United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
RICHARD T. TRZEPACZ, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
A. O'Toole, Jr. United States District Judge
action, the plaintiff, Richard T. Trzepacz, brings suit
against the United States of America, seeking damages for
injuries the plaintiff sustained while on the premises of a
branch office of the United States Postal Service
(“USPS”) in Lexington, Massachusetts. Pending
before the Court is the defendant's motion for summary
judgment (dkt. no. 21), which the plaintiff has not opposed.
following facts are taken from the defendant's statement
of material facts, which is deemed admitted as
uncontroverted. See LR 56.1.
plaintiff, who is wheelchair-bound, visited a Lexington
branch of the United States Postal Service on September 9,
2011. The plaintiff attempted to enter the post office by way
of a handicap ramp and an automatic door. Though the
plaintiff had visited the Lexington post office before, this
was the first time he had attempted to enter by pushing the
button to operate the door. When the door opened outward,
rather than inward as the plaintiff expected it to, the
plaintiff's wheelchair was knocked backwards and he fell
down a set of stone steps.
there were no witnesses to these events, a USPS employee,
having been informed of the incident, exited the post office,
saw the plaintiff on the ground at the bottom of the steps,
and approached him. The employee noted that a wheel had fallen
off the plaintiff's wheelchair.
plaintiff was removed from the scene by ambulance, having
sustained injuries to his head, neck, back, and left
Following the incident, the plaintiff sought medical
treatment and repairs to his wheelchair. In several of those
instances, he reported that the accident was the result of a
wheel falling off his wheelchair.
unopposed motion for summary judgment is not automatically
granted. It is well-settled that the court must determine
whether the moving party has met its burden to demonstrate
undisputed facts entitling it to summary judgment as a matter
of law. See NEPSK, Inc. v. Town of Houlton, 283 F.3d
1, 7-8 (1st Cir. 2002). Although the court must scrutinize an
uncontested record in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56, “it has no obligation to ferret out facts
that might defeat a motion for summary judgment.”
United Van Lines, LLC v. Anthony, Civil Action No.
08-CV-11243-RGS, 2010 WL 436456, at *3 (citing
Diaz-Fonseca v. Puerto Rico, 451 F.3d 13, 42 (1st
Cir. 2006) (“[I]t is plaintiffs' responsibility to
direct the court's attention to [evidence in the record
supporting their allegations].”)). Rather, where the
motion is unopposed, the “[m]aterial facts of record
set forth . . . by the moving party will be deemed for the
purposes of the motion to be admitted.” LR 56.1;
see also NEPSK, 283 F.3d at 7-8. “In most
cases, a party's failure to oppose summary judgment is
fatal to its case.” Pérez-Cordero v.
Wal-Mart P.R., 440 F.3d 531, 534 (1st Cir. 2006).
complaint asserts that the defendant was negligent for
failing to warn of a dangerous condition, namely that the
handicap door to the Lexington post office opened outward,
and seeks damages for the injuries he sustained when he fell
down a set of steps on the premises. The claim is governed by
the Federal Tort Claims Act, which provides that the United
States shall be liable in tort “in the same manner and
to the same extent as a private individual under like
circumstances.” 28 U.S.C. § 2674.
the accident occurred in Massachusetts, Massachusetts
substantive law applies. See Goldman v. United
States, 790 F.2d 181, 183 (1st Cir. 1986). Pursuant to
Massachusetts tort law, a land owner owes a common law duty
of reasonable care to those persons who are lawfully on the
premises, and has a duty to warn of unreasonable dangers of
which the land owner is aware or reasonably should be aware.
Dos Santos v. Coleta, 987 N.E.2d 1187, 1192 (Mass.
2013) (citing Davis v. Westwood Grp., 652 N.E.2d
567, 569 (Mass. 1995)). However, there is no duty to protect
lawful visitors from risks that would be obvious to a person
of average intelligence, nor is there a duty to warn of
blatant hazards. Id. (citing O'Sullivan v.
Shaw, 726 N.E.2d 951, 954-55 (Mass. 2000)).
principles require that the defendant's motion for
summary judgment be granted. The post office door operated as
it was designed, and that the door opened outward was
apparent to any reasonable observer and should have been
apparent to the plaintiff. See Sullivan v. Target
Corp., Civil Action No. 13-CV-13118-GAO, 2015 WL
4041339, at *5 (D. Mass. July 1, 2015) (finding no liability
when “[t]he uncontroverted evidence establishes that
the automatic doors functioned as designed”). On the
record here, a person of average intelligence could not have
failed to notice that the proper operation of the door was
that it opened outward. Therefore, I conclude that the
defendant did not have a duty to warn that the door to the
Lexington post office opened outward and that it did not
breach any duty to warn.
government also argues that the plaintiff's fall was not
caused by the post office door, but rather by a wheel falling
off the plaintiff's wheelchair. While the record may
support such an inference, it is not necessary to reach the
causation question here, as the government is entitled to
summary judgment based on the failure to warn analysis above.