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Gaffney v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 20, 2017

FLORENCE GAFFNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         On the afternoon of June 30, 2011, Plaintiff Florence Gaffney was in the lobby of the Social Security Administration office in Scranton, Pennsylvania, when Administrative Law Judge Sridhar Boini allegedly walked up behind her in an intoxicated state, reached under her right arm, and grabbed her breasts. As a result of the incident, Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Boini, the United States, Knight Protective Services, Inc., Steamtown Mall Associates, L.P., and Prizm Asset Management Company all negligently caused her injuries. (Doc. 1). Presently before the Court is the United States' Motion for Summary Judgment.[1] (Doc. 83). For the reasons that follow, this Court will deny the United States' Motion.

         II. Statement of Undisputed Facts

         In accordance with Local Rule 56.1, the United States submitted a Statement of Material Facts in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 88), and Plaintiff submitted a response, (Doc. 97). Thus, the following facts are undisputed, except as specifically noted:

         In 2008, Sridhar Boini became an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") with the Social Security Administration. (Dep. of Sridhar Boini, Doc. 98-10 at 23-24). He was initially assigned exclusively to an office in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, but at some point he also began to work one to two days a week at the Social Security office in Scranton. (Id. at 23-24, 69). Around the same time he became an ALJ, Boini also began to turn to alcohol to relieve his stress. (Id. at 17-18, 35-37). While Boini maintains that this was not problematic at first, his drinking steadily increased over the next few years and culminated in a diagnosis of alcohol dependency in 2012. (Id. at 35-38, 50-53).

         Prior to 2010, Boini would sometimes go out to lunch with coworkers and have one to two drinks before returning to the office. (Id. at 44, 46-47). According to Boini, these lunches would occur once a week at most, but were generally less frequent. (Id. at 44, 46). Then, in January of 2010, Boini went out to lunch with a couple of coworkers in Wilkes-Barre and had several drinks. (Id. at 38-39). After lunch was over, Boini took a walk by himself and, after his coworkers left, returned to the restaurant and had a few more drinks. (Id. at 39). When he returned to the office he did not have his key card and began to bang loudly on the employee door until it was opened by someone. (Id. at 41).

         The office's Chief ALJ at the time was Edward Brady. (Dep. of Edward Brady, Doc. 98-12 at 6-7, 18). Although Brady was not at work when the incident occurred, he received a call from a supervisor who was concerned that Boini had been drinking, (Id. at 19). A few days later, Brady talked to Boini and advised him that, as an ALJ, Boini needed to be very careful about how he acted in the office. (Id. at 20). According to Boini, Brady also stated, "if you're going to do that, just sign out and take leave for the rest of the day. Don't come back to the office." (Dep. of Sridhar Boini, Doc. 98-10 at 44).

         After this time, Boini began to try and avoid consuming alcohol in Wilkes-Barre in an effort to conceal his drinking from management. (Id. at 59-60). Nevertheless, starting in 2011, the frequency at which Boini would consume alcohol during the workday increased. (Id. at 50). He would use the days he worked in Scranton "to consume alcohol during a workday and slip under the radar." (Id. at 89). When in Wilkes-Barre, Boini would still occasionally go out to lunch with coworkers and have a drink, but also would go to lunch by himself, (Id. at 60-61).

         On June 30, 2011, Plaintiff, Florence Gaffney, went to the Scranton Social Security office to fill out a form. (Dep. of Florence Gaffney, Doc. 98-1 at 8, 12). While completing the form, she noticed someone who smelled strongly of alcohol come up behind her. (Id. at 12). The person then reached over and grabbed her breasts. (Id. at 13, 15-16). She turned around, saw a man standing there, and said "Who are you to do that to me?" (Id. at 13). The man responded "I'm the Judge." (Id). Plaintiff immediately went to the security guard stationed in the lobby of the Social Security office and reported the incident. (Dep. of Michael Nesko, Doc. 98-2 at 38-39). She pointed to the man who had grabbed her and asked the guard, Michael Nesko, to identify him. (Id. at 39-40). Nesko identified the man as Boini. (Id. at 39).

         III. Standard of Review

         Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "As to materiality, [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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must offer specific facts contradicting those averred by the movant to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990). Therefore, the non-moving party may not oppose summary judgment simply on the basis of the pleadings, or on conclusory statements that a factual issue exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record ... or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). In evaluating whether summary judgment should be granted, "[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). "Inferences should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert, denied 507 U.S. 912, 113 S.Ct. 1262, 122 L.Ed.2d 659 (1993).

         However, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). If a party has carried its burden under the summary judgment rule,

its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. 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. When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no ...

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