Pa. Superior Court affirms Phila. judge's defense summary judgment in premises liability case

By Jon Campisi | Jun 25, 2013

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has affirmed a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court

judge’s dismissal of a premises liability action that had been filed by a city tenant against his landlord.

In its June 21 non-precedential decision, the three-judge appellate court panel upheld an April 19, 2012 dismissal with prejudice of a case that had been initiated by George Scaricamazza against June DiNapoli, June DiNapoli Revocable Trust and Lorene Yanuzzi.

Scaricamazza had filed suit over injuries he allegedly sustained on Christmas Day in 2008 after he slipped and fell on an icy area on the stairway of his Philadelphia apartment complex.

The man asserted that his injuries were due to the negligence of June DiNapoli, which allegedly consisted of defects in the stairway, such as the lack of a railing, inadequate lighting and varying sized steps, the record shows.

The defendants had claimed they properly maintained the property, and following arbitration, Scaricamazza was found to be 100 percent negligent for his injuries.

The plaintiff appealed the arbitrator’s decision to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which subsequently ruled in the defendants’ favor during the summary judgment phase of the litigation.

Scaricamazza’s attorney ended up withdrawing from the case, and the plaintiff proceeded on his own behalf, appealing the trial court’s decision to Superior Court, according to the record.

The appellate body ultimately dismissed the appeal last July because Scaricamazza didn’t file the proper paper work on time, but soon reversed course, and allowed the plaintiff to move forward with his appeal, in which he argued that in granting summary judgment to the defense, the trial court erred in a number of ways.

One argument was that the trial court erred in its factual determination that June DiNapoli was a landlord out of possession when, in fact, the woman lived at the premises and was away on Christmas vacation at the time Scaricamazza became injured on the steps leading to the basement of his apartment.

In an opinion filed last September, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker had determined that Scaricamazza’s concise statement of matters complained of on appeal didn’t conform to Pennsylvania’s Rules of Appellate Procedure.

“In the instant case, Appellant has submitted a plethora of issues in a format that is anything but concise or clear,” Tucker had written at the time.

Tucker ruled that Scaricamazza’s was “rife with lengthy and conclusory statements asserted as facts.

“This Court will not sift through Appellant’s 1925(b) Statement to speculate as to which issues he will appeal, which issues are most meritorious or address only those issues which are properly stated,” the trial court opinion had said.

Tucker went on to write that as per settled case law, a plaintiff such as Scaricamazza couldn’t raise for the first time on appeal issues that were not addressed by the lower court.

And Scaricamazza did just that, Tucker ruled.

Tucker further stated that there was no evidence that the landlord could have discovered the alleged defects along the stairway by the “exercise of reasonable care, nor is there evidence that the woman could have made any alleged defects safe.”

The trial judge also pointed out that Scaricamazza was still represented by legal counsel at the time the defendants filed their motion for summary judgment.

And finally, Tucker noted that Scaricamazza never responded to the summary judgment ruling, although he was responsible for raising all defenses or grounds for relief to challenge such a motion in a timely manner.

“It is not the Court’s responsibility to develop a litigant’s case,” Tucker wrote. “The Court considered the record as it was presented and determined that the [defendants] were entitled to judgment as a matter of law …

“This Court properly dismissed this matter based on the insufficiency of the evidentiary facts in the record.”

In its brief, four-page decision, the appellate court panel said that after a thorough review of the record, it found that Tucker “thoroughly and accurately addressed all issues raised in this appeal.

“Consequently, we affirm based on the trial court’s September 4, 2012 opinion and adopt it as our own,” the decision states.

The appeal was heard by Superior Court Judges Susan Peikes Gantman, William H. Platt and Judith Ference Olson, with Olson penning the decision.

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