What is SEPTA really?: Commonwealth Court Allows SEPTA Sovereign Immunity Protection (PA)

In Muldrow v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (“SEPTA”), the plaintiff fell down the bus stairs while disembarking a SEPTA bus.  Muldrow sued SEPTA, alleging negligence.  SEPTA filed a motion for summary basis claiming that SEPTA was immune from liability as an arm of the commonwealth.  However, Muldrow opposed the motion on the basis of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Goldman v. SEPTA, which held specifically that SEPTA is not an arm of the commonwealth under the Eleventh Amendment and thus not immunized from suit by the Sovereign Immunity Act.  The court of Common Pleas disagreed and granted SEPTA’s motion for summary judgment.

Muldrow appealed, again citing Goldman.  SEPTA argued that Goldman was inapplicable here because it involved the Eleventh Amendment, and the instant case concerned only state common law sovereignty.  Here, the Commonwealth Court agreed with SEPTA and held that this was a state action and did not involve federal law.  As such, Goldman does not deny SPETA immunity protection under the Sovereign Immunity Act.

This case should serve as a guide for future state lawsuits involving SEPTA.  Since Goldman, the law has been somewhat in flux as to SEPTA’s position regarding immunity.  As Muldrow suggests, it appears SEPTA will continue to receive the protection of the Sovereign Immunity Act in state law cases.

Thanks to Remy Cahn for her contribution.

For more information contact Denise Fontana Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com.