Bartley v. Sweetser

Decision Date19 December 1994
Docket NumberNo. 94-592,94-592
PartiesJenny BARTLEY, Appellant, v. Jerry SWEETSER & Sharon Sweetser, d/b/a Sweetser Properties, Appellees.
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

Bruce Schlegal, Denton, TX, David D. Stills, John C. Everett, Fayetteville, for appellant.

James M. Roy, Jr., James H. Bingaman, Springdale, for appellees.

GLAZE, Justice.

During the early morning hours of June 21, 1991, two men entered the apartment of appellant Jenny Bartley and raped her. Bartley was a twenty-one-year-old college student at the time and one of the men who raped her was a tenant in the same apartment complex which was owned by appellees Jerry and Sharon Sweetser. The undisputed facts showed that the two men knocked on Bartley's door, and she opened the door to ascertain who was there. The men forced their way into Bartley's apartment and raped her.

On November 16, 1992, Bartley filed her complaint against the Sweetsers, alleging the Sweetsers owed Bartley and other residents of University Studio apartments a duty to provide reasonable security from foreseeable criminal acts against the tenants, and the Sweetsers breached that duty. The Sweetsers filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state facts upon which relief could be granted. Treating the motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment, the trial court granted the motion and dismissed Bartley's complaint with prejudice. Bartley appeals from that order.

Bartley argues that the Sweetsers provided her with a windowless door which was latched with a simple push-button doorknob lock, failed to provide adequate security and adequate lighting of the common areas, and failed to warn Bartley that the apartment complex was prone to criminal activity. Further, Bartley argues the lease prohibited her from installing additional locks to the apartment door, and the Sweetsers retained sole dominion and control over her door and the common areas of the complex. Bartley urges this court overturn its prior holdings and hold that a landlord owes a duty to tenants to provide them with a reasonably safe environment.

Bartley points to her lease and its terms that prevented her, as a tenant, from making any modification to the premises without the landlords' written consent. Bartley argues she was specifically precluded from installing additional locking devices on her door. Bartley argues many jurisdictions have discarded the general rule of landlord immunity based on the common law rule of caveat emptor as being inconsistent with modern circumstances or warranties of habitability. Bartley argues that, if her door had had a peephole or chain lock, she would have had greater protection from the two men who attacked her.

Bartley cites a long line of cases where this court has considered issues of landlord liability for injuries to tenants, all of which held that the landlord owes no special duty to tenants and that tenants are not invitees. She also cites Jackson v. Warner Holdings, Ltd., 617 F.Supp. 646 (W.D.Ark.1985), where the federal court held that Arkansas would recognize a duty owed by the landlord to tenants in providing adequate security to protect against criminal attacks by third persons. There, a tenant was raped after the assailant entered her apartment. In finding that a duty was owed by the apartment owner, the federal court relied heavily on Keck v. American Employment Agency, Inc., 279 Ark. 294, 652 S.W.2d 2 (1983).

Keck, however, did not involve landlord liability for a tenant's injury due to a third party's criminal acts. Instead, Keck was a negligence case where an employment agency sent one of its customers to interview a prospective employer. The prospective employer raped the customer. The evidence further showed that the agency had not investigated the prospective employer. While the Keck court mentioned the rule that one is ordinarily not liable for the acts of another unless a special relationship exists, the court held such a relationship had occurred. It concluded such duty arose out of (1) the contractual relationship between the employment agency and its customer, (2) the agency's ability to foresee some danger in sending the customer to prospective employers, and (3) the degree of control the agency had over the employers it made available to its customers.

Arkansas landlord/tenant law has its own history that bears on the issue before us in this case. Since 1932, Arkansas has adhered to the general rule that, as between a landlord and tenant, the landlord is under no legal obligation to a tenant for injuries sustained in common areas, absent a statute or agreement. See Glasgow v. Century Property Fund XIX, 299 Ark. 221, 772 S.W.2d 312 (1989); Knox v. Gray, 289 Ark. 507, 712 S.W.2d 914 (1986); Kilbury v. McConnell, 246 Ark. 528, 438 S.W.2d 692 (1969); Joseph v. Riffel, 186 Ark. 418, 53 S.W.2d 987 (1932). Consistent with the foregoing principle is the general and common law rule that a landlord does not owe a tenant or social guest a duty to protect the tenant or guest from criminal acts. Pippin v. Chicago Housing Authority, 78 Ill.2d 204, 35 Ill.Dec. 530, 399 N.E.2d 596 (1979); Morgan v. 253 E. Delaware Condo Ass'n, 231 Ill.App.3d 208, 171 Ill.Dec. 908, 595 N.E.2d 36 (1992); 52 C.J.S. Landlord and Tenant § 545 (1968); American Law of Landlord and Tenant § 4.14 (1980 and Supp.1994); 43 ALR3rd 331 (1972 and Supp.1994) (Landlord's obligation to protect tenant against criminal activities of third persons); see also 65th Center, Inc. v. Copeland, 308 Ark. 456, 825 S.W.2d 574 (1992) (court said that a landowner is not liable for the negligent act of a third party, when the landowner had no control over the person who committed the act and the act was not committed on his account); contra Kline v. 1500 Mass. Ave. Apt. Corp., 141 App.D.C. 370, 439 F.2d 477, 43 ALR3d 311 (1970); American Law of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
31 cases
  • Hemmings v. Pelham Wood
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • June 16, 2003
    ...fair to impose upon the landlord a duty to protect the tenant from criminal activity within the demised area. See Bartley v. Sweetser, 319 Ark. 117, 890 S.W.2d 250, 252 (1994); R. Schoshinski, American Law of Landlord and Tenant, 217 (1980). The reason for the rule has been stated as follow......
  • Shepherd v. Washington County
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • February 19, 1998
    ...and the victim. See, e.g., First Commercial Trust Co. v. Lorcin Eng'g, Inc., 321 Ark. 210, 900 S.W.2d 202 (1995); Bartley v. Sweetser, 319 Ark. 117, 890 S.W.2d 250 (1994); Keck v. American Employment Agency, Inc., 279 Ark. 294, 652 S.W.2d 2 (1983). In Smith v. Hansen, 323 Ark. 188, 914 S.W.......
  • Boren v. Worthen Nat. Bank of Arkansas
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • May 13, 1996
    ...the trial court stated: Primarily I am most persuaded by the rationale in the cases set forth in Worthen's original brief and by the Bartley case set out in Worthen's supplemental brief. It seems that jurisdictions across the country share the same reluctance to reassign the duty of protect......
  • Kopoian v. George W. Miller & Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • March 14, 1995
    ...512 N.W.2d 51 (1993) (association not liable for injuries to visitor assaulted in poorly lit, unfenced parking lot); Bartley v. Sweetser, 319 Ark. 117, 890 S.W.2d 250 (1994) (landlord not liable to tenant raped in apartment who contended landlord failed to provide The plaintiffs' position i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT