HILL v. LA FITNESS et al
MEMORANDUM SIGNED BY HONORABLE J. CURTIS JOYNER ON 4/10/18. 4/12/18 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO UNREP, E-MAILED. (va, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
: CIVIL ACTION
: NO. 17-CV-2092
LA FITNESS, FEDERAL REALTY
MANAGEMENT, INC., and
FITNESS INTERNATIONAL, LLC.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
April 10, 2018
This civil, personal injury action has been brought before
this Court on motion of Defendants for the entry of summary
judgment in their favor.
For the reasons which we articulate in
the following paragraphs, the motion shall be granted.
On August 18, 2016, Plaintiff, Tyrone Hill, suffered a
fractured left leg and other injuries as the result of having
slipped and fallen over a yoga mat which is alleged to have been
mistakenly left on the floor of a basketball court in the LA
Fitness facility located at 701 Cathedral Road in the Andorra
section of Philadelphia.
Plaintiff initiated this suit on March
31, 2017 by filing a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of
Philadelphia County alleging three counts of negligence against
each of the defendants.1
On May 5, 2017, Defendant Fitness
International, LLC, t/a LA Fitness, removed the action to this
Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28
An Answer was filed, discovery commenced and this
motion for summary judgment was timely filed on January 11, 2018
in accordance with this Court’s Scheduling Order.
The essence of
Defendants’ motion is two-fold: (1) that the action is barred by
virtue of an exculpatory clause contained within the membership
agreement entered into between Plaintiff and Defendants, and/or
(2) that there is insufficient evidence to support Plaintiff’s
claims of negligence.
Standards Governing Summary Judgment Motions
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a):
A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each
claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense
- on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall
grant summary judgment 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. The
court should state on the record the reasons for
granting or denying the motion.
In reading this rule, it is clear that summary judgment is
appropriately entered only when the movant shows that there is no
Although it is not entirely clear from the pleadings, it appears as
though Fitness International, LLC is the parent and/or the proper corporate
name for LA Fitness inasmuch as there has been only one answer filed on behalf
of both of these defendants and it was filed by “Defendant Fitness
International, LLC t/a LA Fitness.” No answer at all has been filed on behalf
of Federal Realty Management nor has there been any appearance entered on
behalf of this defendant which is alleged to be the owner of the property
located at 701 Cathedral Road.
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party
is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
Willis v. UPMC
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, 808 F.3d 638, 643 (3d Cir.
An issue of fact is material and genuine if it “affects
the outcome of the suit under the governing law and could lead a
reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving
Parkell v. Danberg, 833 F.3d 313, 323 (3d Cir.
2016)(quoting Willis, supra. and Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248,106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the reviewing
court should view the facts in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that
Burton v. Teleflex, Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425 (3d
“If the non-moving party bears the burden of
persuasion at trial, ‘the moving party may meet its burden on
summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party’s evidence
is insufficient to carry that burden.’” Kaucher v. County of
Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006)(quoting Wetzel v. Tucker,
139 F.3d 380, 383, n.2 (3d Cir. 1998)).
In response, and “to
prevail on a motion for summary judgment, ‘the non-moving party
must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence; there must
be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmovant.’” Burton, supra,(quoting Jakimas v. Hoffmann-La Roche,
Inc., 485 F.3d 770, 777 (3d Cir. 2007)).
Thus, “[t]he moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the nonmoving party fails to make “a sufficient showing on an essential
element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of
Moody v. Atlantic City Board of Education, 870 F.3d 206,
213 (3d Cir. 2017)(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed.2d 265 (1986)).2
As stated, Defendants first assert that summary judgment is
properly entered in their favor for the reason that Plaintiff
agreed, by entering into the Membership Agreement, to waive any
claims which he may at anytime have for personal injuries caused
by, inter alia, the negligence of LA Fitness, its employees,
directors, officers, and agents.
Specifically, the exculpatory
clause upon which Defendants rely reads as follows in relevant
IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY.
You hereby acknowledge and agree that use by Member and/or
Rule 56(c), discussing summary judgment procedures, is in accord and
states as follows in pertinent part:
(1) Supporting Factual Positions. A party asserting that a fact cannot
be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including
those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions,
interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence
or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot
produce admissible evidence to support the fact.
by Member’s minor children of LA Fitness’ facilities,
services, equipment or premises, involves risks of injury to
persons and property, including those described below, and
Member assumes full responsibility for such risks. In
consideration of Member and Member’s minor children being
permitted to enter any facility of LA Fitness (a “Club”) for
any purpose including, but not limited to, observation, use
of facilities, services or equipment, or participation in
any way, Member agrees to the following: Member hereby
releases and holds LA Fitness, its directors, officers,
employees, and agents harmless from all liability to Member,
Member’s children and Member’s personal representatives,
assigns, heirs, and next of kin for any loss or damage, and
forever gives up any claim or demands therefore, on account
of injury to Member’s person or property, including injury
leading to the death of member, whether caused by the active
or passive negligence of LA Fitness or otherwise, to the
fullest extent permitted by law, while Member or Member’s
minor children are in, upon, or about LA Fitness premises or
using any LA Fitness facilities, services or equipment.
Member also hereby agrees to indemnify LA Fitness from any
loss, liability, damage or cost La Fitness may incur due to
the presence of member or Member’s children in, upon or
about the LA Fitness premises or in any way observing or
using any facilities or equipment of LA Fitness whether
caused by the negligence of Member(s) or otherwise. You
represent (a) that Member and Member’s minor children are in
good physical condition and have no disability, illness, or
other condition that could prevent Member(s) from exercising
without injury or impairment of health, and (b) that Member
has consulted a physician concerning an exercise program
that will not risk injury to Member or impairment of
Member’s health. Such risk of injury includes (but is not
limited to): injuries arising from use by Member or others
of exercise equipment and machines; injuries arising from
participation by Member or others in supervised or
unsupervised activities or programs at a Club; injuries and
medical disorders arising from exercising at a Club such as
heart attacks, strokes, heat stress, sprains, broken bones,
and torn muscles and ligaments, among others; and accidental
injuries occurring anywhere in Club dressing rooms, showers
and other facilities. Member further expressly agrees that
the foregoing release, waiver and indemnity agreement is
intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the
law of the State of Pennsylvania and that if any portion
thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance
shall, notwithstanding, continue in full force and effect.
Member has read this release and waiver of liability and
indemnity clause, and agrees that no oral representations,
statements or inducement apart from this Agreement have been
At the top of the Membership Agreement, the opening
It is agreed by and between Fitness International, LLC,
d/b/a LA Fitness (“LA Fitness”) and you, the
undersigned Buyer (individually, if you are the Member,
and/or as agent or guardian of the Member or
responsible party), that you are purchasing a
Membership from LA Fitness according to the terms on
both pages of this Membership Agreement and the current
Membership Policies and Club Rules and Regulations
provided herewith (“Agreement”).
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that “an exculpatory
clause is valid when three conditions are met.
must not contravene public policy.
First, the clause
Secondly, the contract must
be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs
and thirdly, each party must be a free bargaining agent to the
agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.”
Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174,
1189 (2010)(citing Princeton Sportswear Corp. v. H. & M.
Associates, 510 Pa. 189, 507 A.2d 339 (1986) and Employers
Liability Assurance Corp. v. Greenville Business Men’s
Association, 423 Pa. 288, 224 A.2d 620 (1966)).
once an exculpatory clause is determined to be valid, it will,
nevertheless, still be unenforceable unless the language of the
parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for
his own acts of negligence.”
In interpreting such clauses,
the courts should adhere to these “guiding standards”:
1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since
exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the
contract must state the intention of the parties with the
greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation,
and no inference from words of general import can establish
the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract
must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party
seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of
establishing the immunity is upon the party invoking
protection under the clause.
Id.(citing Dilks v. Flohr Chevrolet, 411 Pa. 425, 192 A.2d 682
Although not necessarily favored by the courts, “[t]he
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ‘consistently been reluctant to
invalidate a contractual provision due to public policy
Toro v. Fitness International, LLC, 2016 PA Super
243, 150 A.3d 968, 973 (Pa. Super. 2016); Muller v. Aquatic &
Fitness Center, 2015 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 406 at *21, 120 A.3d
1048 (Pa. Super. March 9, 2015).
Indeed, contracts against
liability will be held to violate public policy only when they
involve a matter of interest to the public or the state.
v. East Windsor Speedway, Inc., 400 Pa. Super. 134, 582 A.2d
1380, 1382 (Pa. Super. 1990).
“Such matters of interest to the
public or the state include the employer-employee relationship,
public service, public utilities, common carriers, and
Toro, supra,(quoting Seaton, supra); Hinkal v.
Pardoe, 2016 PA Super 11, 133 A.3d 738, 742 (Pa. Super. 2016).
In recent years, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has on two
occasions considered and upheld the identical exculpatory clause
at issue by granting summary judgment motions in negligence
actions involving Fitness International, a/k/a and or t/a LA
In the first of these, the Toro case cited above, the
Plaintiff was injured in August, 2012 when he slipped and fell on
an “unusual buildup of soapy water” which was “cloudy” in the
shower area of the men’s locker room at an LA Fitness facility in
In moving for summary judgment on
Toro’s complaint alleging one count of negligence, Defendant
Fitness International/LA Fitness asserted that Toro could not
meet his burden of proving negligence and that even if he could,
his claim was precluded under the terms of the Membership
The trial court granted the motion on both grounds
and the Superior Court affirmed.
In rejecting Toro’s argument
that the Waiver Clause of the Membership Agreement contravened
public policy because it related to “health and safety,” the
Superior Court, in reliance upon Hinkal and Chepkevich, both
supra, reiterated that “[w]here, as here, an individual is
engaged in a voluntary athletic or recreational activity, ... an
exculpatory clause in a contract for use of facilities is not
contrary to public policy.”
Toro, 150 A.3d at 974 (citing
Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1191, McDonald v. Whitewater Challengers,
Inc., 2015 PA Super 104, 116 A.3d 99, 120 (Pa. Super 2015), and
Valeo v. Pocono Int’l Raceway, Inc., 347 PA. Super. 230, 500 A.2d
492, 493 (Pa. Super. 1985)).
“‘[The exculpatory language at
issue cannot be said to violate public policy because it was an
agreement between a private individual and entities, and because
it did not address matters of interest to the public or the
Id.(quoting Hinkal, 133 A.3d at 741-742).
In the second, very recent case - Vinson v. Fitness & Sports
Clubs, LLC, No. 2875 EDA 2016, 2018 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 859
(Pa. Super. March 28, 2018), the Superior Court was again faced
with the identical issue: whether the same exculpatory clause in
the LA Fitness Membership agreement applied to foreclose a
negligence cause of action for injuries sustained by a plaintiff
who was injured when she tripped and fell on a wet floor mat.
rejecting the Plaintiff’s contention that the clause was in
contravention of public policy and thus invalid because her claim
involved the maintenance of facilities used by members of the
public, the Court looked to the private nature of the Membership
Agreement and reaffirmed that where private individuals are
voluntarily engaged in recreational activity, the case “is not
classifiable as a matter of public or state interest.”
Super. Unpub. at *11.
The Vinson Court went on to state:
Here, Vinson was voluntarily engaged in recreational
activity, attending the gym, and was subject to the
Membership Agreement, an agreement between private parties.
Vinson has not identified any statutory provision, no
administrative regulation, or any legal precedent to support
her claim that the Exculpatory Clause was unenforceable.
She instead relies on mere suppositions of the public
interest, which are insufficient to invalidate a contract
provision for violation of public policy. ... (citation
Id, at *13.
In this case, Plaintiff does not appear to be challenging
the validity of the membership agreement’s exculpatory clause on
the grounds that it is ambiguous, in contravention of public
policy or that it is one of adhesion.
Rather, Plaintiff contends
that there is a material issue of fact as to whether he signed
In this regard, Plaintiff points exclusively to
his own deposition testimony in response to being questioned as
to whose signature appeared at the bottom of the first page of
the membership agreement:
Sir, we just marked a three-page document as P-1. The
top left-hand corner of the first pages says, “L.A.
Fitness” and right underneath that it says “Name: Hill,
Tyrone.” Do you see that?
My question first is: Do you recognize this document?
Yes, I do.
Is that your signature that appears on the bottom of
the first page?
Do you know who’s signature that is?
Yes, that’s my ex’s. She helped me sign up when I got
the actual account that day.
Did you sign a separate copy from the one that your
ex’ed (sic) signed?
Did I sign a separate one?
I mean, I don’t believe so. If I’m not mistaken, I
think she used her card for me. Because I didn’t have
a card. She had to sign me up, membership, because I
didn’t have a card at the time. That’s the only way
she would be on there.
When you say card, do you mean credit card?
Yeah, I didn’t have a card. When you get a membership,
you had to have a card on file. You can’t just give
cash. You have to have a card on file. I didn’t at
the time. She signed me up.
So a credit card?
Whatever, ATM card, bank card, whatever.
What’s your ex’s name?
Directing your attention to the second and third page,
do you see several instances where it says,
Do you see that?
Is that yes?
Do you remember where you were when you initialed this?
I don’t. It could be one of two places.
Which two places?
You know what, it was the branch on City Line Avenue.
It had to be City Line Avenue.
The Plaintiff further testifed:
Did you have any conversations with an L.A. Fitness
employee when you were going over – when you were
initialing this document?
I’m pretty sure I had conversations.
Do you remember it?
I don’t remember what conversations.
Do you remember who at L.A. Fitness you were talking
with when you initialed the document?
Did you read it before you initialed it?
(Deposition of Tyrone Hill, taken November 9, 2017, pp. 17-21).
As is clear from the preceding testimony, while Plaintiff
may not have signed the first page of the membership agreement,
he did read the document and initialed the remaining pages,
including the exculpatory clause, which was set forth on the
second page of the agreement in a box and in larger typeface from
the rest of the document.
In so doing, we find that Plaintiff
understood that he was entering into a written contract which was
setting forth the terms and conditions of his membership with LA
Fitness, including the fact that he was giving up the right to
make any claim(s) against LA Fitness for any loss or damages
which he might incur as the result of any active or passive
negligence on its part.
By acknowledging that he read the
agreement and that he initialed the pages of the membership
agreement, we likewise conclude that Plaintiff voluntarily
entered into the agreement with Defendants.
conclude that under the authority outlined above: the exculpatory
clause does not violate any public policy, it is clearly between
persons relating entirely to their own private affairs both of
whom were free bargaining agents to the agreement, and the
contract here is therefore not one of adhesion.
Seeing no reason
to set the said exculpatory clause aside, we shall grant
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
An Order follows.3
In view of our determination that there can be no liability as the
result of the operation of the membership agreement’s exculpatory clause, we
need not reach Defendants’ argument regarding the insufficiency of Plaintiff’s
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