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Dodd v. Glassratner Managment & Realty Advisors, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 18, 2017

STACY DODD, Plaintiff,
v.
GLASSRATNER MANAGMENT & REALTY ADVISORS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          STACI G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This is a premises liability case brought by the plaintiff, Stacy Dodd, against GlassRatner Management & Realty Advisors, LLC, the owner of an apartment building where Dodd lived. (Doc. 1-2). This matter was removed here from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). The parties have consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 13). Presently pending is GlassRatner's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 23). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. (Docs. 24-27). For the reasons that follow, the motion is due to be denied.

         I. FACTS

         The events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred on July 4, 2012, when Dodd slipped and fell down stairs at her apartment building. (Doc. 25 at 5). Dodd's apartment was not on the ground floor; the stairs at issue led from the exterior of her apartment to the parking lot. (Id. at 5-6). Although not described in the briefs, photos of the stairway reveal it is located under a covered breezeway joining two buildings. (See Doc. 23-6). The weather was sunny. (Doc. 25 at 6). Dodd was leaving her apartment on her way to her car, and as she placed her left foot on the tread of the top stair, "it just went out from under" her. (Id.). She slid down the stairs on her buttocks, coming to a stop at the second or third stop from the bottom. (Id.).

         Dodd did not notice any water on the stairs prior to her fall, and she did not look at the top stair prior to falling. (Doc. 24 at 5-6). Dodd realized the stairs were wet because, by the time she came to a stop, her backside and clothes were wet. (Id.; Doc. 25 at 6). As Dodd looked around, she noticed water on all the stairs she could see. (Doc. 25 at 6; see Doc. 24 at 5). Dodd then saw a man using a pressure washer in the breezeway. (Doc. 24 at 4). Dodd could not see the top of the stairs from the ground-level, and she did not climb the staircase to see if the top stair tread was wet. (Id. at 6). When Dodd returned to the apartment approximately thirty minutes later to take photographs of the area, the stairs were dry, but the concrete pad at the bottom of the stairs was damp. (Id. at 4-5).

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         "The 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To demonstrate there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite "to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment motion, the court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hill v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 510 F.App'x 810, 813 (11th Cir. 2013). "The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under Alabama law, a tenant in an apartment complex shares the same legal rights as an invitee with respect to the common areas of the complex. Shelton v. Boston Fin., Inc., 638 So.2d 824, 825 (Ala. 1994). "A landowner owes an invitee the legal duty 'to exercise reasonable care and diligence to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition for the uses contemplated by the invitation, and to warn the invitee of known dangers, or dangers that ought to have been known, and of which the invitee was ignorant.'" Id. (quoting Lamson & Sessions Bolt Co. v. McCarty, 173 So. 388 (1937)). To recover in a premises-liability action based on a fall, a plaintiff must prove: (1) the fall was caused by a defect or instrumentality located on the defendant's premises; (2) the fall was the result of the defendant's negligence, and (3) that the defendant "had or should have had notice of the defect or instrumentality before the accident." Logan v. Winn-Dixie Atlanta, Inc., 594 So.2d 83, 84 (Ala. 1992). A premises owner "is not an insurer of the safety of his invitees and res ipsa loquitur is not applicable." Ex parte Mountain Top Indoor Flea Market, Inc., 699 So.2d 158, 161 (Ala. 1997).

         GlassRatner contends it is entitled to summary judgment because: (1) Dodd's testimony that her fall was caused by the wet stairs is impermissibly speculative; (2) any water on the top step was an open and obvious hazard; and (3) GlassRatner had no duty to warn Dodd about any water on the stairs because it did not have superior knowledge of the condition. (Doc. 24 at 10-20).

         A. Speculation Regarding Wet Stairs

         As an initial matter, a wet surface can constitute a dangerous condition giving rise to liability for an invitee's slip-and-fall injury. See Terrell v. Warehouse Grocery, 364 So.2d 675, 676-77 (Ala. 1978). However, a plaintiff traveling on premises liability theories cannot speculate as to the cause of an accident. Brookwood Med. Ctr. v. Lindstrom, 763 So.2d 951, 956 (Ala. 2000). When evidence gives rise to equally plausible inferences regarding the existence of a dangerous condition, the evidence is impermissibly speculative. Turner v. Azalea Box Co., 508 So.2d 253, 254 (Ala. 1987).

         GlassRatner argues Dodd's testimony that water on the top stair caused her to fall is impermissibly speculative. This argument is based on Dodd's testimony that she never saw water on the top stair either before or after the fall. Accordingly, because res ipsa loquitor does not apply, GlassRatner contends Dodd has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether water on the stairs caused her to fall. (Doc. 24 at 10-16). GlassRatner's analysis primarily focuses on Manning v. Tractor Supply Co., No. 14-0366, 2015 WL 1578158 (S.D. Ala. Apr. 9, 2015), and Shanklin v. New Pilgrim Towers, L.P., 58 So.3d 1251 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010).

         The plaintiff in Manning was an invitee injured when she was cut by something on a metal rack inside the defendant's store. However, the plaintiff did not provide any details about the mechanism of her injury, the shelf, or any alleged defect. 2015 WL 1578158 at *4 ("Manning does not remember anything about the shelf other than it had wire on it, and she was cut."). Accordingly, the district court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment because the allegation of negligence rested "entirely on her ...


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