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Joers v. City of Philadelphia

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 19, 2018

Debra Joers and Ralph D'Abruzzo, II
v.
City of Philadelphia and Yvette Leduc Appeal of: City of Philadelphia

          Argued: June 7, 2018

          BEFORE: HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judges.

          OPINION

          JAMES GARDNER COLINS, SENIOR JUDGE.

         This is an appeal filed by the City of Philadelphia (City) from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court) entering judgment against the City following a jury verdict against it and its employee, Police Officer Yvette Leduc (Officer Leduc) in a personal injury automobile accident case brought by Debra Joers and her husband Ralph D'Abruzzo, II (collectively, Plaintiffs). The appeal does not challenge the jury's verdict against Officer Leduc or the amount of damages awarded by the jury. The issues in this appeal involve only the City's vicarious liability for the accident. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm on the ground that the City was bound by deemed admissions that Officer Leduc was acting in the scope of her employment at the time of the accident where it failed to respond to requests for admissions until three months after the discovery deadline and approximately one month before trial.

         At approximately 7:45 a.m. on September 30, 2015, Plaintiff Joers was struck and injured by Officer Leduc's vehicle when Joers was crossing an intersection in Center City Philadelphia. (5/15/17 Trial Transcript (N.T.) at 75-83, Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 138-140.) At the time of the accident, Officer Leduc was driving her personal car from her house to a criminal court hearing at which she was required to appear and testify in her capacity as a police officer and was in uniform and carrying her service weapon. (Id. at 161-65, R.R. at 160-161; 5/16/17 N.T. at 60-61, 69, R.R. at 184-185, 187.) Plaintiff Joers suffered fractures of her left arm and left leg in the accident that required surgery, hospitalization and rehabilitation.

         On February 29, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the City and Officer Leduc alleging that Officer Leduc was negligent and that the City was liable for her actions on the ground that she was acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident. The City denied the averments of Plaintiffs' complaint. The trial court's case management order required that all discovery be completed by January 2, 2017 and that the case be ready for trial by May 1, 2017. (Docket Entries, R.R. at 32.)

         On September 7, 2016, Plaintiffs served on the City a set of requests for admissions pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. No. 4014 (the Request for Admissions) seeking admissions concerning the accident, Officer Leduc's employment with the City, and Plaintiff Joers' injuries and damages. Among the items that Plaintiffs requested that the City admit were the following:

6. During the week of Sunday, September 27, 2015 through Saturday October 3, 2015, Leduc's regularly scheduled shift was 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
* * *
17. Police officers employed by the City are acting within the scope of their employment when they are traveling to court to provide testimony in criminal matters pursuant to subpoena.
* * *
27. At the time Leduc struck Plaintiff Deborah Joers on Wednesday, September 30, 2015, Leduc was being compensated for her time by the City.
* * *
30. If Leduc had not been on her way to the Criminal Justice Center on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at approximately 7:45 a.m., she would have been working as a patrol officer at the 39th District of the Philadelphia Police Department.
31. On Wednesday, September 30, 2015, Leduc's hours of work were 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
32. At the time Leduc struck Plaintiff Deborah Joers on Wednesday, September 30, 2015, Leduc was acting within the course and scope of her employment with the City.
33. On Wednesday, September 30, 2015, at approximately 7:45 a.m., Leduc was acting in the course and scope of her employment.
34. On Wednesday, September 30, 2015, at approximately 7:45 a.m., Leduc was not pursuing an activity unreleated ...

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