Clarke v. Marriott Int'l, Inc., Civil Action No. 2008-086

Decision Date06 February 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2008-086
PartiesCARMEN MCALPIN CLARKE, Plaintiff, v. MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC., ROYAL ST. KITTS BEACH RESORT, LTD., and LUXURY HOTELS INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT ST. KITTS, LTD. f/k/a MARRIOTT ST. KITTS MANAGEMENT COMPANY, INC., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Virgin Islands

Attorneys:

Lee J. Rohn, Esq.,

St. Croix, U.S.V.I.

For the Plaintiff

Andrew C. Simpson, Esq.,

Emily Shoup, Esq.,

St. Croix, U.S.V.I.

For Defendant Marriott International, Inc.

Michael J. Sanford, Esq.,

St. Croix, U.S.V.I.

For Defendants Luxury Hotels International Management St. Kitts, Ltd.

and Royal St. Kitts Beach Resort, Ltd.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Lewis, Chief Judge

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a "Second Motion for Summary Judgment" filed by Defendants Marriott International, Inc., Royal St. Kitts Beach Resort, Ltd. and Luxury Hotels International Management St. Kitts, Ltd. (collectively, "Defendants"). (Dkt. No. 234). Inthis personal injury action, Plaintiff Carmen McAlpin-Clarke ("Plaintiff") alleges that as a result of Defendants' negligence, she slipped and fell in the bathtub while showering at the Marriott St. Kitts Resort and Royal Beach Casino ("Resort"). She alleges that the Resort should have had a non-skid mat in place, and the bathtub was therefore in an unsafe condition; that Defendants had a duty to warn Plaintiff of the unsafe condition and failed to do so; and that Defendants were negligent in failing to "properly inspect, maintain, supervise, and control" the Resort generally and the bathtub specifically. (Amend. Compl., Dkt. No. 63 at ¶¶ 8-16). Plaintiff seeks damages for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of her fall, medical expenses, loss of income and earning capacity, mental anguish, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. (Dkt. No. 63 at ¶ 17). Defendants, in turn, argue that Plaintiff has established no basis to hold them liable under a negligence theory, and that because there are no genuine issues of material fact, they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Dkt. No. 34). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND1

Plaintiff, a resident of St. Croix, traveled to the Resort in June 2008 to celebrate her tenth wedding anniversary. (Plt.'s Joint Statement of Facts, Dkt. No. 265 at ¶¶ 1-2). On the morning of June 27, 2008, Plaintiff used the shower in her room. While showering, Plaintiff slipped andfell, hitting her face and back in the fall. Plaintiff claims that she slipped because the bathtub was "extremely slippery and did not have a rubber mat." (Dkt. No. 265 at ¶ 3).2 Plaintiff's husband helped her from the shower and called Resort security. Resort staff member Livingston McCall visited Plaintiff in her room after the fall. (Dkt. No. 265 at ¶ 57). Plaintiff declined medical attention, and tended to her injuries with ice and pain medication. (Dkt. No. 265 at ¶ 4). Plaintiff and her husband continued their vacation, visiting neighboring Nevis and attending a music festival on St. Kitts. Plaintiff returned to St. Croix two days after the incident, on June 29, 2008. (Dkt. No. 265, Ex. 1 at 71-73). After returning to St. Croix, Plaintiff sought medical attention, and continues to receive care and physical therapy for ongoing pain she alleges stems from the fall. (Dkt. No. 265 at ¶¶ 5-21).

Plaintiff filed her original Complaint against Marriott on September 23, 2008. (Dkt. No. 1). She filed an Amended Complaint on October 26, 2009, adding Defendants Royal St. Kitts and Luxury Hotels International. (Dkt. No. 63). Defendants filed their respective answers, and extensive factual and expert discovery followed. (Dkt. Nos. 64, 95, 102, 230, 233). Defendant Marriott filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 36) which was denied by the Court (Dkt. No. 103) based on the existence of a dispute regarding Marriott's control over the other Defendants.3 Defendants jointly filed two additional Motions for Summary Judgment—one for lack of jurisdiction and forum non conveniens (Dkt. No. 237), and the instant Motion on the merits of Plaintiff's negligence claim (Dkt. No. 235). The Court denied the former Motion byMemorandum Opinion and Order issued on September 4, 2013. (Dkt. Nos. 348, 349). The Motion on the merits is now before the Court.

II. APPLICABLE LAW
A. Summary Judgment Standard

A party moving for summary judgment must show that there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact," such that it is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A material fact is one which may alter the outcome of the case, not simply a tangential factual matter about which the parties disagree. See Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006). Accordingly, "disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment." N.A.A.C.P. v. N. Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue, 665 F.3d 464, 475 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal citation omitted).4

In adjudicating a summary judgment motion, this Court must view the facts "in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). After the movant shows by motion that there is no genuine factual issue for trial, the nonmoving party bears the burden of identifying evidence that creates a genuine dispute regarding material facts. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where—as here—the nonmoving party would bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may succeed on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry that burden. Foulk v. Donjon Marine Co., Inc., 144 F.3d 252, 258 n.5 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Wetzel v. Tucker, 139 F.3d 380, 383 n.2 (3d Cir.1998)). Ultimately, "where the record taken as a wholecould not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial'" and summary judgment is appropriate. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted).

Speculation or inference based on conjecture does not create a material factual dispute sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Robertson v. Allied Signal, Inc., 914 F.2d 360, 382 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Blackston v. Shook & Fletcher Insulation Co., 764 F.2d 1480, 1482 (11th Cir.1985)). In other words, if the only basis for the jury's verdict is (or would be) speculation, then there is no material factual dispute. See Stephens v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 212 F.2d 260, 261 (7th Cir. 1954) (if basis for a jury verdict for non-movant would be purely conjectural, "it is the law that . . . the court does not invade the province of the jury by taking a case from it and entering a judgment for the defendant."); see also S. Camden Citizens in Action v. New Jersey Dep't of Environmental Prot., No. 01-702, 2006 WL 1097498, at *21 (D.N.J. Mar. 31, 2006); Restatement (Third) of Torts: Phys. & Emot. Harm § 28 (2010) (if a negligence finding would be based only on speculation, it becomes the duty of the court to intervene and "[remove] the matter from the province of the jury."). The Court's inquiry here, therefore, is whether there is evidence presenting a genuine factual—not merely hypothetical—disagreement regarding Defendants' alleged negligence which requires submission to a jury. If not, Defendants are entitled to judgment in their favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986).

The parties agree that there is no choice of law conflict presented in this case. (Dkt. No. 235 at 4; Dkt. No. 262 at 7). Where the laws of "two jurisdictions would produce the same result on the particular issue presented, there is a 'false conflict,' and the Court should avoid the choice-of-law question." Berg Chilling Sys., Inc. v. Hull Corp., 435 F.3d 455, 462 (3d Cir. 2006) (internal citations omitted). Plaintiff and Defendants agree that no "material differences in thesubstantive tort law" exist between the Virgin Islands and St. Kitts, and Plaintiff would be "required to show the same elements" to prevail in both jurisdictions. (Dkt. No. 262 at 7; Dkt. No. 235 at 4). Accordingly, no conflict of laws exists in this case and the Court need not engage in a choice of law analysis. See Williams v. Stone, 109 F.3d 890, 893 (3d Cir. 1997) (federal court applying local law should avoid analyzing conflict of laws issues where no actual conflict exists).

B. Elements of Negligence

To prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove a legal duty held by the defendant, a breach of that duty, a causal relationship between the breach of duty and plaintiff's injuries, and damages. City of Philadelphia v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., 277 F.3d 415, 422 n.9 (3d Cir. 2002). A landowner is liable for physical injury suffered by invitees due to a dangerous condition on the land only if the landowner "(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and (b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and (c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger." Canton v. Kmart Corp. , 470 F. App'x 79, 83 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343 (1965)).5 A breach of the duty exists if a defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition and failed to act to protect invitees. Canton, 470 F. App'x at 83. Accordingly, absent a dangerous condition and notice thereof, there can be no breach of a duty upon which negligence can be found. Id.

An accident's occurrence is not, as a matter of law, a sufficient basis for presumingnegligence. Dorney v. Mammi, 350 F. App'x 649, 651 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted); Fedorczyk v. Caribbean Cruise Lines, Ltd., 82 F.3d 69, 74 (3d Cir. 1996) ("It is axiomatic that the mere showing of an accident causing...

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