Sanford v. Omni Hotels Mgmt. Corp., Case No. 3:16-cv-1578-J-34PDB

Decision Date15 March 2018
Docket NumberCase No. 3:16-cv-1578-J-34PDB
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Defendant Omni Hotels Management Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Law in Support Thereof (Doc. 19; Motion) filed on September 18, 2017. Plaintiffs Billie Sanford and Charles Sanford filed a response on October 13, 2017. See Plaintiffs' Memoranda of Law Opposing Defendant Omni Hotel's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24; Response). With leave of Court, see Order (Doc. 26), Defendant Omni Hotels Management Corporation (Omni) filed a reply on October 31, 2017, see Defendant's Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 27; Reply).

After briefing on the Motion had been completed, on November 1, 2017, Plaintiffs filed two exhibits to Billie Sanford's deposition without leave of Court. See Plaintiffs' Rule 56 Notice of Filing Deposition Exhibits (Doc. 28; Notice). Omni moved to strike Plaintiffs' Notice on November 20, 2017. See Defendant's Amended Motion to Strike and/or Objection to Plaintiff's Filing Deposition Exhibits (Doc. 31; Motion to Strike).1 Later that day, Plaintiffs sought leave of Court to file the additional evidence. See Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Discovery Evidence for the Court's Consideration (Doc. 32; Motion for Leave). Omni filed a response to Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave on November 28, 2017, see Defendant's Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Discovery Evidence (Doc. 33; Motion for Leave Response), and Plaintiffs filed a response to Omni's Motion to Strike on December 12, 2017, see Plaintiffs' Response Opposing Defendant's Amended Motion to Strike and/or Objection to Plaintiff's Filing Motion Deposition Exhibits [sic] (Doc. 35; Motion to Strike Response). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for review.

I. Background2

Plaintiffs Billie Sanford and Charles Sanford were married in 1977. See Videotaped Deposition of Billie Dade Sanford (Doc. 19-1; Sanford Dep.) at 21. After they settled in Atlanta, Georgia, Billie Sanford founded BJ's Hats and Accessories (BJ's). Id. at 22-23. BJ's was a sole proprietorship that sold women's clothing, handbags, jewelry and fur. Id. at 23, 29, 33. Although Billie Sanford initially operated BJ's out of her home, as the business grew, she set up booths at churches and conventions throughout the nation. Id. at 29-30.

Sometime prior to November 2014, Billie Sanford obtained authorization to set up a booth during the African Methodist Episcopal annual conference (AME Conference). 40, 42-43. The AME Conference was scheduled to take place from Monday, November 3, 2014, through Friday, November 7, 2014, at the Omni Hotel & Resort (Omni Hotel) in Jacksonville, Florida. Id. at 40-42, 48-49. Billie Sanford had never been to the Omni Hotel prior to the AME Conference. Id. at 41-42.

For the first two days of the conference, Billie Sanford arrived at the Omni Hotel at 8:00am,3 set up her booth in the atrium outside the ballroom where the AME Conference took place, and left for the day at 10:00pm. Id. at 49-50. To avoid leaving her booth unattended, she arranged for someone to deliver lunch to her. Id. at 75.

On Wednesday, November 5, Billie Sanford arrived at her booth at 8:00am wearing her typical convention attire, consisting of tennis shoes, slacks and a top. Id. at 52, 75. However, at the urging of the other vendors, Billie Sanford left her booth around 2:00pm to take advantage of the buffet lunch offered at Juliette's Restaurant & Bistro (Juliette's) located inside the Omni Hotel. Id. at 53, 94. Juliette's had a split level floor plan, such that the veranda with the buffet was on a higher level than the main dining area. Id. at 58. Patrons accessed the veranda by using a three step staircase with hand rails on both sides. Id. at 61, 72, 82-83. The carpet that covered the first level continued up the steps and into the veranda. Id. at 154. The carpet "had a horizontal line through it that ran parallel to the steps." Id. According to Allison Oehler, the manager of the Omni Hotel, no patron had ever tripped on the steps of Juliette's prior to November 5, 2014. See Affidavit of Allison Oehler (Doc. 19-2; Oehler Aff.) ¶4; Sanford Dep. at 108.

Billie Sanford entered Juliette's Bistro through the main entrance and asked the host whether the buffet was still open. See Sanford Dep. at 56, 94. The host said yes,and began to lead Billie Sanford to the buffet. Id. at 56-57. Billie Sanford followed inches behind the host, and kept her eyes fixated on him to see which direction he would go. Id. at 59-60, 65. The host did not warn Billie Sanford to watch her step as they approached the veranda. Id. at 60-61. As they walked, Billie Sanford's left foot hit the first step, causing her to trip. Id. at 61. Her knees landed on the second step. Id. at 64. As she struggled to get up, she flipped over such that her back was completely against the steps. Id. at 64-65. Notably, there were no foreign objects on the steps, Juliette's was well lit, and the weather outside was dry. Id. at 79, 94-95.

After Billie Sanford fell, the host, Juliette's manager, and a few other patrons asked if she was okay or needed to see a paramedic. Id. at 69. Although Billie Sanford felt pain in both of her knees, she told them to "give [her] a chance." Id. at 70, 74, 83. She laid on the steps for about five minutes until she felt ready to move. Id. at 69-70. The host and manager helped her up the steps, seated her at a table, and served her lunch. Id. at 72. When Billie Sanford made her way back to her booth, she found the adjacent chair uncomfortable and instead sat on the couch across from her booth. Id. at 82, 96. She informed the other vendors that her pain was growing more severe. Id. at 97. Juliette's manager checked on her several times. Id. at 97. Eventually, Billie Sanford met with a nurse who took her to the Emergency Center at Baptist Hospital. Id. at 98, 102. An emergency physician gave her crutches, instructed her to stay off of her leg and knee, and advised her to visit an orthopedist. Id. at 103. Billie Sanford left Jacksonville the next day. Id. at 105.

Ultimately, the injuries Billie Sanford sustained during her fall have made it difficult for her to walk, sit, stand, lay in bed for long periods of time, or perform housekeepingfunctions. Id. at 116-118, 122. In September 2016, Billie Sanford stopped operating BJ's because it became too physically taxing. Id. at 23, 148.

On October 21, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a two count complaint in the Circuit Court, Fourth Judicial Circuit, in and for Duval County, Florida. See Complaint (Doc. 2). Omni removed the action to this Court on December 27, 2016. See Notice of Removal (Doc. 1). In Count I of the Complaint, Billie Sanford asserts a claim for negligence alleging that Omni breached its "duty to use reasonable care in the design of the dining room area and veranda dining area and to warn visitors of all unreasonably safe conditions, dangerous conditions, and tripping hazards not noticeable upon reasonable inspection and upon the exercise of reasonable care." See Complaint ¶¶16-23. In Count II, Charles Sanford asserts a loss of consortium claim. Id. ¶¶24-29.

II. Standard of Review

Under Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule(s)), "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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." Rule 56(a). The record to be considered on a motion for summary judgment may include "depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Rule 56(c)(1)(A).4 An issue is genuine when the evidence is such that areasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmovant. See Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996) (quoting Hairston v. Gainesville Sun Publ'g Co., 9 F.3d 913, 919 (11th Cir. 1993)). "[A] mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Kesinger ex rel. Estate of Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1247 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed.2d 202 (1986)).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the court, by reference to the record, that there are no genuine issues of material fact to be determined at trial. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). "When a moving party has discharged its burden, the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-94 (11th Cir. 1995) (citations and quotation marks omitted). Substantive law determines the materiality of facts, and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S. Ct. at 2510. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court "must view all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Dibrell Bros. Int'l, S.A. v. Banca Nazionale Del Lavoro, 38 F.3d 1571,1578 (11th Cir. 1994)).

III. Discussion
A. Supplemental Evidence

Before addressing the merits of Plaintiffs' claims, the Court must resolve a dispute between the parties regarding Plaintiffs' efforts to supplement the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

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