Liability • Immunity • “Commonwealth Agency” • SEPTA

Muldrow v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., PICS Case No. 14-0353 (Pa. Commw. Feb. 26, 2014) Covey, J. (10 pages).

SEPTA is commonwealth agency for purposes of Sovereign Immunity Act. Order affirmed.

Muldrow fell down the stairs while disembarking SEPTA’s Route H bus, allegedly sustaining injuries to her head, neck, back and knees. She filed a complaint with the court of common pleas, arguing that SEPTA’s negligence was the cause of her accident. An arbitrator ruled in SEPTA’s favor.

Muldrow appealed. SEPTA filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that Muldrow was not entitled to recovery because SEPTA was immune from liability and her claim did not fit within any of the exceptions to statutory sovereign immunity. Relying on Goldman v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., 57 A.3d 1154 (Pa. 2012) (SEPTA is not arm of commonwealth under Eleventh Amendment), Muldrow asserted that SEPTA was not a commonwealth party and, therefore, not immunized from suit by the Sovereign Immunity Act. In addition, Muldrow argued that her negligence claim fell within the “care, custody and control of personal property” exception to the Act. SEPTA replied that it was indeed a commonwealth party entitled to sovereign immunity under Pennsylvania law. The court of common pleas granted SEPTA’s motion and dismissed the case.

On appeal, Muldrow argued that SEPTA is bound by Goldman in that it is not a commonwealth party and is collaterally estopped from asserting otherwise, and that Goldman is res judicata on the issue of sovereign immunity. SETPA replied that Goldman does not apply because it involved Eleventh Amendment immunity, not state common law sovereignty. The Commonwealth Court affirmed.

Because this was a state action and did not involve federal law, Goldman did not deny SEPTA immunity protection under the Sovereign Immunity Act.

Moreover, a stopped bus, is not as Muldrow argued, “in operation” for purposes of the vehicle liability exception to sovereign immunity. See Love v. City of Philadelphia, 543 A.2d 531 (Pa. 1988)).

Finally, SEPTA buses are not “personal property” under the “care, custody or control” exception to immunity.