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Giannaccio v. United States

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 19, 2016

Robert Giannaccio, Alene Giannaccio Plaintiffs,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

          Dominic J. Squatrito, United States District Judge.

         This is an action for damages arising out of the injuries that the plaintiff, Robert Giannaccio (“Giannaccio”), sustained when a section of the metal catwalk at the Giaimo Federal Building (“Giaimo Building”), at 150 Court Street, New Haven, Connecticut gave away under him, causing him to fall onto a concrete slab. It is brought pursuant to the provisions of the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§1346(b) and common law tenets concerning negligence. Giannaccio's wife, Alene Giannaccio (“Alene”) alleges loss of consortium as a result of the harms and losses sustained by Giannaccio.

         The defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The issues presented are: (1) whether the independent contract exception under the FTCA precludes this action; (2) whether the discretionary function exception under the FTCA insulates the United States from liability in this action; (3) whether the United States had notice of the alleged dangerous condition; and (4) whether the statute of repose within Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-584a bars these claims.

         For the reasons hereinafter set forth, the motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

         I. Facts

         The General Services Administration (“GSA”), an independent agency of the United States government, owns and manages the Giaimo Building. Between 1995-96, at the request of GSA, Jansen and Rogan Consulting Engineers designed and supervised the construction of a metal catwalk around a cooling tower on the top of the Giaimo Building. Allstate Boiler, Inc. was the primary contractor for the project. In 2002-03, GSA undertook a $20 million dollar renovation that addressed the structural integrity of the Giaimo Building. Work done at that time included replacing the ladder leading to the metal catwalk that surrounds the cooling tower.

         In 2008 GSA executed a three-year contract (“Contract”) with Northern Management Services (“Northern”) for “Janitorial and Mechanical Maintenance Services” at the Giaimo Building.[1] (Doc. # 72-5, at 1). The specific objective of the Contract was “to operate the [Giaimo Building] . . . in a safe and environmentally responsible manner; maximize the life expectancy of the equipment; operate the building in the most operationally and energy-efficient manner; and to maximize tenant and public satisfaction in their environment.” (Doc. #72-6, at 1). Northern “[a]ssume[d] full responsibility and liability for compliance with all applicable regulations pertaining to the health and safety of its personnel during the execution of work” and agreed to “[h]old the Government harmless for any action or omission on its part or that of its employees or subcontractors which results in illness, injury or death.” (Doc. # 72-5, at 41). The Contract was in effect on May 17, 2010, the date of the incident that is the subject of this action.

         According to the Contract, Northern was required to “provide all labor, equipment, and materials necessary to perform all [Incidental and Minor] architectural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and structural repairs to the interior and exterior of the facility and related site improvements (excluding landscaping). . . . A repair is any unscheduled work which is required to prevent a piece of equipment or system component from breakdown/failure; return it to service, enhance, or replace if required. Repairs are considered either Incidental or Minor based on [] dollar thresholds. . . .” (Doc. #72-6, at 7). Incidental Repairs were defined as those repairs “[n]ot exceeding $2, 000.00.” (Id. at 8). Minor Repairs were those costing“$2, 000.01-$50, 000.00.” (Id.) Minor Repairs were required to be “immediately reported to the COR/PM.”[2](Id.) Repairs above the Minor Repair threshold were beyond the scope of the Contract.

         In May 2010, Northern employee David Colbourn inspected the cooling tower on the roof of the Giaimo Building. During this inspection, the cooling tower, which was utilized during the summer months, was turned on. A noisy bearing in the cooling tower alerted Colbourn to the need for repair work, which “was going to be a good size job.” (Doc. # 75-2, at 32, p. 32:22). Northern contacted Siemens Corporation (“Siemens”) to “see how much it would cost” for the necessary cooling tower repair work. (Id. at 32, p. 32:22-24). Northern did not inform GSA of its decision to consult with Siemens. Siemens arranged for another mechanical contractor, Giannaccio, to attend the inspection. Neither GSA nor Northern was aware that Giannaccio was going to accompany a Siemens employee to the Giaimo Building for the inspection of the cooling tower.

         On May 17, 2010, Colbourn escorted Siemens employee Tom Ciriello, Giannaccio, and Giannaccio's father to the roof of the Giaimo Building to inspect the cooling tower. During the course of the inspection, Giannaccio “stepped or hopped” down from the cooling tower onto one of the sections of metal grating that compose the catwalk surrounding the tower. (Doc. #75-3, at 7, p. 52:16). At that point “[t]he grating gave way and [Giannaccio] went right through” and fell approximately fifteen feet onto a concrete slab. (Id. at 7, p. 52:18-19). Giannaccio sustained various injuries as a result of the fall.

         II. Discussion

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only where a movant makes a clear showing that “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). The moving party, here the United States, bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment the Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, here the Giannaccios, drawing all reasonable inferences and resolving all ambiguities in their favor. Colavito v. N.Y. Organ Donor Network, Inc., 438 F.3d 214, 217 (2d Cir. 2006). Uncertainty as to the true state of the factual record that “can be resolved only by a finder of fact because [the uncertainty] may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party” precludes summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

         B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Before addressing whether the FTCA applies in this case, the Court wishes to address the Giannaccios' argument that the District Court's denial of the United States' motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, its motion for summary judgment, on December 21, 2012, remains the “law of the case” as to any claim by the United States that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action. (Doc. #75-1, at 13). In its prior motion, the United States argued that it was immune from liability under the FTCA for the negligence of an independent contractor, i.e., Northern. The Court denied the United States' motion because it did not see anything in the Contract that said Northern had “an obligation to maintain the structural integrity of the catwalk.” (Doc. #75-12, at 8, p. 8:7-9). The Court also advised defendant's counsel, however, that “[i]f you can demonstrate through affidavit or otherwise that they [Northern] had an obligation either to build or repair, structurally - - hire a structural engineer to make sure it in fact was safe, pull that out and we'll get another summary judgment motion and maybe you'll win it.” (Id. at 8. P. 8:2-6). Therefore, sovereign immunity remains an available defense for the United States in the pending motion for summary judgment.

         “Subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold question that must be resolved . . . before proceeding to the merits. The absence of subject matter jurisdiction is non-waivable; before deciding any case we are required to assure ourselves that the case is properly within our subject matter jurisdiction. This principle is reinforced when it comes to sovereign immunity because express abrogation is a prerequisite to subject-matter jurisdiction.” United States v. Bond, 762 F.3d 255, 263 (2d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The party invoking federal subject-matter jurisdiction carries the burden of establishing that jurisdiction does exist. See Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000).

         Under the FTCA, the Government waives its sovereign immunity to suits stemming from the negligent acts of its employees in “circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Because the incident that is the subject of this action occurred in Connecticut, the law of Connecticut applies. The FTCA's statute of limitations is a prerequisite to the United States' waiver of sovereign immunity.[3]See 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) (“A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two ...


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