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Ex parte City of Muscle Shoals

Supreme Court of Alabama

February 23, 2018

Ex parte City of Muscle Shoals
v.
City of Muscle Shoals In re: Reginald M. Harden

         PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS (Colbert Circuit Court, CV-15-900107.00)

          PER CURIAM.

         The City of Muscle Shoals ("the City") petitions for a writ of mandamus directing the Colbert Circuit Court to vacate its denial of the City's motion for a summary judgment as to claims asserted against it by Reginald M. Harden stemming from injuries Harden sustained from falling through a grate at Gattman Park, a City-owned park. We grant the petition.

         I. Facts

         Rusty Wheeles, director of the City's Department of Parks and Recreation ("the Department"), testified by an affidavit attached to the City's motion for a summary judgment that "[t]he City owns and operates Gattman Park. Among the facilities at Gattman Park are five baseball fields with lights mounted on poles." In April 2014, the City accepted a bid from Big River Electric, Inc. ("Big River"), to replace the lights on the poles at the baseball fields at Gattman Park. Big River began replacement of the baseball-field lights in early May 2014. Wheeles testified that in order to perform the job, Big River arranged with the City to have access to a maintenance-shop area in Gattman Park where Big River could store the lights that were going to be installed on the poles at each baseball field. Wheeles also explained:

"The maintenance area is a fenced-off area consisting of a shop with several garages, an office, and a gravel lot with various items of equipment. At the time of [Harden's] accident there was a natural drain covered by a grate located near a group of trees in the gravel parking lot of the maintenance area at Gattman Park. The drain is surrounded by a concrete rim. A metal grate consisting of steel rebar welded together laid inside the concrete rim and covered the drain."

         In 2014, Harden was working as an electrician's helper for Big River. On May 7, 2014, Harden was helping John Blair White, foreman for Big River's job of installing the baseball-field lights. White testified by affidavit that, during the afternoon of May 7, he and Harden

"were inside the maintenance shop area on the gravel lot. The lights that were to be installed were contained in boxes and were lined up in rows in the gravel lot near some trees. [Harden] and I had a list of numbers that corresponded to numbers contained on the boxes with the lights. Our job was to select the boxes of lights with the appropriate numbers, load the lights onto the trailer, and take them to the relevant baseball field.
"[Harden] and I were walking down the aisles between the rows of boxes on opposite sides of the boxes when I bent over to uncrate a light. When I looked over in [Harden's] area, he was gone. I walked over to where I last saw [Harden] in the opposite aisle, and I saw him pulling himself up out of a drain hole. I saw that [Harden] had fallen through a metal grate that had been covered by leaves and debris."

         For his part, Harden in his deposition stated that before lunch on the day he fell through the grate he and White had made three or four trips delivering light boxes to their specific ball-field locations and that no one noticed the grate during those trips because it was covered with leaves. Harden described the accident as follows:

"A. I was walking down the right side of the aisle [between the rows of boxes]. [White] was walking down the left like we were doing helping each other pick [the box] up from both sides, and all of a sudden, I fell. I was just gone. I was -- you know, I've been through OSHA's safety training, and I know how to look for -- look for danger on the job. And I was looking for danger, and you could not see that. You could not see that drain.
"Q. So when you say you fell, you fell -- are you saying that essentially the grate when you stepped on it broke underneath you?
"A. When I stepped on it, I went straight through.
"Q. Okay. And you hadn't seen it before you stepped on it?
"A. No.
"Q. And as far as you know, nobody working with you saw it before you stepped on it?
"A. No."

         Jake Mackey, who had served as the maintenance supervisor for the Department since 1995 and who had worked for the Department since 1975, testified by affidavit that the drain in question "is surrounded by a concrete rim. A metal grate consisting of steel rebar welded together laid inside the concrete rim and covered the drain. This metal grate has been in place for approximately 25 years." Mackey also stated that,

"[i]n the years prior to [Harden's] accident, City employees drove equipment through the gravel lot in the area of the metal grate at least three times per week. In the days prior to the beginning of Big River's job, City employees accessed the maintenance area in order to move equipment out of the way. At no point during this time did any City employee notice anything wrong with the metal grate."

         Quinton Bailey, the assistant maintenance supervisor for the Department since 2013 who had also worked for the Department as a laborer from 1995 until his promotion to ...


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