, the court
will grant the defendant's motion.
case arises from an accidental fall on September 14, 2013, at
the Salvation Army Thrift Store located at 739 Sans Souci
Parkway, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 31, Def.'s
Statement of Uncontested Material Facts (hereinafter
“SOF”) ¶ 1). Plaintiff avers that she entered
the store to drop off a clothing donation and, as she
approached the drop-off location, “an uncontrolled and
unkempt accumulation of donated household goods, bags,
clothing, toys, and other matter” caused her to fall to
the ground and endure serious injuries. (SOF ¶ 3).
August 20, 2015, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging counts
of negligence and negligent supervision, both of which seek
compensatory and punitive damages against the defendant.
(Doc. 1, Ex. A., Compl.).On December 16, 2016, the defendant
filed the instant motion for partial summary judgment on
plaintiff's punitive damages claims. The parties have
briefed their respective positions and the matter is ripe for
court has jurisdiction pursuant to the diversity statute, 28
U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff is a citizen of Pennsylvania,
the defendant is a citizen of New York, and the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 1, Notice
of Removal ¶¶ 6-9, 11). Because complete diversity
of citizenship exists between the parties and the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000, the court has jurisdiction over
the case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (“[D]istrict courts
shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where
the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,
000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . .
citizens of different States[.]”). As a federal court
sitting in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania
shall apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v.
Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing
Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).
Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir.
1997) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “[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, 248 (1986).
considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party
opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v.
Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990).
The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a
verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 248. A fact is material when it might affect the outcome
of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the
nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the
party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by
establishing that the evidentiary materials of record, if
reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to
carry the nonmovant's burden of proof at trial.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts
to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and
designate specific facts by the use of affidavits,
depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories
demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Id. at 324.
moves for partial summary judgment on plaintiff's
punitive damages claims, contending that no evidence of
record establishes defendant's conduct as outrageous.
After a careful review, we agree.
Pennsylvania law, punitive damages “are awarded only
for outrageous conduct, that is, for acts done with a bad
motive or with reckless indifference to the interests of
others.” Martin v. Johns-Manville Corp., 494
A.2d 1088, 1097-98 (Pa. 1985). Reckless indifference refers
to a conscious disregard of a risk known to the defendant or
a risk “so obvious that he must . . . have been aware
of it, and so great as to make it highly probable that harm
would follow.” Evans v. Phila. Transp. Co.,
212 A.2d 440, 443 (Pa. 1965). In evaluating the
appropriateness of a punitive damages claim, the Court must
consider not only the offense itself, but also the
circumstances surrounding it, including the wrongdoers'
motives and the relationships between all the parties
involved. Schwartz v. Rockey, 932 A.2d 885, 890 (Pa.
2007); see also Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d
742, 747 (Pa. 1984) (citing Chambers v. Montgomery,
192 A.2d 355, 358 (Pa. 1963)).
no evidence of record indicates that the defendant acted
outrageously, that is, with a bad motive or with reckless
indifference to plaintiff's interests. The defendant used
an outdoor bin and a truck as designated areas for members of
the public to deposit donated goods. (Doc. 32, Ex. A,
Photographs). One of the defendant's employees testified
that he was responsible for clearing the area around the
truck, “time permitting.” (Doc. 32, Ex. B., Dep.
of Raymond Konewicz, 9-10). At the time of plaintiff's
fall, signage directed the public to “Please Take
Donations to Truck, ” where goods had accumulated both
inside and outside of the ...