Vella v. Hyatt Corp.

Citation166 F.Supp.2d 1193
Decision Date04 October 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00-75604.,00-75604.
PartiesElizabeth VELLA Plaintiff, v. HYATT CORPORATION, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HOOD, District Judge.

I. FACTS

Plaintiff, Elizabeth Vella, and her daughter and son-in-law went to the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn for dessert for Plaintiff's 84th birthday. Because of her difficulty in walking, Plaintiff held on to her daughter's arm as they walked across the lobby toward the elevator to go to a restaurant upstairs. Two or three steps into the elevator, Plaintiff slipped, fell, and fractured her left hip. Plaintiff has testified at her deposition that she does not know what made her fall, and neither Plaintiff's daughter nor her son-in-law saw the accident happen. Plaintiff has testified, however, that whatever made her fall was "slippery, very slippery."

Plaintiff's daughter helped her up after the fall. The daughter testified during her deposition that she did not inspect the floor after her mother fell. She also stated that she did not notice anything on her mother's clothes, though Plaintiff alleges that her stockings felt wet. Shortly after the fall, hotel employees arrived to assist Plaintiff and inspect the scene. The employees found no substance on the ground near where Plaintiff slipped and fell.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in Michigan state court on October 23, 2000, alleging negligent construction and negligent maintenance of premises. Defendant removed to federal court based on diversity of citizenship and moved for summary judgment under FED. R. CIV. P. 56. Plaintiff's brief in response to Defendant's motion for summary judgment reveals that her theory of liability is that the floor was slippery because Defendant negligently waxed the marble or granite floor inside the elevator, which she alleges already had a low coefficient of friction. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is denied.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to the interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Wojcik v. City of Romulus, 257 F.3d 600, 608 (6th Cir.2001); Nelson v. City of Flint, 136 F.Supp.2d 703, 712 (E.D.Mich.2001). The movant must meet the initial burden of showing "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact" as to an essential element of the nonmovant's case. See Betkerur v. Aultman Hospital Association, 78 F.3d 1079, 1087 (6th Cir.1996); Nelson, 136 F.Supp.2d at 712. Once a properly supported summary judgment motion has been filed, however, the burden shifts to the party opposing the motion to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e).

The presence of factual disputes will preclude granting of summary judgment only if the disputes are genuine and concern material facts. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In deciding a motion for summary judgment a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The non-movant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Nelson, 136 F.Supp.2d at 712. Moreover, the court need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. Varljen v. Cleveland Gear Co., Inc., 250 F.3d 426, 429 (6th Cir.2001); Hoeberling v. Nolan, 49 F.Supp.2d 575, 577 (E.D.Mich.1999).

For a dismissal to be proper, it must appear beyond doubt "that the plaintiff would not be able to recover under any set of facts that could be presented consistent with the allegations of the complaint." Varljen, 250 F.3d at 429. Summary judgment must be entered against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Id. A court must look to the substantive law to identify which facts are material. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

III. ANALYSIS

Generally, a federal court sitting in diversity applies the substantive law of the forum state. See City of Wyandotte v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 262 F.3d 581 (6th Cir.2001). Michigan tort law will apply in this case. To prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must show: (1) that the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff; (2) that the defendant breached or violated the legal duty owed to the plaintiff; (3) that the defendant's breach of duty was a proximate cause of the damages suffered by the plaintiff; and (4) that the plaintiff suffered damages. Riddle v. McLouth Steel Products Corp., 440 Mich. 85, 485 N.W.2d 676, 681 (1992); see also Babula v. Robertson, 212 Mich.App. 45, 536 N.W.2d 834, 837 (1995).

Plaintiff asserts that she fell because the floor was slippery. She claims that the floor was slippery because it was made from marble or granite with a low coefficient of friction that had been "highly polished or glossed." Plaintiff's deposition testimony also seems to indicate that she feels that she fell because the floor was wet. Before entertaining Plaintiff's theory, this court must determine what duty, if any, Defendant owed Plaintiff.

A. Duty

The duty a premises owner owes an individual on his property depends on the individual's status, which comes in one of three types: trespasser, licensee, and invitee. Plaintiff contends that she was an invitee at the time of the incident. Defendant seems to argue that Plaintiff was something less than an invitee, possibly a licensee. See Def.'s B. at 9 ("Even if Plaintiff is deemed an invitee in this case, ...").

A trespasser is an individual who enters upon another's land, without the landowner's consent. The landowner owes no duty to the trespasser except to refrain from injuring him by "wilful and wanton" misconduct. James v. Alberts, 464 Mich. 12, 626 N.W.2d 158, 162 (2001); see also Stitt v. Holland Abundant Life Fellowship, 462 Mich. 591, 614 N.W.2d 88, 91 (2000).

A licensee enters another's land with the possessor's consent. James, 626 N.W.2d at 158. The landowner owes a licensee a duty to warn of any hidden dangers the owner knows or has reason to know of, but only to the extent the licensee does not know or have reason to know of the dangers involved. Id. The landowner does not, however, owe a duty of inspection or affirmative care to make the premises safe for the licensee. Id.

An invitee is a person who enters upon the land of another upon an invitation. Generally, a premises possessor owes a duty to an invitee to exercise reasonable care to protect the invitee from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land. See Lugo v. Ameritech, 464 Mich. 512, 629 N.W.2d 384, 386 (2001). "The owner's reason for inviting persons onto the premises is the primary consideration when determining the visitor's status: In order to establish invitee status, a plaintiff must show that the premises were held open for a commercial purpose." Stitt, 614 N.W.2d at 95 (emphasis in original).

The landowner must not only warn an invitee of any known dangers, but must also make the premises safe. James, 626 N.W.2d at 158. The landowner has a duty to inspect the premises and, depending upon the circumstances, make any necessary repairs or warn of any discovered hazards. Id. A premises possessor is not required, however, to protect an invitee from an open and obvious danger unless special aspects of a condition make even an open and obvious risk unreasonably dangerous. Lugo, 629 N.W.2d at 386. Under such circumstances, the premises possessor must undertake reasonable precautions to protect invitees from that risk. Id.

The facts in this case indicate that Plaintiff was going to the Hyatt Regency to have dessert at a restaurant in the Hyatt which was open to the public. Defendant held open its business for commercial purposes, and Plaintiff visited the premises for that reason. Vella, therefore, was an invitee entitled to the highest standard of care.

B. Open and Obvious

Defendant argues that Plaintiff is unable to demonstrate that a dangerous condition existed, but that if one did exist, it was "open and obvious." As previously stated, a premises possessor is not required to protect an invitee from an open and obvious danger unless special aspects of a condition make even an open and obvious risk unreasonably dangerous. Lugo, 629 N.W.2d at 386. This court is required, as a threshold matter, to decide this issue. Glittenberg v. Doughboy Recreational Indus., 441 Mich. 379, 491 N.W.2d 208, 217 (1992).

When risks or dangers are so obvious that an invitee might reasonably be expected to discover them, a premises owner owes no duty to the invitee unless the premises owner should anticipate the harm despite knowledge of it by the invitee. Lugo, 629 N.W.2d at 386. If reasonable minds could differ with respect to whether the danger is open and obvious, the obviousness of risk must be determined by the jury. Glittenberg, 491 N.W.2d at 217. Otherwise, the court determines...

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