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Gordon v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 3, 2017

SUSAN GORDON, Plaintiff,
v.
STARWOOD HOTELS AND RESORTS WORLDWIDE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT STARWOOD'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET ENTRY # 16)

          MARIANNE B. BOWLER United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before this court is a motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (“defendant”). (Docket Entry # 16). Plaintiff Susan Gordon (“plaintiff”) opposes the motion. (Docket Entry # 18). After conducting a hearing, this court took the motion (Docket Entry # 16) under advisement.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On or about September 2, 2014, plaintiff filed an action in Pennsylvania state court in Wayne County against defendant seeking damages for injuries sustained while a guest of Cove Haven Resort in Lakeville, Pennsylvania. (Docket Entry # 17-1). Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed this action prior to June 30, 2015. (Docket Entry # 17-1). On June 30, 2015, plaintiff filed suit for the same injury in Massachusetts Superior Court (Suffolk County). (Docket Entry # 17-2).

         The complaint contains two causes of action. (Docket Entry # 17-2). Count I alleges that plaintiff sustained personal injuries as a result of the negligence of one of defendant's employees and Count II alleges that defendant breached its duty to adequately train and supervise its employees. (Docket Entry # 17-2).

         On September 3, 2015, defendant removed this case to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. (Docket Entry # 1). Jurisdiction is based on diversity under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, as plaintiff is a resident of Massachusetts (Docket Entry # 17-1) and defendant is a Maryland corporation with a principal place of business in Connecticut (Docket Entry # 17-4). The amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Docket Entry ## 17-2 & 19-1).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is designed “to ‘pierce the boilerplate of the pleadings and assay the parties' proof in order to determine whether trial is actually required.'” Tobin v. Federal Express Corp., 775 F.3d 448, 450 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Wynne v. Tufts Univ. Sch. of Med., 976 F.2d 791, 794 (1st Cir. 1992)). It is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). It is inappropriate “if the record is sufficiently open-ended to permit a rational factfinder to resolve a material factual dispute in favor of either side.” Pierce v. Cotuit Fire Dist., 741 F.3d 295, 301 (1st Cir. 2014).

         “Genuine issues of fact are those that a factfinder could resolve in favor of the nonmovant, while material facts are those whose ‘existence or nonexistence has the potential to change the outcome of the suit.'” Green Mountain Realty Corp. v. Leonard, 750 F.3d 30, 38 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Tropigas de Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London, 637 F.3d 53, 56 (1st Cir. 2011)). The evidence is viewed “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party” and “all reasonable inferences” are drawn in his favor. Ahmed v. Johnson, 752 F.3d 490, 495 (1st Cir. 2014). “Unsupported allegations and speculation, ” however, “do not demonstrate either entitlement to summary judgment or the existence of a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment.” Rivera-Colón v. Mills, 635 F.3d 9, 12 (1st Cir. 2011); see Serra v. Quantum Servicing, Corp., 747 F.3d 37, 39-40 (1st Cir. 2014) (“allegations of a merely speculative or conclusory nature are rightly disregarded”).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff lives in Lunenburg, Massachusetts and works for UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts as a phlebotomist. (Docket Entry # 17-3, No. 1). In August 2012, plaintiff made a reservation directly with Cove Haven Resort in Lakeville, Pennsylvania (“the resort”) (Docket Entry # 17-3), [1]which is owned and operated by defendant (Docket Entry # 17-4). On the morning of September 1, 2012, plaintiff and her husband drove from their residence in Massachusetts and arrived at the resort in Pennsylvania for a weekend vacation. (Docket Entry # 17-3).

         The next morning on September 2, 2012, plaintiff and her husband went on a boat ride tour operated by the resort. (Docket Entry # 17-3). Having had a good time in the morning, plaintiff and her husband decided to go on another boat ride tour operated by the resort in the afternoon. (Docket Entry # 17-3). During the afternoon tour, at around 2:00 p.m., the operator of the boat hit the waves of other boats on the lake. (Docket Entry # 17-3). As a result, plaintiff was thrown off the boat and twice flew into the air and landed on her buttocks, causing fractures to her T-12 vertebrae and bruises on her back, buttocks and thighs. (Docket Entry # 17-3).

         Immediately after the injury, plaintiff was taken by ambulance to Scranton Hospital in Pennsylvania where she received a CAT scan and numerous follow-up exams. (Docket Entry ## 19-1 & 17-3). The next day on September 3, 2012, plaintiff and her husband drove back to Massachusetts and went to Massachusetts General Hospital (“Mass. General”) in Boston, Massachusetts. (Docket Entry ## 19-1 & 17-3). She received treatment at the hospital on September 3 and 4 and had blood work done on September 5. (Docket Entry # 17-3, No. 6). She was treated at Mass. General for the next seven months. (Docket Entry # 19-1). In November, she underwent spine cementation, a procedure also known as “vertebral augmentation, ” at Mass. General. (Docket Entry # 17-3, No. 6). She was “covered under Harvard Pilgrim medical insurance” and “incurred approximately $70, 000 in medical expenses.” (Docket Entry # 19-1).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant seeks summary judgment because Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations for personal injury tort claims bars plaintiff's claims as untimely. (Docket Entry # 16). Plaintiff argues that the Massachusetts three-year statute of limitations for tort claims, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 2A, applies thereby rendering this action timely filed. (Docket Entry # 18).

         A federal court sitting in diversity applies the choice of law rules of the forum state. See Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941); see also Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. CAN Ins. Co. (Europe) Ltd., 633 F.3d 50, 54 n.7 (1st Cir. 2011) (“[a]s a federal court sitting in diversity, ” forum's choice of law rules apply). Massachusetts choice of law rules therefore apply. In Massachusetts, instead of recognizing statute of limitations as a procedural matter and categorically applying Massachusetts' statute of limitations, courts adhere to a functional approach. See Nierman v. Hyatt Corp., 808 N.E.2d 290, 292 (Mass. 2004) (“functional approach . . . treats the issue as a choice of law question, as stated in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 142 (Supp. 1989)”) (“Restatement”); see also New England Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Gourdeau Const. Co. Inc., 647 N.E.2d 42, 45 (Mass. 1995) (applying the rules of Restatement § 142). Courts should focus “on the statute of limitations issue, and not on the underlying tort.” Nierman, 808 N.E.2d at 293 (citing Kahn v. Royal Ins. Co., 709 N.E.2d 822, 824 (Mass. 1999)).

         Expressly subject to the principles in section six, section 142 instructs that:

(2) The forum will apply its own statute of limitations permitting the claim unless: (a) maintenance of the claim would serve no substantial interest of the forum, and (b) the claim would be barred under the statute of limitations of a state having a more significant relationship to the parties and the occurrence.

Restatement § 142(2). Specifically, this court “consider[s] (1) whether Massachusetts has a substantial interest in permitting the claims to go forward and (2) whether Texas[2] [here, Pennsylvania] has a more significant relationship to the parties and the negligence claim.” Nierman, 808 N.E.2d at 293 (citing the Restatement § 142).

         The striking similarity between the facts in Nierman, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) applied a Texas statute of limitations in a personal injury action involving a Massachusetts resident, and the facts in the case at bar warrants examining the decision. Nierman was a Massachusetts resident who, like plaintiff, was injured out of state and brought suit against a national hotel chain, Hyatt Corporation (“Hyatt”), arising out of injuries she sustained in Texas when a hotel employee accelerated a transport cart in which she was seated. Nierman, 808 N.E.2d at 291. Like defendant, the principal place of business and place of incorporation of Hyatt was neither the place of the injury (Texas) nor the forum state and plaintiff's state of residence (Massachusetts). Id. Hyatt, like defendant which has a resort in Pennsylvania, had a ‚Äúplace of business in ...


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