Adams v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., CIV.A.01-11062-RBC

Decision Date27 March 2003
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A.01-11062-RBC,CIV.A.01-11062-RBC
Citation253 F.Supp.2d 76
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
PartiesEdward Lawrence ADAMS, Jr., Jane Adams, Plaintiffs, v. STARWOOD HOTELS & RESORTS WORLDWIDE, INC., Defendant.

Susan Merritt-Glenny, Murphy & Murphy, Hyannis, MA, for Edward Lawrence Adams, Jr., Jane Adams, Plaintiffs.

Lawrence F. Boyle, Robert J. Gizmunt, Morrison, Mahoney & Miller, Boston, MA, Francis K. Morris, Morris & Howard, Wellesley, Jeanne M. Harney, Morrison, Mahoney & Miller LLP, Boston, MA, for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., Defendant.


COLLINGS, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

On May 15, 2001, the plaintiffs, Edward Lawrence Adams, Jr. ("Mr.Adams") and Jane Adams ("Mrs.Adams")(collectively, the "plaintiffs"), filed a complaint against the defendant, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. ("Starwood" or the "defendant"), in Massachusetts Superior Court. (Complaint and Jury Demand, # 3) The case was removed by the defendant to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on June 19, 2001. (Notice of Removal, # 1)

The plaintiffs are Florida residents. (# 3, ¶¶ 1, 2) Starwood is a Maryland corporation with a usual place of business in Hyannis, Massachusetts. (# 27, ¶ 3), Starwood owns and operates a hotel known as the Sheraton Hyannis Resort (the "hotel") located at 35 Scudder Avenue, Hyannis, Massachusetts 02601. (#3, ¶ 4) On or about February 12, 2000, Mr. and Mrs. Adams were invitees of the hotel while attending a seminar there. (# 3, ¶ 5) On February 12, 2000, during a morning break in the seminar, Mr. Adams walked on an outside patio area (the "patio") at the hotel. (# 3, ¶ 7) He slipped on ice and fell. (Id.) He sustained and suffered serious and permanent injuries as a result of the fall, and he required multiple hospitalizations. (# 3, ¶ 8)

The plaintiffs claim that Starwood had a duty to maintain, inspect, operate and supervise the hotel premises including the patio with due care and in a reasonably safe manner; that Starwood breached its duty by failing to clear the patio area and/or walkways of ice, by failing to warn invitees of danger from ice and by failing to use reasonable care in preventing the injuries suffered by Mr. Adams; and, finally that Starwood's breach was the proximate cause of Mr. Adams' injuries. (# 3, ¶¶ 9-13)

On August 9, 2002, Starwood filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (# 28), along with a Statement of Undisputed Facts in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (#27) and a Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (# 29) Starwood claims that the plaintiffs have no reasonable expectation of proving that it breached a duty of care owed to the plaintiffs, contending that there is no evidence to establish that the ice upon which Mr. Adams fell was anything but a natural accumulation for which there is no liability. (#28, p. 1) On November 26, 2002, the plaintiffs filed a Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary `Judgment. (# 34) On December 4, 2002, the plaintiffs filed an Assented Motion to Substitute (# 36) and a Revised Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (# 38) The plaintiffs attached to their opposition three affidavits-the affidavit of Dr. Fred Ward, Meteorological Consultant (# 34, Ex. C)2; the affidavit of Michele C. Tudor, Professional Engineer (# 34, Ex. D); and the affidavit of Tobe Marsdens (a hotel employee). (# 34, Ex. F)

In their Memorandum in Opposition, the plaintiffs argue that genuine issues of material fact exist as to: whether the defendant acted reasonably under the circumstances; whether the defendant knew or should have known that the defective patio combined with the winter climate created hazardous ice patches; whether the ice which caused Mr. Adams' fall was a natural or an artificial accumulation of ice; and finally whether the ice, if natural, became unnatural due to the passage of time. (# 34, pp. 10-17) On December 6, 2002, the defendant filed a Reply Brief to Plaintiffs Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (# 37) asserting that it is entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiffs have not presented any admissible evidence to establish that the ice that allegedly caused Mr. Adams' fall resulted from an unnatural accumulation of ice and snow. (# 37, p. 1) On December 11, 2002, the Court heard oral argument on the instant motion. With the record now complete, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is in a posture for resolution. For the reasons discussed below, I will deny the motion without prejudice.

II. Facts3

The plaintiffs are Florida residents. (# 27, 11111, 2) The plaintiffs arrived at the hotel on February 11 or February 12, 20004 to attend a seminar sponsored by the Riverview School. (Id. at ¶ 5; # 38, p. 1) The plaintiffs' disabled son was a student at the Riverview School, located in Sandwich, Massachusetts. (# 38, p. 1) The plaintiffs arrived the hotel at approximately 8:30 a.m. (Id.) Upon arrival, Mr. and Mrs. Adams attended different lectures held in different conference rooms. (Id.) At approximately 10:00 a.m., there was a break in Mr. Adams' seminar, so he decided to take a look at the golf course and Pro Shop located to the rear of the hotel building. (# 27, ¶ 7) The hotel has admitted that there was no sign posted on the doors or anywhere else warning or advising people that they were prohibited from walking on the patio. (# 38, p. 2)

Mr. Adams left the conference room and walked through lobby doors located in the rear of the hotel and proceeded down a concrete walkway. (Id.) He turned right towards the golf course and was entering the patio-that is, the area located between the golf course and the indoor pool. (Id.) The surface of the patio is concrete. (Id.) Upon entering the patio, Mr. Adams slipped on ice and fell; his leg buckled, and he suffered a ruptured patellar tendon which pushed his kneecap up to his thigh. (Id.) Unable to rise, he summoned help from individuals located in the indoor pool area and was taken by ambulance to the Cape Cod Hospital where he was admitted overnight and underwent surgery to repair the patellar tendon. (Id.)

Mr. Adams was in pain when he returned to Florida on February 20, 2000.(Id.) On February 23, he was seen by an orthopedic surgeon at Coral Springs Hospital and was hospitalized when it was discovered that he was suffering from deep vein thrombosis (blood clot), a post-operative complication from the patellar tendon rupture repair. (Id. at p. 3) Mr. Adams was admitted to the hospital on February 23 and was discharged on or about February 27 at which time he underwent extensive physical therapy. (# 38, p. 2) During the second session of therapy, he was given a type of shock therapy to stimulate the muscles in his left leg. (Id.) According to Mr. Adams, this therapy caused him such distress that he had to be readmitted to the hospital for observation. (Id.) He continues to suffer permanent loss of mobility in his left leg. (Id.)

Mr. Adams did not see any snow or ice on the hotel premises, including on the golf course, at anytime prior to his fall. (Id. at p. 2) According to the plaintiffs, on the date of Mr. Adams' fall, it was dry all day. (Id.) Further, Mr. Adams avers that there were no significant snow storms or precipitation in the days preceding his fall which might put one on notice of hazardous conditions. (Id.) The plaintiffs have brought a negligence action to recover for the injuries sustained when Mr. Adams slipped and fell on the ice.5

III. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is "a device that `has proven its usefulness as a means of avoiding full-dress trials in unwinnable cases, thereby freeing courts to utilize scarce judicial resources in more beneficial ways.'" Mullin v. Raytheon Co., 164 F.3d 696, 698 (1 Cir., 1999) (quoting Mesnick v. General Electric Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1 Cir., 1991)). The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial burden, which may be discharged by pointing to the absence of adequate evidence supporting the nonmoving party's case." Michelson v. Digital Financial Svcs., 167 F.3d 715, 720 (1 Cir., 1999). After the moving party has met its burden, "the onus is on the nonmoving party to present facts that show a genuine issue for trial." Id. When considering whether to grant summary judgment, the Court must determine whether:

... the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is a genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

In making this assessment, the Court must "accept all reasonable inferences favorable to the nonmovant." Mullin, 164 F.3d at 698; see also Feliciano v. State of Rhode Island, 160 F.3d 780, 788 (1 Cir., 1998); Hinchey v. NYNEX Corp., 144 F.3d 134, 140 (1st Cir.1998); Dykes v. DePuy, Inc., 140 F.3d 31, 33 (1 Cir., 1998).

A factual dispute which is neither "genuine" nor "material" will not survive a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In deciding whether a factual dispute is "genuine," the Court must determine whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.; see also Fajardo Shopping Center, S.E., v. Sun Alliance Insurance Company of Puerto Rico, Inc., 167 F.3d 1, 7 (1 Cir., 1999) ("[A]n issue is `genuine' if the evidence presented is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the issue in favor of the nonmoving party"); De-Jesus-Adorno v. Browning Ferris of Puerto Rico, 160 F.3d 839, 841-42 (1 Cir., 1998) ("A trialworthy issue exists ... [if] the evidence is `sufficiently open-ended to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the issue in favor of...

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