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Ashmen v. Big Boulder Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 8, 2018

JAMES B. ASHMEN, JR., Plaintiff
v.
BIG BOULDER CORPORATION d/b/a JACK FROST/BIG BOULDER SKI RESORTS, JFFB SKI AREAS, INC. d/b/a JACK FROST/BIG BOULDER SKI RESORTS and PEAK RESORTS, INC., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES M. MUNLEY JUDGE

         Before the court for disposition is a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant in this negligence action. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         Background

         This case arises from a snowboarding accident that occurred on January 24, 2015. (Doc. 19-1, Def. Stmt. of Mat. Facts (hereinafter “SOF”) ¶ 1).[1] Plaintiff James Ashmen collided with snowmaking equipment while snowboarding down a closed trail at Big Boulder Ski Area in Lake Harmony, PA. (Id. ¶ 2). The plaintiff, who was unaware that the trail was closed due to improper signage, encountered the snowmaking equipment in the middle of the trail while he was in motion. (Id. ¶ 9). Unable to avoid collision, he struck his leg on the snowmaking equipment. (Id. ¶ 10). Plaintiff suffered injury as a result. (Id. ¶ 2).

         Based upon these facts, the plaintiff filed a two-count complaint on January 20, 2017, against the following entities that owned, operated, maintained and/or controlled Big Boulder Ski Area: Defendant Big Boulder Corporation d/b/a Jack Frost/Big Boulder Ski Resorts (hereinafter “Big Boulder”), Defendant JFBB Ski Areas, Inc., d/b/a Jack Frost Big Boulder Ski Resorts (hereinafter “JFBB”), and Defendant Peak Resorts, Inc. (hereinafter “Peak Resorts”). Plaintiff raises a negligence claim as well as a gross negligence claim. The defendants collectively filed the instant motion for summary judgment on September 20, 2017, bringing this case to its present posture.

         Jurisdiction

         This case is before us based upon diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Cases are properly brought in federal district court under the diversity statute when the action involves citizens of different states and an amount in controversy, exclusive of interest and costs, in excess of $75, 000.00. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Instantly, Plaintiff Ashmen is a citizen of New Jersey. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 3). Defendant Big Boulder is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with its principal place of business in the same. (Id. ¶ 4). Defendant JFBB is incorporated in Pennsylvania, with its principal place of business in the same. (Id. ¶ 6). Defendant Peak Resorts is also incorporated in Pennsylvania, with its principal place of business in the same. (Id. ¶ 8). 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)).

         Legal Standard

         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, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

         In 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 non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving 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 non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex 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.

         Discussion

         The defendants move for summary judgment on plaintiff's negligence claims, asserting that they had no duty to protect the plaintiff because the plaintiff assumed the inherent risk of colliding with snowmaking equipment by engaging in the sport of snowboarding. Plaintiff counters that there are genuine issues of material fact in this case that preclude summary judgment on whether colliding with such equipment was an inherent risk. After careful review, we agree with the plaintiff.

         In Pennsylvania, the elements necessary to plead an action in negligence are: (1) the existence of a duty or obligation requiring a certain standard of conduct; (2) a failure to conform to that duty, or a breach thereof; (3) a causal connection between the breach and the harm; and (4) actual loss or damage suffered. Atcovitz v. Gulph Mills Tennis Club, Inc., 812 A.2d 1218, 1222 (Pa. 2002). In the instant motion, the defendants challenge the existence of a duty. “A duty, in negligence cases, may be defined as an obligation, to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another.” Id.

         As noted above, the defendants argue that here, they did not owe a duty to the plaintiff because he “assumed the inherent risk of colliding with snowmaking equiptment while snowboarding at Big Boulder.” (Doc. 20, Def.'s Br. in Supp. of MSJ, at 2). This language used by the defendant, however, appears to conflate two discrete doctrines: the voluntary assumption of the risk doctrine and the inherent risk doctrine. We ...


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