Stowe v. Fritzie Hotels

Decision Date26 April 1955
Citation44 Cal.2d 416,282 P.2d 890
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesArthur W. STOWE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. FRITZIE HOTELS, Inc., a corporation, et al., Defendants, Fritzie Hotels, Inc., a corporation, Respondent. L. A. 23638.

Harold D. Kraft and Robert F. Reynolds, Los Angeles, for appellant.

Frank W. Woodhead, Robert E. Moorow and Henry F. Walker, Los Angeles, for respondent.

EDMONDS, Justice.

Arthur W. Stowe sued for damages for bodily injuries, naming as defendants Fritzie Hotels, Inc., and Fritzie Hotels, Inc., doing business as St. Francis Hotel and Apartments. His appeal from a judgment of dismissal presents questions concerning the sufficiency of his complaint.

The complaint is in three counts. In the first five paragraphs of count one, Stowe alleges that the defendants 'were the owners, proprietors and managers of a multiple unit hotel and furnished apartment premises * * *; that at all times said premises included numerous furnished apartments and hotel rooms * * * and a certain furnished unit known as number 425, * * *; that at all said times defendants managed, maintained and operated the said premises for profit * * *; that said premises were operated as a hotel and that defendants at all times during the tenancy of plaintiff hereinafter described * * * and at the time of the occurrence of the accident hereinafter referred to, owned and retained and exercised full and exclusive control, management and supervision of all of the said unit number 425 and all of its general furniture and furnishings including a certain heavy standard lamp which had at its top as its shade a large glass bowl; that plaintiff is informed and believs and on this ground alleges that said bowl weighed about ten pounds and was much larger and heavier than the base of the lamp which was made of metal and separated from the shade by a standard about five feet long. That * * * plaintiff rented the said furnished apartment or hotel unit number 425 including said lamp from defendants * * * for the agreed use * * * as dwelling accommodations; that * * * as the time of the occurrence of the accident hereinafter referred to, plaintiff was upon said premises pursuant to and by virtue of said renting * * * as the tenant, business guest and invitee of defendants. * * * That defendants supplied said unit 425 and plaintiff as the tenant thereof with complete daily maid service at all times during said tenancy of plaintiff.'

Stowe then pleads that 'the defendants negligently, carelessly, recklessly and unlawfully maintained, managed, operated, controlled and cared for said standard lamp' at a place about five feet from a bed which he used for sleeping purposes, so that it fell and the glass bowl struck his right leg as he lay asleep in bed, causing the injuries for which damages are demanded.

In the second count, Stowe incorporates the first five paragraphs of the first one and alleges that during his tenancy and 'in hiring and letting said rental unit * * * the defendants orally represented and warranted * * * that the said lamp was in a safe and usable condition and fit for the purpose for which it was intended, including the purpose of use by plaintiff as a lamp in the proximity of plaintiff's bed where defendants placed and maintained it, and * * * plaintiff believed said facts, * * * to be true and at all times relied on them.'

'That all during said tenancy * * * the said lamp was in an unsafe and dangerous condition in that it was top-heavy, lossely put toegether, and liable to lean and topple over without cause beyond its own make-up plus the force of gravity and the normal vibrations of said hotel premises, and was unfit for use by human beings or by this plaintiff, which acts were unknown to plaintiff and the said unsafe, dangerous and unfit conditions were latent and not known by or ascertainable by this plaintiff. That the defendants at all times herein mentioned knew, or could have known had they exercised reasonable care and diligence, that the said lamp was at all said times in an unsafe, dangerous and unfit condition, but notwithstanding defendants' knlowledge of said unsafe, dangerous and unfit condition, defendants let and hired to plaintiff for the use and occupancy of plaintiff and his wife the said rental unit. * * *'

The thir cause of action is the same as the second one, omitting only the allegations concerning the oral representation and warranty.

The demurrer charges that the complaint fails to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, and that it is uncertain, ambiguous and unintelligible in various particulars. Upon hearing, the court ordered: 'General Demurrer to Complaint Sustained 10 days to amend.' Stowe having failed to amend, the action was dismissed.

Does Count I State a Cause of Action?

What duty did the defendants owe Stowe under the facts alleged? If the relationship was that of an owner of a hotel and a guest, the rule is that, although the proprietor is not absolutely liable for injuries suffered, he owes a duty, at all times, to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Goldstein v. Healy, 187 Cal. 206, 201 P. 462; Wallace v. Speier, 60 Cal.App.2d 387, 140 P.2d 900; and see: 18 A.L.R.2d 973. On the other hand, the proprietor of a furnished apartment is not liable to a tenant for injuries caused by the property leased in the absence of fraud, concealment or a covenant in the lease. Wilson v. Ray, 100 Cal.App.2d 299, 303, 223 P.2d 313; Forrester v. Hoover Hotel & Investment Co., 87 Cal.App.2d 226, 232, 196 P.2d 825; Hunter v. Freeman, 105 Cal.App.2d 129, 131, 233 P.2d 65. In the Forrester and Hunter cases, the court refused to impose a higher duty of care than that of the landlord-tenant relationship although the plaintiff urged that various statutes created a different standard.

As against a general demurrer, negligence may be pleaded in general terms. Stafford v. Shultz, 42 Cal.2d 767, 774, 270 P.2d 1; Rannard v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp., 26 Cal.2d 149, 157 P.2d 1. If the facts pleaded by Stowe show that he was a guest in a hotel, his complaint states a cause of action. But it fails to do so if his allegations present only the relationship of landlord and tenant of a furnished apartment. In this count there is no allegation of fraud or concealment, or a covenant. Facts to establish one of those exceptions to the general rule of non-liability must be specifically pleaded to state a cause of action for injuries to a tenant. Wilson v. Ray, 100 Cal.App.2d 299, 303, 223 P.2d 313.

The chief distinction between a tenant and a lodger lies in the character of possession. A 'tenant' has exclusive legal possession of premises and is responsible for their care and condition. A 'lodger' has only the right to use the premises, subject to the landlord's retention of control and right of access to them. To make one a tenant, as respects an owner's liability for injuries sustained by occupant on the premises, he must have exclusive possession and control. Marden v. Radford, 229 Mo.App. 789, 84 S.W.2d 947, 954; see also 64 Yale Law Journal 391-411. When premises are under the direct control and supervision of the owner and rooms are furnished and attended to by him, he or his servants retaining the keys to them, a person renting such a room is a lodger and not a tenant. Fox v. Windemere Hotel Apartment Co., 30 Cal.App. 162, 165, 157 P. 820. The word 'apartment' in its usual and ordinary connotation signifies that its occupant acquires exclusive possession and is a tenant rather than a roomer. Washington Realty Co. v. Harding, D.C.Mun.App., 45 A.2d 785, 786.

Each fact pleaded by Stowe in regard to his status is consistent with the conclusion that he was a 'lodger' except that the words 'tenant' and 'tenancy' are used. He speaks of the premises as a 'furnished apartment or hotel room.' These are but conclusions or ultimate facts. Where there is any inconsistency between the specific allegations upon which a conclusion must be based and the conclusion, the specific allegations control. See Denman v. City of Pasadena, 101 Cal.App.2d 769, 777, 282 P. 820; Willis v. Page, 19 Cal.App.2d 508, 512, 65 P.2d 944.

In support of the judgment, it is argued that where there is ambiguity or uncertainty and the plaintiff refuses to amend after those defects are pointed out by demurrer, the ambiguities must be resolved against him. See: Witkin, 2 California Procedure, Pleading, § 213, p. 1192. This rule would apply if the ambiguous allegations were of equal strength. But here the ambiguity is between specific allegations and conclusions, and the former must control.

It is also suggested that the complaint is defective because it fails to allege that Stowe did not know of the defect and the allegations indicate that he should have realized the danger, or was in as good a position to determine the danger as was the owner. But as the pleading asserts that there was owed to him the duty of reasonable care to maintain the premises in a safe condition, the point relied upon presents only the question as to whether Stowe was contributively negligent. The plaintiff is not required to allege facts negating or anticipating possible defenses. See; Jaffe v. Stone, 18 Cal.2d 146, 158, 114 P.2d 335, 135 A.L.R. 775; Canfield v. Tobias, 21 Cal. 349, 350.

Does Count II State a Cause of Action?

Stowe claims that the second count states a cause of action based on a representation, relied upon by him, that the premises and the lamp were safe. 'To be actionable deceit, the representation need not be made with knowledge of actual falsity, but need only be an 'assertion, as a fact, of that which is not true, by one who has no reasonable ground for believing it to be true' (citations) and made 'with intent to induce (the recipient) to alter his position to his injury or his risk * * *' (citations).' Gagne v. Bertran, 43 Cal.2d 481, 487, 275...

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