Judd v. Landin, No. 32935.

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtJULIUS J. OLSON
Citation211 Minn. 465,1 N.W.2d 861
PartiesJUDD v. LANDIN et al.
Docket NumberNo. 32935.
Decision Date22 January 1942

211 Minn. 465
1 N.W.2d 861

LANDIN et al.

No. 32935.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Jan. 2, 1942.
Rehearing Denied Jan. 22, 1942.

Appeal from District Court, Hennepin County; Mathias Baldwin, Judge.

Action by Anna Judd against Robert E. and Allyn K. Ford, the Woman's Christian Association of Minneapolis, Virginia R. Landin and others for injuries sustained in a fall upon the stairway of a hotel operated by the last-named defendant. From judgments in favor of the Fords and the Woman's Christian Association notwithstanding a verdict in favor of plaintiff, plaintiff appeals.

Reversed and remanded.

[1 N.W.2d 862]

Syllabus by the Court.

1. Canons of construction are not the masters of courts, but merely their servants, to aid them in ascertaining legislative intent; and when such intent is ascertained the statute must be so construed as to give it effect.

2. A broad but fair construction is to be given statutes having for their end the promotion of important and beneficial objects.

3. In construing a statute courts should be careful not to apply such a rigid and literal reading as would in many cases defeat its very object.

4. It is also the duty of courts, even where a legislative act is imperfectly drawn, to ascertain the legislative purpose from a consideration of the act as a whole, and to interpret it, if possible, so that it will accomplish that purpose.

5. Imperfect punctuation is not of controlling importance in construing a statute, nor will bad grammar alone vitiate it.

6. Another rule of general statutory construction is that where general and specific provisions are in conflict, the specific and not the general controls.

7. Since facts in Pangolas v. Calvet, 210 Minn. 249, 297 N.W. 741, are materially different from those presented here, that case is not controlling.

8. Under provisions of building codes of Minneapolis (1916 code, § 111, and 1934 code, § 604.1), including contractual obligations assumed by owners and their lessee, held, upon facts summarized in opinion, that both were interested as ‘owners' of leased property, and their duty of compliance with code provisions continued as to injured plaintiff, not a party, and could not be shifted to a sublessee.

9. An ‘owner’ is not necessarily one owning the fee title, since there may be different estates in the same property vested in different persons, and each be an owner thereof.

10. Liability is imposed where violation of duty results as the proximate cause in the injury to another who is within the class of persons for whose benefit the legislation was designed.

O. A. Brecke and E. T. Chesnut, both of Minneapolis, for appellant.

Snyder, Gale & Richards, Kingman, Cross, Morley, Cant & Taylor, and E. L. Strand, all of Minneapolis, for respondents.


Action to recover damages for personal injuries. Defendants Robert E. and Allyn

[1 N.W.2d 863]

K. Ford are the owners and lessors of Hotel Marquette in Minneapolis; defendant Woman's Christian Association of Minneapolis (hereafter referred to as W. C. A.) has been the lessee over a term of years; and defendant Virginia R. Landin is the sublessee of W. C. A. Plaintiff recovered a verdict for $1,500. The Fords and W. C. A. separately moved for judgment notwithstanding. Both motions were granted, and plaintiff appeals from the judgments.

During the afternoon of July 10, 1938, plaintiff, a guest at the hotel, left her room on the third floor to go to the street. When about halfway down the stairway between the third and second floors, the heel of her left shoe caught in a protruding slit in the rubber stair tread, causing her to trip and fall. In falling, she reached out with her right hand for something to avert her fall, but, there being no handrail on that side of the stairway, she fell violently against the floor of the stair landing below and was seriously injured.

The hotel was built during or prior to 1890, and for a year or more prior to February, 1931, had been vacant. During that month the Fords executed a lease of the building for a period of ten years, effective May 1, to the W. C. A., to be used as a club or hotel. By its terms the Fords agreed that ‘any changes required by present or future building ordinances will be complied with by owners.’ Suitable alterations and repairs were to be made to put the property in shape for its intended use. The estimated cost of alterations and repairs was stated to be $25,000. The Fords applied for and obtained from the building inspector's office a permit to make the improvements. The work progressed under the inspector's directions, with frequent inspection. Although an official record of the improvements, including plans and specifications, was to be filed and kept in his office, ‘there were no plans filed for this particular job.’

The stairway on which plaintiff fell was 50 inches wide. When these improvements were made the 1916 building code was applicable. By § 111, it was provided that ‘stairways which are more than three feet six inches (3' 6?) wide shall have not less than two handrails.’ The 1934 code provides (§ 604) that ‘the following general rules shall govern in all cases.’ And § 604.1 specifies that ‘handrails shall be provided on both sides of all stairs three feet six inches (3'6?) or more in width in all buildings except single family dwellings.’ After completion of the work, W. C. A. took over the premises and remained in possession under its lease until June 1935, when it sublet the premises, with consent of the owners, to defendant Landin and one Marguerite Hauser, who later assigned her interest to Miss Landin.

By § 3101 of the 1934 code, adopted April 3, 1934, the 1916 code was expressly repealed. By § 107.2 of the new code, it is provided: ‘Existing buildings may be maintained in their present condition and occupancy except that such changes as are specifically required hereby or may become necessary for safety, shall be made when ordered by the Inspector of Buildings.’ (Italics supplied.)

That the requirement in respect to two handrails has not been complied with here is conceded. Therefore, plaintiff claims, as the basis for imposing liability upon all defendants, that they were negligent in failing to install such handrails, and such negligence was the proximate, or a contributing, cause of plaintiff's accidental fall and consequent injuries. She does not claim that respondents are responsible for the condition of the rubber stair treads, since these oftentimes become frayed or torn and as such must be replaced from time to time.

Respondents contend that only the 1934 code is applicable in this action, and that, since the building inspector made no affirmative order requiring installation of a second handrail (§ 107.2), there was no duty imposed upon them to install it. So the first issue to be determined is whether the handrail sections of the codes to which we have referred imposed a duty upon respondents to comply therewith, absent...

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