eNotes: Liability – March 2019
February 28, 2019
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
FEDERAL CASE SUMMARY
Yanuck v. Simi Transp. Corp.
United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
Decided: November 30, 2018
The federal removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1446, is strictly construed and the burden to demonstrate jurisdiction rests with the removing party. Pursuant to § 1446, all defendants who have been properly joined and served must join in or consent to the removal of the action. It is not enough for the removing party to simply state that the codefendants consent, or do not oppose removal, in the absence of an individualized notice of consent from each defendant.
Plaintiff, a towing company, filed suit against seven Defendants in the Westmoreland County of Common Pleas to recover damages for services rendered in response to a tractor-trailer accident. Defendant GMH Transportation filed a notice of removal with the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania. Attached to the notice of removal were express notices of consent for removal prepared by three of the seven Defendants. The remaining three Defendants did not provide notices of consent. Instead, counsel for GMH filed an affidavit stating that she had spoken with counsel for the three Defendants who consented to the removal, but could not draft a letter of consent due to ongoing, unresolved, insurance coverage issues.
Plaintiff filed objections to the affidavit along with a motion to remand the case back to the state court. Shortly thereafter, counsel for the three Defendants informed the Court that he no longer represented the Defendants and requested to be removed as counsel.
The removal statute is strictly construed and the burden to demonstrate jurisdiction rests with the removing party. “It is not enough for the removing party to simply state the codefendants consent or do not oppose removal because this verification cannot legally bind the allegedly consenting codefendant.” The Court emphasized that there are good reasons for the rule requiring clear and unambiguous joinder or consent to a removal petition by each defendant. A writing, from each defendant, such as an affidavit of joinder or consent, would unequivocally bind that party and trigger the application of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. In this case, GMH’s affidavit merely submitted an attenuated chain of consent made on their behalf. As counsel for the remaining Defendants eventually notified the Court that he did not represent them, there was no evidence of consent by any person with authority to act on these Defendants’ behalf. As such, GMH’s submission by affidavit fell short of the standard to show joinder or consent as required by § 1446(b)(2), and the case was remanded.
Questions about this case can be directed to John Lucy, at (717) 441-7067 or email@example.com.
PENNSYLVANIA CASE SUMMARIES
Nelson v. Loftus
United States District Court for Eastern District of Pennsylvania
No. 17-3247, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5094
Decided: January 11, 2019
Federal court grants Defendant Schneider National Carriers’ Motion for Summary Judgment finding that the carrier was not vicariously liable for the actions of its driver when he exited the carrier’s vehicle and attacked the Plaintiff in a road rage incident.
Plaintiff Nelson alleges that he merged into traffic in front of Defendant Loftus who was operating a semi-trailer truck owned by co-Defendant Schneider. After the merger which purportedly almost caused an accident, Defendant Loftus is alleged to have displayed angry gestures with his hands and screamed. At a red light, Defendant Loftus exited his truck and allegedly slammed his fists against Plaintiff’s driver’s side window. Plaintiff Nelson parked his car and as Plaintiff Nelson attempted to exit his vehicle, Defendant Loftus allegedly slammed the driver’s side door multiple times against Plaintiff Nelson’s face and allegedly trapped Plaintiff Nelson’s head between the frame of the car and the driver’s side door. Plaintiff Nelson called the Police and Defendant Loftus was charged with harassment under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709. The issue before the Court was whether Defendant Loftus, an employee driver of Schneider, acted within the scope of his employment during this incident, and whether Schneider knew or should have known of Mr. Loftus’ violent propensity.
The U. S. District Court granted summary judgment for Schneider finding that Loftus’ actions fell outside of the scope of his employment as a matter of law, and Schneider could not be held liable for Loftus’ actions, as it did not have prior knowledge of Loftus’ violent propensities.
Questions about this case can be directed to Christopher Gallagher, at (215) 564-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watkins v. Lerro Corp.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 9 WDA 2018
Decided: January 23, 2019
Unanswered request for admissions held insufficient to grant summary judgment or Motions in limine when controverted by the record.
Plaintiff alleged Defendant stole his confidential bid on updating the security infrastructure for Indiana County Court of Common Pleas and its Magisterial District Courts. Defendant’s Request for Admissions (RFAs) were not timely answered and the Court then ruled the facts set forth in the RFAs were deemed admitted. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment based on the admitted facts, and Plaintiff opposed by creating a record that controverted the admitted facts. Although summary judgment was denied by the Trial Court, Defendant filed Motions in Limine to preclude, among other things, Plaintiff from introducing any evidence that contradicted the facts that had been admitted pursuant to the RFAs.
After a discussion of the finer principles of civil procedure applicable to RFAs, Motions for Summary Judgment, and exceptions to the coordinate jurisdiction rule, the Superior Court vacated the order granting Defendant’s Motion in Limine and Motion to Dismiss and returned the case to the Trial Court. In its opinion, the Court held that even facts deemed admitted after a party’s failure to respond to RFAs, can be withdrawn or amended later. In this case, the Court’s denial of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was tantamount to allowing Plaintiff to withdraw his earlier admissions of fact.
Questions about this case can be directed to Joe Holko, at (610) 332-7005 or email@example.com.
Coppola v. Steel Services, Inc.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 811 EDA 2018
Decided: January 18, 2019
Website of an out of state business, alone, is insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction.
Plaintiff, a Pennsylvania resident, located Defendant, a Virginia corporation, by viewing its website. Plaintiff called Defendant to purchase Defendant’s product by credit card payment over the telephone. Defendant shipped its merchandise from its Virginia place of business to Plaintiff’s jobsite, also located in Virginia. Defendant had no office, bank account or telephone number in Pennsylvania. Defendant was not registered in Pennsylvania as a foreign corporation. Plaintiff filed a Complaint in Pennsylvania alleging breach of contract, to which Defendant filed preliminary objections, including an objection to the Court’s lack of personal jurisdiction. The Trial Court dismissed the Complaint on personal jurisdiction grounds.
In affirming the Trial Court, the Superior Court agreed that the mere presence of a website, without more, is insufficient to subject a business to specific jurisdiction. It reasoned that Defendant’s website did not target users in Pennsylvania, and there was nothing to show Defendant had a presence in Pennsylvania. Moreover, none of the particular acts of the Defendant giving rise to the cause of action occurred in Pennsylvania. The Superior Court further found no error on the discovery issue because Plaintiff waived the issue since he had not sought discovery at any time prior to the order sustaining the preliminary objections. Even if not waived, the Court held that the claim would fail on its merits because, as the Trial Court found, “given the uncontroverted facts and the clear law as to this jurisdiction dispute, there was no need to open the fact record for discovery relating to this issue.”
Questions about this case can be directed to James Swartz, III, at (610) 332-7028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sell v. Wellsboro Hotel Co.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 483 MDA 2018
Decided: January 17, 2019
An exculpatory clause was found sufficient to bar Plaintiff’s claim because, although it employed broad language, it clearly contemplated the activity at issue.
This case concerned a slip and fall in the hallway between the swimming pool and locker rooms of a fitness center, located within the Penn Wells Hotel and Lodge, in Wellsboro, PA. The Plaintiff, Katherine Sell, was a member of the fitness center and frequently traversed the hallway in question. After having used the swimming pool, Ms. Sell walked barefoot towards the locker rooms, slipped in water, fell, and fractured her right femur. Ms. Sell testified that the hallway was often wet and that she had complained to that effect to an employee of the fitness center, at some point before her injury.
Wellsboro Hotel Co, the owner of the hotel and fitness center, defended on the basis of a Membership Agreement signed by Ms. Sell. The Membership Agreement contained an exculpatory clause which read, in relevant part, “[i]t is expressly agreed that…use of the facilities shall be undertaken at member’s own risk. The Penn Wells and managers, officers and directors shall not be liable for any claims…or causes of action for personal injury…incurred by members…while on [the] premises.” The Trial Court granted Wellsboro’s motion for summary judgment.
The Court upheld the Trial Court’s grant of summary judgment, finding that the exculpatory clause “unambiguously states that the members assume risk of ‘all exercises and use of the facilities’ and that Wellsboro is not liable for ‘any claims [or] injuries’ sustained by members while on the premises.” The Court clarified that, while this broad language was sufficient to bar Ms. Sell’s negligence claim, other language in the contract, which warned guests who exit the pool that “floors can be slippery,” was evidence that Wellsboro had explicitly contemplated the activity at issue. The Court was “equally unpersuaded by [Ms. Sell’s] argument that the exculpatory clause was not intended to bar claims arising from Wellsboro’s negligence” because “[a]n exculpatory clause need not specifically mention ‘negligence’ in order to bar negligence suits.”
Questions about this case can be directed to Sam Dunlop, at (412) 926-1432 or email@example.com.
MARYLAND CASE SUMMARY
Pinner v. Pinner
Maryland Court of Special Appeals
September Term, 2017, No. 1231
Decided: January 31, 2019
The filing of a single lawsuit in Maryland does not amount to consent to be sued in Maryland if there are no other contacts with the state.
Edwin Pinner filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City seeking damages for personal injuries caused by asbestos exposure. During the lawsuit, Edwin died from mesothelioma and his suit was converted to a wrongful death and survival action on behalf of his late wife Mona, as personal representative of the Estate. When Mona, a North Carolina resident, added a wrongful death claim to the asbestos case, she did not timely serve notice on Edwin’s son, Randy, or name him as a use Plaintiff. Mona settled with Defendants in the asbestos case, received settlement proceeds, but did not deposit those funds into the Estate opened in North Carolina. Randy Pinner, Edwin’s late son, learned of the settlement and sued Mona and her attorneys for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. The Circuit Court granted the motions to dismiss filed by Mona’s attorneys and they were dismissed from the action. Mona failed to file an answer and an order of default judgment was entered against her in the amount of $99,856.84.
Mona filed an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, presenting the issue whether the Circuit Court erred by exercising personal jurisdiction over Mona.
The Court of Special Appeals held that the Circuit Court erred by exercising personal jurisdiction over Mona. It explained that the filing and prosecution in Maryland of a single toxic tort suit by Mona, a North Carolina resident, was not a purposeful availment of the forum state that amounted to consent to be sued in Maryland.
Questions about this case can be directed to Salvatore Cardile, at (410) 653-0460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEW JERSEY CASE SUMMARY
Delgatto v. Greenbrier Sporting Club
New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division
No. A-2269-17T3 , 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 296
Decided: February 6, 2019
National print and television advertisements are insufficient to establish “minimum contacts” for purposes of personal jurisdiction.
Greenbrier Sporting Club is a hotel and golf resort located in West Virginia. Plaintiffs Anthony Delgatto and Theresa Delgatto, residents of New Jersey, saw advertisements for the Greenbrier on the Golf Channel (a cable television station), during golf events broadcast on national network television stations, and in nationally circulated golf magazines. Greenbrier does not advertise on local New Jersey television stations or in local New Jersey magazines. The Delgattos also visited the Greenbrier’s website to obtain hotel information. They then booked a room through American Express Travel Services. During their stay, Anthony Delgatto slipped and fell on the golf course, suffering significant injuries for which he received treatment in New Jersey and New York City. After the Delgattos sued the Greenbrier in New Jersey, Greenbrier moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction which was granted.
The Appellate Division affirmed, agreeing that Greenbrier’s national advertisements were insufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction because Greenbrier did not “purposefully avail” itself of the privilege of conducting business in New Jersey by means of such advertisements. The Appellate Court also affirmed the Trial Court’s finding of a lack of general jurisdiction, observing that the Greenbrier is incorporated in West Virginia and that its facilities are located in that state.
Questions about this case can be directed to Charles Skriner, at (908) 574-0513 or email@example.com.
DC CASE SUMMARY
Jackson v. Office of the Mayor of D.C.
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Decided: December 28, 2018
D.C. Circuit reverses dismissal of federal lawsuit on res judicata grounds where same claims were previously dismissed in state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
In 2010 Clarence Jackson applied to sit for the D.C. Bar Examination for a fifth time after four failed attempts. The D.C. Court of Appeals Committee on Admissions (Committee) denied Jackson’s application after he failed to pay required fees and to provide proof that he had graduated from law school. Five years after the denial of his application, Jackson filed a pro se lawsuit against the Committee in the D.C. Superior Court (D.C. lawsuit), alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, breach of contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Superior Court granted the Committee’s motion to dismiss without explanation. Jackson then requested an explanation for the dismissal, and while his request was pending, he filed another pro se lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Committee and the Mayor’s Office (federal lawsuit).
The District Court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss, citing the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Younger abstention doctrine, and finding the federal lawsuit was barred by res judicata. Jackson appealed the dismissal of the federal lawsuit. Meanwhile, the Superior Court explained that it had dismissed the D.C. lawsuit because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction, among other reasons. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found the Rooker-Feldman doctrine inapplicable because Jackson did not seek federal court review of the Superior Court’s dismissal of the D.C. lawsuit, and found Younger inapplicable because Jackson’s state court proceedings were not ongoing. Thus, the appeal focused on res judicata, which bars a party from re-litigating a claim that was previously raised (or could have been raised) in prior litigation between the same parties where a final judgment was entered “on the merits.”
The D.C. Circuit reversed the District Court’s dismissal of the federal lawsuit and remanded the case, holding that res judicata did not bar Jackson’s claim because the Superior Court’s dismissal of the D.C. lawsuit was not a judgment on the merits, as it was dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court further held that the doctrine of issue preclusion, or collateral estoppel, which prevents a party from re-litigating the same issue in a subsequent proceeding, also would not apply because the jurisdictional issues presented in the D.C. lawsuit were different from those in the federal lawsuit, as federal and state court jurisdiction are different issues.
Questions about this case can be directed to Peter Biberstein, at (202) 945-9506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
VIRGINIA CASE SUMMARY
Jeffreys v. The Uninsured Employer’s Fund
Virginia Supreme Court
Decided: February 14, 2019
Statutory employer provisions do not provide for compensation where the trade or business being conducted is not within the normal work of the employer.
A historical society was formed to restore an old school building, and became an auxiliary of a local church to obtain tax-exempt status. The historical society retained an unlicensed contractor, who in turn hired the claimant. The contractor recorded the claimant’s hours and was his sole manager; the society never interacted with him prior to his injury. A beam fell during construction and severely injured the claimant. He filed workers’ compensation claims against the society, the society’s organizer, and the church, but not the contractor. Because none of these parties had workers’ compensation insurance, the Uninsured Employer’s Fund (UEF) was also added as a party. The claimant argued that either the society, its organizer, and the church were his direct employers and owed him compensation, or they were his statutory employers because he had performed work in their trade, business, or occupation. The Commission found that none of the parties were claimant’s employers.
The Court affirmed, holding that the claimant’s arguments for liberal construction of the Workers’ Compensation Act were in fact arguments for reinterpretation of the plain language. The Court reviewed the Commissioner’s analysis under the normal-work rule and found that the Commission was correct in concluding that the claimant had failed to establish that his reconstruction work was part of the church or society’s normal trade, business, or occupation, although the society had been organized for the purpose of restoring the school building.
Questions about this case can be directed to Collin Shannon, at (202) 945-9504 or email@example.com.