Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., Docket No. 77516

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtCAVANAGH; RILEY; ARCHER
Citation429 Mich. 495,418 N.W.2d 381
PartiesWillie WILLIAMS and Cleva Williams, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CUNNINGHAM DRUG STORES, INC., Defendant-Appellee. Calendar429 Mich. 495, 418 N.W.2d 381
Decision Date19 January 1988
Docket NumberDocket No. 77516,No. 13

Page 381

418 N.W.2d 381
Willie WILLIAMS and Cleva Williams, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CUNNINGHAM DRUG STORES, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Docket No. 77516.
Calendar No. 13.
429 Mich. 495, 418 N.W.2d 381
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued March 4, 1987.
Decided Jan. 19, 1988.

Page 382

[429 MICH 496] David J. Franks, Detroit, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Rader & Eisenberg, P.C. by Ronald Rader, Merrill Gordon, Detroit, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Barbier, Petersmarck, Tolleson, Mead & Paige, P.C. by Daniel C. Symonds, Christopher G. Manolis, Detroit, for defendant-appellee.

[429 MICH 497] CAVANAGH, Justice.

In this case of first impression we are asked to determine whether a store owner must provide armed, visible security guards to protect customers from the criminal acts of third parties.

I

On May 4, 1979, plaintiff Willie Williams was shopping in a Cunningham drug store located in a high crime area of the City of Detroit. A plainclothes security guard was employed by the store, but on the day in question he was sick. Store personnel called the main office to request a substitute, but one was not sent. 1

While plaintiff was shopping, an armed robbery occurred. During the resulting confusion and panic, plaintiff ran out of the store, directly behind the fleeing robber. As the two men were outside, the robber turned and shot plaintiff. 2

In May of 1980, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant Cunningham Drug Stores, alleging that defendant had breached its duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of its patrons. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that defendant had failed to provide armed, visible security guards and had failed to intercede after having noticed that an armed robbery was in progress. Plaintiff's [429 MICH 498] wife, Cleva Williams, brought a claim of loss of consortium. 3

Upon the close of plaintiffs' proofs at trial, defendant moved for a directed verdict pursuant to GCR 1963, 515.1 (now MCR 2.515), on the basis that defendant did not have a duty to protect plaintiff from the unforeseeable acts of a third party. The trial court granted defendant's motion as a matter of law and directed a verdict of no cause of action.

Plaintiff appealed by right in the Court of Appeals, which affirmed, holding that as a matter of law defendant's duty of reasonable care did not extend to providing the degree of protection plaintiffs claimed was due. Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., 146 Mich.App. 23, 379 N.W.2d 458 (1985).

We granted plaintiffs' application for leave to appeal, 425 Mich. 871 (1986), and now affirm.

II

In determining standards of conduct in the area of negligence, the courts have made a distinction between misfeasance, or active misconduct causing personal injury, and nonfeasance, which is passive inaction or the failure to actively protect others from harm. The common law has been slow in recognizing liability for nonfeasance

Page 383

because the courts are reluctant to force persons to help one another and because such conduct does not create a new risk of harm to a potential plaintiff. 4 Thus, [429 MICH 499] as a general rule, there is no duty that obligates one person to aid or protect another. 5

Social policy, however, has led the courts to recognize an exception to this general rule where a special relationship exists between a plaintiff and a defendant. 6 Thus, a common carrier may be obligated to protect its passengers, an innkeeper his guests, and an employer his employees. 7 The rationale behind imposing a duty to protect in these special relationships is based on control. In each situation one person entrusts himself to the control and protection of another, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself. 8 The duty to protect is imposed upon the person in control because he is best able to provide a place of safety.

Owners and occupiers of land are in a special relationship with their invitees and comprise the largest group upon whom an affirmative duty to protect is imposed. The possessor of land has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect invitees from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition of the land. 9 Consequently, a landlord may be held liable for an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition in the areas of common use retained in his control such as lobbies, hallways, stairways and elevators. 10 Likewise, a business invitor or merchant [429 MICH 500] may be held liable for injuries resulting from negligent maintenance of the premises or defects in the physical structure of the building. 11

The duty a possessor of land owes his invitees is not absolute, however. It does not extend to conditions from which an unreasonable risk cannot be anticipated or to dangers so obvious and apparent that an invitee may be expected to discover them himself. 12 Furthermore, "the occupier is not an insurer of the safety of invitees, and his duty is only to exercise reasonable care for their protection." 13

III

The question before us in this case is whether a merchant's duty to exercise reasonable care includes providing armed, visible security guards to protect invitees from the criminal acts of third parties. Plaintiffs contend that it does and that the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion for a directed verdict rather than allowing the jury to determine whether defendant's conduct met the standard of reasonable care.

In deciding this question, we note that the court and jury perform different functions in a negligence case. Among other things, the court decides the questions of duty and the general standard of care, and the jury determines what constitutes reasonable care under the circumstances.

Page 384

However, in cases in which overriding public policy [429 MICH 501] concerns arise, the court determines what constitutes reasonable care. See Moning v. Alfono, 400 Mich. 425, 438, 254 N.W.2d 759 (1977), reh. den. 401 Mich. 951 (1977). Such public policy concerns exist in the present case, and therefore the question whether defendant's conduct constituted reasonable care is one the court should determine as a matter of law.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that a merchant's...

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248 practice notes
  • Roberts v. Salmi, Docket No. 316068.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 18 Diciembre 2014
    ...a patient that actually cause the patient to have a false memory of childhood sexual abuse. See Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., 429 Mich. 495, 498, 418 N.W.2d 381 (1988) (“In determining standards of conduct in the area of negligence, the courts 308 Mich.App. 622have made a distin......
  • Whiting v. Central Trux & Parts, Inc., No. 96-73969.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 12 Noviembre 1997
    ...rationale behind imposing a duty to protect in the special relationships is based on control. Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., 429 Mich. 495, 499, 418 N.W.2d 381 (1988). When a person entrusts himself to the control and protection of another and, consequently, loses control to prot......
  • Loweke v. Ann Arbor Ceiling & Partition Co., Docket No. 141168.Calendar No. 6.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 6 Junio 2011
    ...“nonfeasance” of a contractual obligation—i.e., “passive inaction,” [489 Mich. 164] Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., 429 Mich. 495, 498, 418 N.W.2d 381 (1988), or “failing to do what one has promised to do in the absence of a duty to act apart from the promise made,” Ferrett v. Gen......
  • Beaudrie v. Henderson, Docket No. 114261, Calendar No. 1
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 27 Julio 2001
    ...i.e., "`passive inaction or the failure to actively protect others from harm.'" Id. at 328, 552 N.W.2d 1, quoting Williams v. Cunningham, 429 Mich. 495, 498-499, 418 N.W.2d 381 Justice Cavanagh would have limited the decision "to only those cases in which liability is alleged on the basis o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
248 cases
  • Roberts v. Salmi, Docket No. 316068.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 18 Diciembre 2014
    ...a patient that actually cause the patient to have a false memory of childhood sexual abuse. See Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., 429 Mich. 495, 498, 418 N.W.2d 381 (1988) (“In determining standards of conduct in the area of negligence, the courts 308 Mich.App. 622have made a distin......
  • Whiting v. Central Trux & Parts, Inc., No. 96-73969.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 12 Noviembre 1997
    ...rationale behind imposing a duty to protect in the special relationships is based on control. Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., 429 Mich. 495, 499, 418 N.W.2d 381 (1988). When a person entrusts himself to the control and protection of another and, consequently, loses control to prot......
  • Loweke v. Ann Arbor Ceiling & Partition Co., Docket No. 141168.Calendar No. 6.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 6 Junio 2011
    ...“nonfeasance” of a contractual obligation—i.e., “passive inaction,” [489 Mich. 164] Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., 429 Mich. 495, 498, 418 N.W.2d 381 (1988), or “failing to do what one has promised to do in the absence of a duty to act apart from the promise made,” Ferrett v. Gen......
  • Beaudrie v. Henderson, Docket No. 114261, Calendar No. 1
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 27 Julio 2001
    ...i.e., "`passive inaction or the failure to actively protect others from harm.'" Id. at 328, 552 N.W.2d 1, quoting Williams v. Cunningham, 429 Mich. 495, 498-499, 418 N.W.2d 381 Justice Cavanagh would have limited the decision "to only those cases in which liability is alleged on the basis o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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