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Presidential Towers Condominium, Inc. v. Republic Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 20, 2018

PRESIDENTIAL TOWERS CONDOMINIUM, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
REPUBLIC SERVICES, INC., et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge

         In this tort action, Plaintiff Presidential Towers Condominium, Inc. alleges that Defendants Republic Services, Inc. ("Republic") and BFI Waste Services, LLC ("BFI") were contracted to pick up the trash from Plaintiffs property, and negligently damaged and subsequently trespassed on Plaintiffs property by refusing to remove Defendants' dumpsters. ECF No. 12 at 2-3.[1] Plaintiff seeks a total of $133, 187.25 in damages. Id. BFI filed a counterclaim against Plaintiff, alleging a breach of contract and seeking damages of $35, 561.57. ECF No. 14. Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 26. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted-in-part and denied-in-part.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On September 7, 2012, Plaintiff entered into a Customer Service Agreement (the "Agreement") with BFI Waste Services, LLC for BFI to remove Plaintiffs trash and recyclables. ECF No. 26-3 at 2. The Agreement specifically provided that the contracting party was "BFI Waste Services, LLC, DBA Allied Waste Services of Washington, Republic Services of Washington Metro, Calvert Trash." Id. The Agreement specified that it would "automatically renew for successive 36 month terms unless either party gives written notice of termination to the other at least 60 days before the end of the then current term." Id. The Agreement also provided that the Company could, after notice to Plaintiff, "increase the rates provided in this Agreement to adjust for any increase in" a number of different costs. Id. at 6.

         Under the terms of the Agreement, BFI provided dumpsters for Plaintiff to store its trash and recycling. The parties do not dispute that it was Plaintiffs responsibility to empty the dumpsters and remove the trash. There is conflicting evidence, however, regarding whose responsibility it was to move the dumpsters from inside the building to the pick-up location. According to BFI's Business Unit Controller, BFI was responsible for picking up the trash and recycling from outside of Plaintiff s building; it was the responsibility of Plaintiff s employees or cleaning contractors to transport the dumpsters from the interior of Plaintiff s building to the outside area. ECF No. 26-4 at 2. At his deposition and in his affidavit, however, Plaintiffs corporate designee was unclear as to whose responsibility it was. Compare ECF No. 26-6 at 5 ("primarily the task [of moving the dumpsters] is done by the cleaning company"), with ECF No. 27-8 at 11-12 (explaining that the "responsibility ... to get the cans from the trash room to the outside ... varied between the trash company and the cleaning company"), and ECF No. 27-5 at 3 ("Both the defendant and the cleaning contractor were responsible for taking dumpsters from the trash collection rooms to outside and returning them.").

         The parties carried out this relationship for several years until late 2014. On an invoice dated December 20, 2014, BFI included under a heading labeled "Important Information" the notice that "[y]our next invoice may reflect a rate adjustment, if you have any questions after receiving your next invoice please contact us." ECF No. 26-5 at 18. The total charges for the December 20, 2014 invoice were $6, 812.03, and consisted of $6, 190.31 for "Basic Service" and $619.03 for a "Total Fuel Recovery Fee." Id. On the next invoice, dated January 20, 2015, the total charges were $7, 016.87, which consisted of $6, 376.02 for "Basic Service" and $637.70 for "Total Fuel Recovery Fee." Id. at 26-5. This amounts to a roughly 3% increase. At this point, as reflected by the invoices, Plaintiff stopped paying its monthly balance. BFI continued to provide service and send Plaintiff monthly invoices, noting the past due balance, and assessing monthly late fees. See Id. at 22 (invoice from February 20, 2015); id. at 24 (invoice from March 20, 2015); id. at 26 (invoice from April 20, 2015); id. at 28 (invoice from May 20, 2015); id. at 30 (invoice from June 20, 2015); id. at 32 (invoice from July 20, 2015). The invoices indicate that throughout this time, Plaintiff made payments towards its balance only once, on June 25, 2015, when it made three payments of $2, 500 each. Id. at 32. The invoice from July 20, 2015, indicates that the final past due balance was $35, 551.67. Id.

         Once Plaintiff stopped paying its monthly balance, Plaintiff and BFI entered into negotiations regarding the balance and Plaintiffs contract with BFI. ECF No. 26-4 at 3. BFI discussed waiving part of the outstanding balance, entering into a new contract with Plaintiff, and matching any price that Plaintiff was being offered by BFI's competitors. Id. Ultimately, on July 2, 2015, Plaintiff informed BFI that it wished to terminate its relationship with BFI, and requested that BFI remove its containers by July 13, 2015. ECF No. 26-12 at 2. Plaintiff informed BFI that it would begin assessing a storage fee of $75 per day per container after July 13, 2015, if the containers were not removed. Id. On July 8, 2015, BFI acknowledged receipt of the notice of termination, but demanded "final payment for services rendered of $35, 551.67" for Plaintiff to be able to terminate the relationship. ECF No. 26-9 at 2. Furthermore, BFI informed Plaintiff that "[u]ntil payment is received we will not service or remove these containers and we will not pay a storage fee." Id. On August 4, 2015, BFI delivered several "Final Notices" to Plaintiff, threatening to turn the matter over to a collection agency. ECF No. 27-4 at 3-5. The dumpsters were not removed until November 11, 2015. ECF No. 26-10 at 5.

         At some point prior to May 9, 2016, the walls of the corridor between Plaintiffs trash room and the pick-up location were "substantially gouged or damaged." ECF No. 26-11. Plaintiffs corporate representative testified that this damage occurred while Republic was servicing Plaintiff, and that Republic's representatives acknowledged that their containers had caused the damage to the walls. ECF No. 27-8 at 4.

         On July 6, 2016, Plaintiff commenced an action against Republic in the District Court for Prince George's County. Presidential Towers Condominium. Inc. v. Republic Services. Inc., Civil Case No. CAL1627862 (District Court for Prince George's Cty.). On November 9, 2016, Republic removed the action to this Court pursuant to its diversity jurisdiction (Defendants are Delaware corporations, with their principal places of business in Arizona, and Plaintiff is a Maryland corporation). ECF No. 1; ECF No. 13 at 1. On December 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed its Amended Complaint, naming BFI as an additional defendant, ECF No. 12. BFI answered the Complaint and filed a counterclaim against Plaintiff on December 20, 2016. ECF No. 14. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment regarding Plaintiffs claims and BFI's counterclaim on July 28, 2017, which is now pending before the Court. ECF No. 26. Plaintiff has opposed Defendants' Motion, ECF No. 27, to which Defendants replied, ECF No. 30.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

          "Under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 56(c), summary judgment is proper 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute exists as to material facts. Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). If the moving party demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to identify specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. Importantly, at the summary judgment stage, it is not the Court's function to weigh the evidence but simply to decide if there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986). A dispute of material fact is genuine if the conflicting evidence creates "fair doubt, " Cox v. Cnty. Of Prince William, 249 F.3d 295, 299 (4th Cir. 2001), such that "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255. Nevertheless, a "mere scintilla of proof' is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Peters v. Jenney, 327 F.3d 307, 314 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). To defeat the motion, the party opposing summary judgment must submit evidentiary materials showing facts on the basis of which the finder of fact could reasonably decide the case in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. If a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an essential element on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

          Defendants raise several arguments in their Motion for Summary Judgment. First, Republic argues that Plaintiff does not have any valid claims against it, because it was not a party to the Agreement. ECF No. 26-1 at 7. Second, BFI argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs damages claims because BFI was not responsible for moving its dumpsters through the corridors of Plaintiff s building, where Plaintiff alleges it suffered damages. Id. at 7. Third, BFI argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs trespass claims because Plaintiff has not "produced nor identified any actual damage done to the property where the dumpsters were kept." Id. at 10. ...


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