Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh

Decision Date13 April 2015
Docket NumberSupreme Court Case No. 13SC382
Citation2015 CO 25,347 P.3d 606
PartiesWESTIN OPERATOR, LLC, Petitioner v. Jillian GROH, individually, and by and through her guardians and conservators, William Groh and Janelle Groh, Respondents.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Attorneys for Petitioner: The Waltz Law Firm, Richard A. Waltz, John D. Halepaska, Denver, Colorado

Attorneys for Respondents: Law Offices of Alan C. Shafner, Alan C. Shafner, Greenwood Village, Colorado, Law Offices of John F. Poor, John F. Poor, Denver, Colorado

Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Colorado Defense Lawyers Association: Ruebel & Quillen, LLC, Casey A. Quillen, Westminster, Colorado

Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Colorado Trial Lawyers Association: Roberts Levin Rosenberg PC, Michael J. Rosenberg Denver, Colorado

En Banc


JUSTICE HOOD delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 This case raises an issue of first impression for this court: What duty of care, if any, does a hotel owe to a guest during a lawful eviction?

¶ 2 After a late night out in downtown Denver, Jillian Groh brought a group of friends back to a room she had rented at the Westin Hotel. Security guards confronted the group about the noise level in the room and ultimately evicted them, even though Groh and her companions advised the guards that they were drunk and could not drive. On the way out, one of Groh's friends asked a guard if the group could wait in the lobby for a taxicab because it was freezing outside. The guard responded by blocking the door and saying, “No, get the f* * * out of here.” Seven people got into Groh's car, with a drunk driver behind the wheel. Fifteen miles away, they rear-ended another vehicle, resulting in a crash that killed one man and left Groh in a persistent vegetative state

with traumatic brain injuries.

¶ 3 Groh's parents seek to hold the Westin liable for their daughter's injuries because of the manner in which its security guards evicted her. A divided court of appeals held that a hotel has a duty to evict a guest “in a reasonable manner,” noting that this precludes ejecting a guest into “foreseeably dangerous circumstances” that result from either the guest's condition or the environment. See Groh v. Westin Operator, LLC, 2013 COA 39, ¶ 1, ––– P.3d ––––. It also held that the Colorado Dram Shop Act did not apply because the hotel did not serve alcohol to Groh. Id. at ¶ 17 n.3. We granted certiorari to consider: (1) whether the Westin owed any duty of care to Groh in connection with her eviction and, if so, whether a reasonable jury could find a breach of that duty based on the evidence submitted in relation to the Westin's summary judgment motion; and (2) whether the Dram Shop Act applies to this case.

¶ 4 Based on the special relationship that exists between an innkeeper and guest, we hold that a hotel that evicts a guest has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. This requires the hotel to refrain from evicting an intoxicated guest into a foreseeably dangerous environment. Whether a foreseeably dangerous environment existed at the time of eviction depends on the guest's physical state and the conditions into which he or she was evicted, including the time, the surroundings, and the weather. In this case, genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment on Groh's claims of negligence and negligent hiring and training. We also hold that the Dram Shop Act does not apply in this case because it is undisputed that the Westin did not serve alcohol to Groh. Consequently, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals and remand for further proceedings.

I. Facts

¶ 5 On Saturday, March 3, 2007, Jillian Groh registered as a guest at the Westin at the Tabor Center in Denver. Groh's sister used her employee discount to rent the room only for Groh; however, Groh checked in with two friends, and all three of them received their own room keys. The women then went out to several downtown nightclubs.

¶ 6 Later that night, at about 2:00 a.m., the women returned to the Westin and brought five to eight additional people back to their room. (The parties dispute the exact number.) The hotel room had a mini-bar with alcohol, but no one in the group drank any of it. Although multiple nearby rooms were occupied, no other guests complained about noise. Still, the group captured the attention of a Westin security guard, who summoned another Westin security guard as well as the guest services manager–supervisor. Around 2:45 a.m., a heated confrontation between the Westin's security guards and the occupants of the room occurred. Some members of Groh's group became boisterous and argumentative. Ultimately, hotel security told everyone except the registered guests to leave the premises; Groh refused to stay without her friends. For the purpose of the summary judgment motion at issue here, the Westin concedes it evicted Groh as well.

¶ 7 At least one person told the security guard that everyone in the group was “drunk,” that the “whole purpose” of renting the room was to allow them to drink without driving, and that they could not leave because, We are drunk. We can't drive.” While these discussions took place, several members of the group left separately; thus, they were not involved in the events that followed. The security guards escorted Groh and the remaining members of the group outside. Police officers happened to be on the hotel premises investigating a separate, unrelated incident. The Westin employees did not seek police intervention with Groh or her friends.

¶ 8 Groh called her brother for advice, and he told her to call a cab. She did not heed his advice. Video footage from hotel security cameras shows two taxis in the vicinity during the general timeframe of the eviction. No taxi is visible on screen during the time in which the group exited the hotel and walked to the parking lot en masse, but there is a police car parked at the entrance. It is unclear from the record whether the taxis visible at other times in the video were occupied or available for service, whether any member of the group saw the taxis, and whether the security guards evicting the group were aware if a taxi was immediately available. One of the people evicted testified at his deposition that he tried to look for a cab outside the hotel but did not see one. That person also testified that he asked if the group could wait in the lobby while they called a taxi because it was freezing outside. The security guard refused his request, blocked the door to bar re-entry, and told him, “No, get the f* * * out of here.” A second person from the group testified that she did not see any taxis in front of the hotel at any time when they exited the building. A third person from the group testified that he did not know there was a cab stand outside the Westin.

¶ 9 The Westin's security guard watched the group walk to the nearby parking garage. At about 3:20 a.m., seven people loaded into Groh's self-parked car, a PT Cruiser designed for up to five passengers. Only the driver, Angela Reed, buckled up.

¶ 10 At about 4:00 a.m., en route to one passenger's home, they were involved in an accident on Interstate 225, about fifteen miles from the Westin. Reed, whose blood alcohol content (“BAC”) was above the legal limit,1 drove at an excessive speed—about seventy-five miles per hour in a fifty-five mile-per-hour zone. She rear-ended a Ford Expedition that was traveling well below the speed limit and illegally towing another vehicle with a flat tire in the right-hand lane. One passenger in Groh's car was killed. Others were badly injured. Groh sustained traumatic brain injuries


II. Procedural History

¶ 11 Through her parents, Groh sued the Westin for negligence, premises liability, breach of contract, and negligent hiring and training. Only the negligence-related claims are before us now.2

¶ 12 In support of her negligence claim, Groh alleges that the Westin “failed to exercise a minimum level of due care” concerning her safety when it evicted her and her companions “with full knowledge” that they “had been drinking and were visibly intoxicated.” She also asserts that the Westin “made no effort to determine if it was safe” for Groh and her companions to leave their hotel room, if any alternative shelter was available, or if it was safe for them to drive home.

¶ 13 In support of her negligent hiring and training claim, Groh alleges that the Westin was negligent in hiring the employees who evicted Groh and her companions—particularly its security guards and night manager—because the Westin “knew or should have known, at the time of hiring,” that the employees' conduct would subject third persons to an unreasonable risk of harm. Likewise, she asserts that the Westin failed to properly train those employees regarding how to attend to intoxicated guests.

¶ 14 The Westin filed a motion for summary judgment which conceded, for the purpose of the motion only, “that the Westin evicted the occupants of the room and required them to leave the premises.” The trial court granted the motion with respect to the negligence-based claims because it concluded that the Westin did not owe Groh a duty of care.3

¶ 15 Groh filed a motion to reconsider, which the trial court denied. The court shifted its position on duty, however, when it agreed “that innkeepers owe a duty of reasonable care in conducting evictions.” By way of example, it noted that “hotel employees cannot so manhandle guests as to cause them injury” and that “any time [people] take[ ] affirmative action, they must use reasonable care.” But it found, as a matter of law, that the Westin did not cause damages to Groh during the course of the eviction and had no duty to take affirmative steps to determine the extent of a guest's intoxication, move a guest to another room, call or pay for a taxi, request police intervention, or ensure that evicted, intoxicated guests do not leave in a self-operated vehicle.

¶ 16 The court of appeals...

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