eNotes: Liability – June 2021
June 01, 2021
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
PA CASE SUMMARIES
Lacroix v. Tri-State Props., LLC
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 1265 MDA 2020
Decided: May 11, 2021
Salting of sidewalk during ongoing storm did not abrogate hills and ridges defense where slippery conditions prevailed and salting did not increase the natural hazards of ice.
Plaintiff entered a Waffle House in November while it was sleeting. After she exited a short time later, she slipped and fell while stepping off the sidewalk and into the parking lot. Plaintiff sought damages claiming that the sidewalk by the entrance had not been properly treated, and there was no signage warning of the possible slippery conditions. Deposition testimony of employees present at the time revealed that they had each completed incident reports which were not produced during discovery. Despite an order compelling production of the reports which did not result in their production, Plaintiff failed to further pursue the issue. Defendant filed for summary judgment contending that the hills and ridges doctrine provided it with immunity from suit. Plaintiff argued inapplicability of the doctrine because Defendant’s manager had salted the sidewalk earlier in the day. Summary judgment was entered due to the ongoing weather event and the lack of accumulation of snow or ice which constituted a danger.
On appeal, Plaintiff first argued that spoliation of the incident reports precluded summary judgment. The issue was deemed waived because Plaintiff failed to raise spoliation in opposition to summary judgment in the Trial Court. The Court observed, however, that Plaintiff was not prejudiced because she deposed the authors of the reports. Plaintiff next argued that the doctrine of hills and ridges should not have been applied because the intervening act of the manager salting the sidewalk rendered the issue moot. Here, there was surveillance video which showed ongoing precipitation and a lack of any accumulation of snow or ice on the sidewalk. The video also showed an employee slipping and falling on another area of the sidewalk when going to help the Plaintiff. Evidence established that generally slippery conditions prevailed during this ongoing weather event. Summary judgment was proper because there was no evidence that the manager’s prior salting of the sidewalk increased the natural hazards of the ice, nor that Plaintiff relied upon the manager’s salting.
The Superior Court affirmed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant because Defendant’s treatment of the sidewalk during the ongoing weather event did not diminish the existence of generally slippery conditions and a lack of accumulation of snow or ice.
Questions about this case can be directed to James F. Swartz, III at (610) 332-7028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rosenberg v. N. Penn Pediatric Dental Assocs.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 1150 EDA 2020, 2021 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1125
Decided: April 27, 2021
Superior Court holds that forum selection clause which provided for venue in Pennsylvania did not amount to consent to venue in any Pennsylvania county.
This non-precedential decision comes from an appeal to a March 2020 Trial Court Order. The Order sustained, in part, Preliminary Objections of North Penn Pediatric Dental Associates transferring the case to Montgomery County and dismissing Plaintiff’s Complaint without prejudice. Marc Rosenberg began this litigation seeking to recover from Defendant for breach of contract. Rosenberg filed his Complaint in Philadelphia County. Defendants filed Preliminary Objections on the grounds that venue was improper in Philadelphia County. In the contract between the parties, the forum selection clause reads: “10.6 Relief — In the event that [either party] seek judicial enforcement of this agreement, the prevailing parties shall be entitled to recover from the other party the reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of the prevailing party, and both parties consent and agree to venue and service of process in Pennsylvania.”
The Trial Court determined that all factors pointed to Montgomery County as the proper venue, and transferred the case and dismissed the Plaintiff’s Complaint, without prejudice.
The Superior Court affirmed the transfer of the action to Montgomery County. The Superior Court agreed with the Trial Court that: the Defendant’s registered office and principal place of business was in Montgomery County; the Defendant did not regularly conduct business in Philadelphia County; the cause of action arose in Montgomery County; the transaction or occurrence out of which the cause of action arose, took place in Montgomery County; and the property that is the subject matter of the action was located in Montgomery County. By this analysis, the Court affirmed that the proper venue was Montgomery County, despite the forum clause’s ambiguity. The Court vacated the part of the Order dismissing the action, without prejudice, as this violated Rule 1006(e) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.
Questions about this case can be directed to Logan Nagle at (717) 255-7234 or email@example.com.
Chongqing Kangning Bioengineering Co. v. Conrex Pharm. Corp.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 939 EDA 2020
Decided: April 19, 2021
An arbitration provision in a contract between two parties is only enforceable in a later contract between the two parties if the two contracts are sufficiently intertwined.
Plaintiff Chinese corporation, signed a contract with a Pennsylvania corporation, in October 2012 to become the exclusive agent of Defendant Conrex’s skincare products in China. The 2012 agreement contained a valid mandatory arbitration clause. Plaintiff paid a total of $599,985.00 for the ordered goods pursuant to the 2012 contract. As of October 12, 2018, Conrex delivered goods which totaled $345,811.13. A November 16, 2018 confirmation letter signed by the parties after an audit of their accounts agreed that Defendant owed Plaintiff $243,192.41. On March 6, 2019, Defendant Conrex sent a letter to Plaintiff to terminate the October 2012 contract, and Plaintiff agreed as long as Defendant repaid the amount still owed. Conrex failed to repay and Plaintiff sued for breach of the 2018 confirmation letter. Conrex filed Counterclaims, to which Plaintiff filed Preliminary Objections that the Counterclaims were based on the October 2012 agreement and subject to the mandatory arbitration clause. The Trial Court overruled the Preliminary Objections stating the two contracts were intertwined, and Plaintiff waived the arbitration clause by filing this lawsuit.
The Superior Court held that the Trial Court erred as a matter of law by failing to recognize that the 2018 confirmation letter was separate and distinct from the October 2012 contract. To determine whether an arbitration provision applies to a later contract, there must be a valid arbitration provision, and the two writings must be intertwined. The Court looked at the 2018 confirmation letter to determine if it was sufficiently intertwined with the 2012 contract.
The Court held that the 2018 confirmation letter is an “account stated” contract, and the arbitration provision from the October 2012 contract did not apply to the 2018 confirmation letter. Thus, the Trial Court erred as a matter of law in holding the two writing intertwined, and Plaintiff waived its right to arbitrate any disputes from the October 2012 contract.
Questions about this case can be directed to Matthew Gerarde at (267) 861-7584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Royer v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 442 EDA 2020, 2021 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1027
Decided: April 16, 2021
Oral settlement was enforceable even without signed settlement agreement; however, Plaintiff could not be forced to sign settlement agreement with additional terms.
Plaintiff and Defendant, through their respective counsel, orally agreed to a settlement over the phone and Defendant subsequently confirmed the essential terms of the settlement agreement in a writing, which included: (1) the settlement amount; (2) a general global release as to the relevant parties; (3) a confidentiality provision; and (4) a clause related to taxes. The writing was ultimately emailed to the Plaintiff with a request that Plaintiff cancel the upcoming case management conference. Plaintiff complied and requested that the case management conference be cancelled “while [the parties] finalize the resolution of the claim” because “the parties have reached an amicable resolution.” After several months of the parties making changes to the written settlement agreement, Plaintiff filed a Petition to re-instate the matter to active status. Defendant filed a response in opposition as well as a Motion to enforce settlement. The Trial Court ordered that the settlement agreement was enforceable and directed Plaintiff to sign the written settlement agreement.
The Superior Court upheld the Order with regard to the enforceability of the oral settlement, finding that the oral agreement and subsequent written memorialization of same was not conditioned upon the signing of a formal release and that it included the essential terms. However, the Superior Court found that it was improper for the Trial Court to force the Plaintiff to sign the Defendant’s written settlement agreement because it included several clauses that were not discussed during the oral agreement and subsequent written memorialization, i.e. anything more than the amount, the scope of release and parties released, confidentiality and the tax clause. Similarly, the Superior Court found that a clause requested by the Plaintiff after the initial memorialization of the oral agreement, and rejected by the Defendant, did not undermine the enforceability of the settlement.
Questions about this case can be directed to Brook Dirlam at (412) 926-1438 or email@example.com.
MD CASE SUMMARY
Wheeling v. Selene Finance LP
Maryland Court of Appeals
2021 Md. LEXIS 201
Decided: April 30, 2021
A wrongful eviction complaint adequately alleged emotional damages with physical manifestations.
Plaintiffs were occupants of a residential property. They initiated this action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against a mortgage servicer and a real estate broker after the Defendants posted eviction notices on Plaintiffs’ properties, attempting to gain possession of the properties through self-help measures without a court order allegedly in violation of Real Property Article § 7-113. Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendants’ unlawful act of posting the eviction notices without ascertaining the occupancy status of the property caused them to suffer “emotional damages and losses with physical manifestations” such as fear that they would lose their home.
Defendants filed Motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint on the basis that it failed to state a cause of action. The Circuit Court dismissed the case, finding, among other things, that the pleadings failed to allege emotional damages with the specificity required for private causes of action.
The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the Lower Court and found for the Plaintiffs. The Court determined that, among other things, alleging “emotional damages with physical manifestations” adequately pled a claim for emotional damages under Maryland Rule 2-303(b).
Questions about this case can be directed to Nicholas Schaufelberger at (202) 945-9502 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DC CASE SUMMARY
Jackson v. Starbucks Corp.
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68207
Decided: April 8, 2021
Customer’s negligent supervision claim from fracas with employee survives Motion to Dismiss.
Plaintiff Jackson visited a Starbucks. After picking up a package of cookies, Jackson got into a confrontation with the cashier. The Starbucks manager became involved and the matter appeared to be resolved. Not long after, the “large and physically imposing” cashier, under the manager’s instruction or encouragement, came out from behind the counter, with the manager in tow. The cashier proceeded to push Plaintiff after stating “he gotta get out.” The manager remained close by while Plaintiff responded “big man, don’t put your hands on me no more.” Plaintiff was pushed a second time, and Plaintiff allegedly lost consciousness and suffered a seizure.
Plaintiff sued Starbucks and the manager alleging negligent supervision, among other things. The manager moved to dismiss the negligent supervision claim on the grounds that (1) he owed no duty to Plaintiff, and (2) he had no knowledge of the cashier’s propensity to act aggressively towards customers.
The Court held that Plaintiff stated a cognizable claim for negligent supervision under the facts alleged. The Court reasoned that the negligent supervision claim was cognizable, because the manager owed a duty to Plaintiff and the manager’s knowledge of Washington’s propensity could be inferred from his involvement with the incident. The Court, citing DC precedent, reasoned that employers dealing with the public have a general duty to use “reasonable care to select, retain, and supervise employees such that they are competent and fit for the work assigned to them.” The Court also reasoned that the manager’s knowledge of the cashier’s propensity is evidenced by the fact that the manager encouraged the aggressive interaction, directly witnessed it, and made no attempts to stop it, even after witnessing the cashier’s first push. As a result, the Court denied the manager’s motion to dismiss the negligent supervision claim.
Questions about this case can be directed to Ryan Stanley at (202) 945-9504 or email@example.com.
VA CASE SUMMARY
Bolton v. McKinney
Virginia Supreme Court
Decided: April 1, 2021
As a matter of first impression, the Virginia Supreme Court holds that attorney’s fees should be awarded as consequential damages for a breach of a covenant not to sue.
William Bolton and John McKinney were partners in the business venture, Skyline Building Systems. After acquiring the company, Bolton bought out McKinney’s ownership interest. McKinney stayed with the company as an employee, but was later terminated by Bolton. McKinney then brought several lawsuit against Skyline and Bolton, which resulted in Skyline going out of business. Bolton also filed for Bankruptcy with McKinney listed as a creditor. During the bankruptcy proceedings, Bolton and his wife, Sheller, entered into a settlement agreement with McKinney wherein Bolton paid $25,000 to McKinney. The agreement stated: “It is the intention of the parties that . . . there be no more litigation among the parties or claims asserted by any of them against the others.” The parties also “agree[d] and covenant[ed] not to sue or prosecute any claims released by this Agreement.”
McKinney breached the agreement by filing three lawsuits against Bolton, all of which were resolved in Bolton’s favor. Bolton then sued McKinney seeking in excess of $80,000 in attorney’s fees incurred in defending the suits filed by McKinney in breach of the agreement. The Circuit Court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Bolton on the issue of McKinney’s liability, but ruled Bolton could not recover the alleged damages because attorney’s fees are generally only awarded when explicitly authorized by a contract or statute. The Court also noted that the agreement was silent on whether fees should be awarded if the case was resolved at trial. The Court then ruled that because unstated terms cannot be read into a contract, an award of attorney’s fees was not appropriate.
The Virginia Supreme Court held that the Circuit Court erred in failing to award as damages the attorney’s fees the Boltons incurred defending the lawsuits initiated by McKinney. The Court recognized that a plaintiff’s only damages for a breach of a covenant not to sue may be the attorney’s fees incurred in defending actions that breached the agreement. Generally, attorneys’ fees are not recoverable as damages, but the Court recognized that attorneys’ fees are the direct or consequential damages of a covenant not to sue. Allowing for recovery of attorneys’ fees under such circumstances compensates the injured party and puts that party in the same position, as if the other party had not breached the agreement. To allow otherwise would rob the prevailing party of the benefit of the bargain. The Trial Court’s judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Questions about this case can be directed to Nicholas Phillips at (571) 464-0436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.