Hall v. IKEA Prop. Inc.

Decision Date17 March 2016
Docket NumberCivil Case No. 14-12706
Citation171 F.Supp.3d 634
Parties Charles Hall, Plaintiff, v. IKEA Property Inc. J.W. Logistics, LLC, Defendants, IKEA Property Inc., Third Party Plaintiff v. J.W. Logistics, LLC, Third Party Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

Howard J. Radner, Howard J. Radner, Attorney at Law, Kari Melkonian, Kevin P. Moloughney, Collins, Einhorn, Farell, Southfield, MI, Carol Ann Smith, Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP, Livonia, MI, James F. Hunt, Johnston, Sztykiel & Hunt, P.C., Troy, MI, Kenneth A. Rich, Timothy M. Kaufmann, Rich & Campbell PC, Farmington Hills, MI, for Plaintiff/Third Party Defendant.

Kari Melkonian, Kevin P. Moloughney, Collins, Einhorn, Farell, Southfield, MI, for Defendants/Third Party Plaintiff.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING IKEA PROPERTY INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NO. 31]

LINDA V. PARKER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Presently before the court in this diversity action is Defendant IKEA Property Inc.'s (Defendant or “IKEA”) motion for summary judgment, brought pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 31.) Plaintiff has filed this action asserting claims of premises liability and ordinary negligence. For reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiff asserts that he was employed by J.W. Logistics, LLC (J.W.) to ship furniture to the homes of IKEA customers who had purchased furniture from IKEA. (Hall Dep., ECF No. 31-2 at Pg. ID 264, 268.) Each morning that Plaintiff worked at J.W., he was given a delivery checklist that identified the items that Plaintiff needed to retrieve from the J.W. warehouse, as well as the IKEA location in Canton, Michigan. (Id. at Pg. ID 268.) He and at least one co-worker would load the furniture onto a truck and deliver the items to IKEA customers. (Id. )

On the day of the incident, Plaintiff arrived at J.W. at approximately 7:30 a.m. and was given the delivery list. (Id. at Pg. ID 273.) Plaintiff and his coworker, Andre, loaded the furniture stored at the J.W. location onto their moving truck and subsequently drove to the IKEA location in Canton to retrieve the remaining furniture listed on the manifest. (Id. ) Plaintiff arrived at IKEA somewhere between 8 and 9 a.m. that day. (Id. ) The sun was out and the weather was dry. (Id. ) Plaintiff drove the truck that day and upon arrival at IKEA, he proceeded to back the truck up to the loading dock. (Id. at Pg. ID 278.) He claims that the truck was aligned flush to the rubber bumpers that prevented the truck from crashing into the loading dock. (Id. ) Plaintiff also states that IKEA allowed J.W. workers to use a steel loading dock plate to walk across the gap between the loading dock and the truck. (Id. ) Plaintiff contends that on the date of the accident he placed the dock plate properly and securely in position so that it did not shake and was “sturdy in the hole.” (Id. ) Shortly after securing the dock plate, an IKEA representative brought out wheeled carts with the items listed on the manifest for shipping. (Id. ) Subsequently, Plaintiff grabbed a mirror that was placed beside the carts and proceeded to load the mirror on the truck. (Id. ) He asserts that he loaded the mirror onto the truck first so he could strap it to the side of the truck and prevent it from breaking. (Id. ) The mirror was between five and six feet tall, wide, and weighed approximately 40 pounds. (Id. at Pg. ID 278–79.)

Plaintiff asserts that loading the mirror required him to carry the mirror vertically in front of him—because it was impractical to carry it with one arm or on the mirror's side. Carrying the mirror the way that Plaintiff did obstructed his vision—Plaintiff could not see directly in front of him. (Id. at Pg. ID 280.) Prior to attempting to load the mirror on the truck, Plaintiff looked at the plate and tried to align himself up with the plate (while holding the mirror) so that he could see where he should be walking. (Id. at Pg. ID 284.) Subsequently, Plaintiff started walking in the direction of the plate with the mirror in front of his face. (Id. ) While walking, Plaintiff looked down at his feet; he reached the back of the truck and was able to see the metal plate. (Id. ) Plaintiff claims that he was able to put one foot on the plate, and when he attempted to put the other foot on the plate, that foot “slipped off the plate,” causing plaintiff to fall and the mirror to shatter. (Id. ) Plaintiff claims that he did not misjudge where the edge of the plate was, and that his foot just “slipped off the plate and went through the hole.” (Id. at Pg. ID 279.)

As a result of the fall, Plaintiff fractured his left tibia and fibula. (Compl., ECF No. 28 at Pg. ID 121.) This lawsuit followed shortly after the incident. (ECF No. 28.) The metal loading plate was approximately two feet in length. (Compl., ECF No. 28 at Pg. ID No. 118.) The loading plate was placed in the middle of the gap existing between the truck and the loading dock. (See Hall Dep., ECF No. 31-2 at Pg. ID 279; Loading Plate Image, ECF 35-3 at Pg. ID 360.) Because the width of the plate did not expand the entirety of the loading dock, a hole in coverage existed to the left of the metal plate, and to the right of the plate as well. (Id. ) Plaintiff contends that if the loading plate had been sufficient in length to cover gaps, the accident never would have occurred. (Id. ) Plaintiff also claims that prior to the fall, although he never had any discussions with IKEA, he and other drivers spoke among themselves and voiced that the plate should be wider and longer. (Id. at Pg. ID 279.) Defendant's motion for summary judgment followed shortly after the filing of the amended complaint. (ECF No. 31.)

II. Standard of Review
A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The central inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 251–52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). After adequate time for discovery and upon motion, Rule 56 mandates summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party bears the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

The movant has the initial burden of showing “the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id . at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Once the movant meets this burden, the “nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine issue, the nonmoving party must present sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for that party; a “scintilla of evidence” is insufficient. See Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

“A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed” must designate specifically the materials in the record supporting the assertion, “including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). The court must accept as true the non-movant's evidence and draw “all justifiable inferences” in the non-movant's favor. See Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

B. Choice of Law

This case is before the Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and the plaintiffs' claims are based entirely on state law. Therefore, the Court must apply the law of the forum state's highest court. Erie R. Co . v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938). Plaintiff and Defendant agree Michigan law applies to this dispute. If the state's highest court has not decided an issue, then “the federal court must ascertain the state law from 'all relevant data,' Garden City Osteopathic Hosp. v. HBE Corp., 55 F.3d 1126, 1130 (6th Cir.1995) (quoting Bailey v. V. & O Press Co., 770 F.2d 601, 604 (6th Cir.1985) ), which can include the state's intermediate appellate court decisions, as well as the state supreme court's relevant dicta, Ososki v. St. Paul Surplus Lines, 156 F.Supp.2d 669, 674 (E.D.Mich.2001) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

III. Analysis
A. Ordinary Negligence Claim

Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's ordinary negligence claim should be dismissed because an injury arising from an allegedly dangerous condition on the land sounds in premises liability rather than ordinary negligence, even when a plaintiff alleges that the owner created the purported hazardous condition. (Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 31 at Pg. ID 253.) Plaintiff rejects this argument in his responsive brief, contending that because Defendant knowingly provided Plaintiff with an undersized docking plate, it knew of the potentially dangerous outcomes that might result, and that the claim accordingly sounds in both general negligence and premises liability. (Pl.'s Resp. Br., ECF No. 35 at Pg. ID 345–46.)

With respect to premises liability and ordinary negligence claims, Michigan case law holds the following:

Courts are not bound by the labels that parties attach to their claims. Manning v. Amerman, 229 Mich.App. 608, 613, 582 N.W.2d 539 (1998). Indeed, [i]t is well settled that the gravamen of an action is determined by reading the complaint as a whole, and by looking beyond mere procedural labels to determine the exact nature of the
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