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Gaffney v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 20, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.



         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 ("ALJ") 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 Steamtown Mall Associates and Prizm Asset Management Company's (collectively "Moving Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgement.[1] (Doc. 81). For the reasons that follow, this Court will grant the Moving Defendants' Motion.

         II. Statement of Undisputed Facts

         In accordance with Local Rule 56.1, the Moving Defendants have submitted a Statement of Material Facts in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 84), and Plaintiff submitted a response, (Doc. 90-1). Thus, the following facts are undisputed, except as specifically noted:

         On June 30, 2011, Plaintiff was in the Social Security Administration office located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, when a Social Security employee, ALJ Sridhar Boini, reached under her right arm and fondled her breasts. (Doc. 84 at ¶ 1; Doc. 90-1 at ¶ 1). The building in which the office was located was owned by Steamtown Mall Associates. (Doc. 84 at ¶ 2; Doc. 90-1 at ¶ 2). Prizm Asset Management Company provided management services, including security, for the property. (Doc. 84 at ¶ 4; Doc. 90-1 at ¶ 4). The lobby of the building was staffed by a security guard who required visitors, but not individuals who worked in the building, to sign in before going anywhere in the building. (Dep. of Michael Nesko, Doc. 98-2 at 19-20). The section of the building that the Social Security office occupied was leased to the Social Security Administration and it had its own security personnel provided by Knight Protective Services, Inc. (Doc. 84 at ¶¶ 3, 5; Doc. 90-1 at ¶¶ 3, 5).

         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. Natl 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 reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.

Id. (internal quotations, citations, and alterations omitted).

         IV. Analysis

         Plaintiff has alleged that the Moving Defendants were negligent in failing to protect her from Boini. In Pennsylvania, "[t]o establish a cause of action in negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, the breach resulted in injury to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff suffered an actual loss or damage." Martin v. Evans,711 A.2d 458, 461 (Pa. 1998). "The existence of a duty owed by a defendant is the threshold question in a negligence action, and this is generally a question of law." Perez v. Great Wolf Lodge of the Poconos LLC,200 F.Supp.3d 471, 478 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (quotation marks omitted). "Generally, there is no duty to control the acts of a third party unless the Defendant stands in some special relationship with either the person whose conduct needs to be controlled or with the intended victim of the conduct, which gives the intended victim a right to protection." Reason v. Kathryn'sKorner Thrift Shop,169 A.3d 96, 102 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2017) (quotation marks and alteration omitted); see also Midgette v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,3 ...

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