United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
MARILYN HEFFLEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Defendants Jack Wilson and Diane Hannah-Wilson (“the
Wilsons” or “Defendants”) (Doc. No. 16),
and Plaintiff Thelma Jean Williams's
(“Williams” or “Plaintiff”) response
in opposition (Doc. No. 17). In this case, Williams asserts a
negligence claim against the Wilsons and seeks to recover
damages as a result of an alleged fall from the front porch
of a home owned by the Wilsons and leased by
Williams. For the reasons that follow, this Court
will grant Defendants' Motion.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
2006, the Wilsons purchased a single family dwelling at 1642
Taney Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Defs.' Mot.
at ¶¶ 1, 5. The Wilsons knew Williams as a family
acquaintance, and in 2008 they leased the property to
Williams. Id. at ¶¶ 5, 7. Williams signed
a lease agreement and resided at the property with her
husband, Milton Turner. Id. at ¶¶ 5, 8.
The house contained a front porch or landing atop
approximately four exterior steps that led to the sidewalk
below. Id. at ¶ 1; Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B (Doc.
No. 17-1), at 47-50. A handrail ran along the top landing
down these exterior steps. Defs.' Mot. at ¶¶
14-15; Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B, at 47-50.
approximately 1 a.m. on March 9, 2016, Williams was sitting
outside in a chair on the landing of her front porch, at the
top of the exterior steps. Defs.' Mot. at ¶¶ 1,
27, 28. When Williams got up from her chair, she fell down
the steps. Id. at ¶ 28. Although she was
sitting outside with a friend, no one witnessed her fall.
Id. at ¶¶ 27, 30. Williams testified at
her deposition that the handrail along the exterior steps had
been loose, and that when she got up from her chair the
handrail “was not there.” Id. at ¶
28. Williams claims that at some point prior to her fall, she
provided a note to the Wilsons informing them of the loose
handrail with one of her rent checks, and that her husband
also informed Jack Wilson of the issue. Id. at
¶¶ 25-26. The Wilsons, however, dispute ever being
notified or made aware of the alleged loose handrail prior to
Williams's fall. Id. at ¶¶ 38, 45-4
federal court sitting in diversity must apply state
substantive law and federal procedural law.”
Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir.
2000) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S.
64, 78 (1938)). Under the well-established summary judgment
standard, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if
the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Summary
judgment is appropriate when ‘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.'” Williams v. Wells Fargo Bank, No.
14-2345, 2015 WL 1573745, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 9, 2015)
(quoting Wright v. Corning, 679 F.3d 101, 105 (3d
[T]he plain language of Rule 56[a] mandates the entry of
summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon
motion, against a party who 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 of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can
be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact, '
since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders
all other facts immaterial. The moving party is
‘entitled to judgment as a matter of law' because
the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing
on an essential element of [his or] her case with respect to
which [he or] she has the burden of proof.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
its very terms, this standard [that there be no genuine issue
as to any material fact] 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) (emphasis in original). A material fact is one
that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law.” Id. at 248.
ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court shall
consider facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's
favor. Scheidemantle v. Slippery Rock Univ. State Sys. of
Higher Educ., 470 F.3d 535, 538 (3d Cir. 2006). To
prevail on summary judgment, however, “the non-moving
party must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence;
‘there must be evidence on which the jury could
reasonably find for the [non-moving party].'”
Burton v. Teleflex Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425 (3d Cir.
2013) (quoting Jakimas v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc.,
485 F.3d 770, 777 (3d Cir. 2007)); see also
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. As this case is in
federal court on diversity jurisdiction, we will apply
Pennsylvania law to this dispute. Erie R.R. Co., 304
U.S. at 78; Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d
239, 253 (3d Cir. 2010).
Defendants Are Entitled to Summary Judgment on Williams's
Claim for Negligence
Wilsons argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on
Williams's negligence claim because: (1) as out of
possession landlords, they are not liable to Williams, their
lessee, for physical harm caused by any dangerous condition
which came into existence after the lessee took possession of
the property; (2) even if traditional negligence principles
apply, there was no evidence of notice of the alleged
dangerous condition; (3) Williams can only speculate that the
condition of the handrail caused her fall and consequently,
she fails to establish causation; and (4) the indemnification
clause in the lease agreement bars Williams's claim.
Defs.' Mot. at 17.
Wilsons are correct that, generally, landlords out of
possession are not liable for harm incurred on the property
by the lessee. Sentry Cas. Co. v. Spray Prods.
Corp., No. 06-cv-1664, 2008 WL 205229, at *2 (E.D. Pa.
Jan. 23, 2008). This rule, however, is subject to certain
exceptions and a landlord out of possession may incur
liability if: (1) the landlord has reserved control over a
defective portion of the demised premises; (2) the demised
premises are so dangerously constructed that the premises are
a nuisance per se; (3) the lessor has knowledge of a
dangerous condition existing on the demised premises at the
time of transferring possession and fails to disclose the
condition to the lessee; (4) the landlord leases the property
for a purpose involving the admission of the public and he
neglects to inspect for or repair dangerous conditions
existing on the property before possession is transferred to
the lessee; (5) the lessor undertakes to repair the demised
premises and ...