209 Cal.App.3d 76, D008485, Gray v. America West Airlines, Inc.

Docket Nº:D008485
Citation:209 Cal.App.3d 76, 256 Cal.Rptr. 877
Opinion Judge:[10] Huffman
Party Name:Gray v. America West Airlines, Inc.
Attorney:[7] Harold D. Thompson for Plaintiff and Appellant. [8] Higgs, Fletcher & Mack, Harry L. Carter, John Morris, Butz, Lucas, Dunn & Enright, Butz & Lucas and K. Elizabeth Dunn for Defendants and Respondents.
Case Date:March 29, 1989
Court:California Court of Appeals

Page 76

209 Cal.App.3d 76

256 Cal.Rptr. 877

Twila Kay GRAY, Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

AMERICA WEST AIRLINES, INC. et al., Defendants and Respondents.

No. D008485.

California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, First Division

March 29, 1989.

Review Denied June 29, 1989.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Harold D. Thompson, San Diego, for plaintiff and appellant.

Higgs, Fletcher & Mack, Harry L. Carter, John Morris, Butz & Lucas and K. Elizabeth Dunn, San Diego, for defendants and respondents.

HUFFMAN, Associate Justice.

In granting separate motions for summary judgment brought by defendants America West Airlines, Inc. (America West) and the San Diego Unified Port District (Port District), the trial court ruled America West had no duty to protect against or warn of certain negligent conduct by third persons on its leased premises, and Port District's public property did not harbor a dangerous condition as alleged. Plaintiff Twila Kay Gray appeals, contending several factual issues remain to be resolved before rulings on these issues of law may properly be made. We affirm the judgments, holding the trial court correctly performed its function by ruling upon the motions as matters of law, recognizing no further factual showings were necessary.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Mrs. Gray, a ticketed passenger on an America West flight, arrived at the airport an hour before flight time and went to the check-in counter with her grandson Byron, who was carrying her luggage. She waited in a roped-off line for her turn to check her luggage and receive her boarding pass, and stepped forward when directed to do so. Byron gave her luggage to the counter clerk and left the counter without interference. While Mrs. Gray

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was occupied at the counter, an unidentified passenger behind her in line (not a party to this action) moved a box, approximately 12-15 inches square and 8-10 inches high, up to the front of the line and left it unattended for 2-3 minutes. America West's counter clerk returned Mrs. Gray's ticket to her after processing it. After asking for and receiving a boarding pass, Mrs. Gray turned to leave the counter and in doing so tripped over the unattended box. The mishap caused her to hit her head on the counter, lacerate her forehead, and fall to her knees. Her personal injury complaint alleged a single cause of action based on premises liability as to both defendants, including allegations of dangerous condition of public property as to Port District.

America West leases its ticket counter from Port District, the operator of the airport. The ticket counter faces directly onto the concourse area through which passengers must travel to arrive at the flight departure gates. In support of its motion for summary judgment or adjudication of issues, 1 America West submitted deposition testimony and a declaration by airport manager Maurice A. McDonald, stating America West has no control over the independent contractor whom Port District employs to maintain the concourse area, where Mrs. Gray's injury was incurred.

In response to America West's motion for summary judgment, Mrs. Gray submitted deposition testimony and Port District's answer to her interrogatory inquiring into what precautions were taken to prevent injuries to users of the premises from objects placed on the floor near the ticket counters:

"15. Objection, vague, ambiguous and unintelligible. Without waiving said objection, it would gave [sic] been the airlines [sic] responsibility to manage the area around its ticket counter."

America West's motion for summary judgment was granted and judgment was entered, the court finding the complaint had no merit and that there were no triable issues of material fact.

Shortly thereafter, Port District's motion was heard. Port District argued no condition of public property caused Mrs. Gray's injury, rather the fellow passenger's unattended box caused her to fall. Immunity under Government Code section 835.4 2 was also urged, on the grounds the Port District's action or inaction that created the alleged dangerous condition was reasonable..

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The motion was granted and judgment entered; Mrs. Gray timely appealed as to both defendants.

DISCUSSION

I

Standard of Review

Where a defendant is the moving party on a motion for summary judgment, its declarations and evidence must either establish a complete defense to plaintiff's action or demonstrate the absence of an essential element of plaintiff's case. If plaintiff does not counter with opposing declarations showing there are triable issues of fact with respect to that defense or an essential element of its case, the summary judgment must be granted. (Dolquist v. City of Bellflower (1987) 196 Cal.App.3d 261, 266, 241 Cal.Rptr. 706.) For example, if defendant can show it had no duty to protect plaintiff, it establishes a complete defense to a claim of negligence and the ruling on the summary judgment motion may be based upon this issue of law. (Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358, 362, 178 Cal.Rptr. 783; Lopez v. McDonald's (1987) 193 Cal.App.3d 495, 503, 238 Cal.Rptr. 436.)

In making these determinations, the court must strictly construe the affidavits of the moving party and liberally construe those of its opponent. (Isaacs v. Huntington Memorial Hospital (1985) 38 Cal.3d 112, 134, 211 Cal.Rptr. 356.)

In premises liability cases, summary judgment may properly be granted where a defendant unequivocally establishes its lack of ownership, possession, or control of the property alleged to be in a dangerous or defective condition. (Id., 38 Cal.3d at p. 134, 211 Cal.Rptr. 356.) This follows from the rule that the duty to take affirmative action for the protection of individuals coming onto one's property "is grounded in the possession of the premises and the attendant right to control and manage the premises." (Sprecher v. Adamson Companies, supra, 30 Cal.3d 358, 368, 178 Cal.Rptr. 783, quoted in Steinmetz v. Stockton City Chamber of Commerce (1985) 169 Cal.App.3d 1142, 1146, 214 Cal.Rptr. 406.) Without the...

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