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Stuebe v. SS Industries, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 26, 2019

DAVID STUEBE and PAIGE STUEBE, Husband and Wife, Plaintiffs


          C. DARNELL JONES, II J.


         Defendant S.S. Industries, LLC moves for Summary Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. In so moving, Defendant seeks final judgment in its favor on all of Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to a suit-limitation clause. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment shall be granted.


         On or about April 24, 2017, Plaintiff David Stuebe (“Mr. Stuebe”) agreed to purchase a spiral-staircase kit from Defendant by signing an order form (“Purchase Agreement” or “Agreement”), which incorporates by reference a set of online terms and conditions including a ninety-day suit-limitation clause and a forum-selection clause. (Compl. ¶ 3.2, ECF No. 1; D. Stuebe Decl. ¶¶ 13-21, ECF No. 17.) The spiral-staircase kit arrived on June 29, 2017. (Compl. ¶ 3.4.) On or about July 5, 2017, Mr. Stuebe injured himself while installing the spiral-staircase in accordance with Defendant's installation instructions. (Compl. ¶ 3.12; D. Stuebe Decl. ¶ 22.) On that same day, Mr. Stuebe sent an email to one of Defendant's representatives, explaining that he had been seriously injured while trying to assemble the staircase and asking Defendant to send someone out to finish the installation. (Email from D. Stuebe to C. Strader, (Jul. 5, 2017, 09:18 Time Zone Uncertain) (Wolfe Decl. Ex. E, ECF No. 14).) On October 11, 2017, ninety-nine days after the accident, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Defendant in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. (Compl. 1.) On May 24, 2018, Defendant moved for summary judgment in the Western District of Washington, seeking dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to the Purchase Agreement's suit-limitation clause, or in the alternative, to have the case transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania pursuant to the Agreement's forum-selection clause. (W.D. Wash. Mot. Summ. J. 1, ECF No. 12.)

         A. Previous Rulings

         The Honorable Benjamin H. Settle granted Defendant's first Motion for Summary Judgment in part and denied it in part without prejudice while also granting Defendant's Motion to Transfer to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (J. Settle Opinion 10, ECF No. 22.) In so ruling, Judge Settle held the terms and conditions for the purchase of the spiral-staircase were incorporated by reference into the Order Form. (J. Settle Opinion 6, 10.) Moreover, Judge Settle held that Mr. Stuebe manifested assent to these terms and conditions by signing the order form. (J. Settle Opinion 7.) After holding the foregoing, Judge Settle proceeded to determine the validity of the forum-selection clause but not the suit-limitation clause. (J. Settle Opinion 8.) Judge Settle acknowledged that Defendant sought judgment on the suit-limitation clause but, upon finding the forum selection clause to be valid, he transferred to allow the parties' chosen forum to determine the validity of the suit-limitation clause. (J. Settle Opinion 8.) Thus, after concluding the forum-selection clause is valid and enforceable, Judge Settle transferred the case to this Court. (J. Settle Opinion 10.)


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.”) 56(a), a court shall grant summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a summary judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Santini v. Fuentes, 795 F.3d 410, 416 (3d Cir. 2015) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Therefore, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must establish that the disputes are both (1) material, meaning concerning facts that will affect the outcome of the issue under substantive law; and (2) genuine, meaning the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[A] nonmoving party must adduce more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor and cannot simply reassert factually unsupported allegations contained in its pleadings[.]” Williams v. West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). Accordingly, summary judgment is mandated “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.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “At the summary judgment stage of proceedings, courts do not ‘weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations,' but, instead, leave that task to the fact-finder at a later trial if the court denies summary judgment.” Halsey v. Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273, 287 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets v. Darling-Delaware Co., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993)).


         Because Judge Settle did not rule on the validity of the ninety-day suit-limitation clause, that is the issue before this Court-whether the suit-limitation clause is valid and enforceable. Defendant argues the ninety-day suit-limitation clause contained in the terms and conditions is enforceable under Pennsylvania law and should therefore preclude Plaintiffs' claims from proceeding because they filed their complaint ninety-nine days after the date of the accident. (Mot. Summ. J. 5.) Plaintiffs argue the ninety-day suit-limitations clause at issue here is both manifestly unreasonable and unconscionable, and therefore is not enforceable. (Pls.' Resp. 5, ECF No. 5.)

         A. Manifestly Unreasonable Standard

         In support of its position that the ninety-day suit-limitation clause at issue here is reasonable and enforceable, Defendant points to Pennsylvania's long history of upholding suit-limitation clauses and to a Pennsylvania statute that sanctions suit-limitation clauses that are “‘[not] manifestly unreasonable.'” (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 3-4 (citing Pennsylvania cases and quoting 42 Pa.C.S. § 5501(a)).) Defendant relies heavily on Ferguson v. Manufacturers' Casualty Ins. Co., 195 A. 661, 663-664 (Pa. Super Ct. 1937), which upheld a ninety-day suit-limitation clause, and Delosky v. Penn State Geisinger Health Plan, No. 4:00-cv-01066, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17188, at *19 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 23, 2002), which upheld a sixty-day suit-limitation clause. Plaintiffs counter there is no case in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a three-month suit-limitation provision and there is no case in which any Pennsylvania court upheld a three-month suit-limitation provision in a product liability lawsuit. (Pls'. Resp. 9, 11.) Plaintiffs seek to distinguish Ferguson and Delosky on the grounds that said cases concerned insurance claims whereas this case concerns product liability. (Pls'. Resp. 9-10.)

         On the one hand, as Defendant notes, under Pennsylvania law, parties may shorten a statute of limitations period if the agreed-upon period is “not manifestly unreasonable.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 5501(a). On the other hand, as Plaintiffs note, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not spoken to the reasonableness of a ninety-day suit limitation provision. In fact, there is little case law in Pennsylvania addressing exactly how long is “not manifestly unreasonable.” See PSC Info Group v. Lason, Inc., 681 F.Supp.2d 577, 587 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (also finding a paucity of case law on the manifestly unreasonable standard). However, in the absence of a superseding ruling on ninety-day suit limitation clauses by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania Superior Court's ruling in Ferguson remains instructive. In Ferguson, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found a contractually-agreed-upon ninety-day suit-limitation provision to be “not unreasonably short, ” and upheld it because the parties agreed to it. Ferguson, 195 A. at 663-664. ...

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