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Kimberly Dillon v. United States of America

July 18, 2012

KIMBERLY DILLON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, ROSE TRUCKING CO., AND DIRENZO'S JANITORIAL SERVICE, INC. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Kimberly Dillon ("Dillon") brings this action against defendants the United States of America (the "United States"), the United States Postal Service (the "USPS") (collectively the "Government" or the "Post Office"), Rose Trucking Co. ("Rose") and Direnzo's Janitorial Service, Inc. ("Direnzo") seeking damages for injuries allegedly sustained from a slip and fall in a Post Office parking lot. According to the plaintiff, the defendants were negligent in maintaining the parking lot and sidewalk area of the post office, located in Fairport, New York, and allowed ice and snow to accumulate, causing plaintiff to slip and fall while walking out of the post office. The Government has filed cross-claims for indemnification against Rose and Direnzo, who contracted with the Post Office to remove snow and ice from the parking lot and sidewalks respectively.

On January 30, 2012, Rose and Direnzo each filed separate motions for summary judgment against Dillon and the Post Office.

Rose and Direnzo argue, respectively, that neither party owes a duty of care to Dillon, and therefore neither party can be held liable in tort to the plaintiff. With respect to the USPS, Rose and Direnzo claim that they satisfied their contractual obligations to promptly remove snow and ice accumulations, and therefore cannot be held liable to the Post Office for breach of contract or indemnification.

Dillon does not oppose Rose and Direnzo's motions with respect to their claim that they owed no duty of care to her, and therefore cannot be held liable directly to her for negligence. Dillon claims, however, that summary judgment in favor of Rose and Direnzo on all claims is inappropriate because Rose and Direnzo are contractually obligated to indemnify the USPS for her injuries.

The Post Office opposes Rose and Direnzo's motions for summary judgment, and cross-moves for partial summary judgment seeking a declaration that Rose and Direnzo are contractually obligated to indemnify the USPS. Rose and Direnzo both oppose the USPS's motion arguing that the question of contract interpretation is moot because neither acted negligently.

For the reasons set forth below, I grant in-part and deny in-part Rose and Direnzo's motions for summary judgment. I find that because Rose and Direnzo have established that they owed no direct duty of care to the plaintiff, they may not be directly held liable in negligence to the plaintiff, and accordingly, I grant their motions to dismiss plaintiff's negligence claims against them. I find, however, that neither Rose nor Direnzo is entitled to summary judgment against the Post Office on the issue of indemnification, and I therefore deny their motions for summary judgment against the Post Office. Finally, I find that the contracts at issue between Rose and Direnzo, respectively, and the Post Office require Rose and Direnzo to indemnify the Post Office, and I therefore grant the Post Office's motion for partial summary judgment against Rose and Direnzo on the issue of contractual indemnification.

BACKGROUND

According to the Amended Complaint, on the morning of March 10, 2008, Plaintiff Kimberly Dillon drove to the United States Post Office located at 6740 Pittsford-Palmyra Road in Fairport, New York (the "Fairport Post Office"). Upon arriving at the Post Office, Dillon parked her car in the Post Office parking lot, and then walked into the Post Office. According to Dillon, upon exiting the Post Office she walked back along the sidewalk to the parking lot and as she stepped down from the sidewalk to the parking lot, she slipped and fell on ice left along the curb, and as a result suffered injuries to both of her wrists.

According to the Post Office, between March 7 and 9, 2008, upstate New York was hit with one of the worst winter storms of the season, which dropped more than fifteen inches of snow over the Rochester area, including Fairport, New York. The Post office claims that temperatures during this time ranged from above to well-below freezing causing some of the fallen snow to melt and re-freeze into ice.

It is undisputed that Rose and Direnzo each had contracts with the USPS for snow removal at the Fairport, New York location. According to the Post Office, pursuant to its contract with Rose, Rose was responsible for removing snow from the parking lot anytime three or more inches of snow fell, and for plowing or salting on request. Direnzo provided janitorial services for the Post Office, and as part of its agreement to provide such services, was responsible for removing snow from sidewalks and salting sidewalks. Rose and Direnzo each assert that despite their contractual obligations, Post Office employees retained some supervision and snow removal duties for both the parking lot and sidewalks.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction, Choice of Law, and Standard of Review This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim against the Government pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346. This Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's negligence claims against Rose and Direnzo pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (granting supplemental jurisdiction over any claims that "form part of the same case or controversy" when the court has an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction).

The Federal Tort Claims Act provides that the law applied to tort claims against the government is the "law of the place where the act or omission occurred," in this case New York. 28 U.S.C. ยง 1346(b)(1); see Caban v. United States, 728 F.2d 68, 72 (2d Cir. 1984). In contrast, the Government's contractual indemnification claim is governed by federal law because the claim arises from a federal ...


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