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Lowrey v. LMPS & LMPJ, Inc.

Supreme Court of Michigan

December 13, 2016

KRYSTAL LOWREY, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LMPS & LMPJ, INC., Defendant, and KSK HOSPITALITY GROUP, INC., doing business as WOODY'S DINER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Robert P. Young, Jr. Chief Justice Stephen J. Markman Brian K. Zahra Bridget M. McCormack David F. Viviano Richard H. Bernstein Joan L. Larsen, Justices.

         Syllabus

         Krystal Lowrey filed a complaint in the Oakland Circuit Court against LMPS & LMPJ, Inc., after she slipped and fell while descending a stairway at Woody's Diner and sustained a broken tibia and fibula. She asserted that the stairs were wet and slippery at the time of her fall, a condition Lowrey insisted Woody's Diner should have known about and should have remedied or guarded against, or about which the diner should have warned its patrons. Lowrey subsequently amended her complaint to name KSK Hospitality Group, Inc., doing business as Woody's Diner, as the defendant. Woody's Diner moved for summary disposition under MCR2.116(C)(10). The court, Rudy J. Nichols, J., granted summary disposition in favor of Woody's Diner. Lowrey appealed in the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals, Ronayne Krause, P.J., and Markey and M. J. Kelly, JJ., reversed the trial court, explaining that Woody's Diner was obligated to establish that it lacked notice of the hazard, which required it to present evidence showing what a reasonable inspection of the premises would have entailed under the circumstances the night Lowrey was injured. 313 Mich.App. 500 (2016). Woody's Diner applied for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court.

         In a unanimous opinion per curiam, the Supreme Court, in lieu of granting leave to appeal and without oral argument, held:

         A premises owner moving for summary disposition of a premises liability claim against it under MCR 2.116(C)(10) has the burden of demonstrating that the claimant's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the claim or presenting affirmative evidence to negate an element of the claim. The premises owner, however, is not required to proffer evidence negating an element of the claim if the claimant's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the claim. In addition, a premises owner is not liable for injuries arising from a hazard unless it had actual or constructive notice of the hazard; the premises owner is not required to show that a routine or reasonable inspection of the premises would have failed to discover the hazard because it is not required to prove that it lacked actual or constructive notice.

         1. A party defending against a motion for summary disposition of its negligence claim in a premises liability case must raise a genuine issue of fact regarding each element of its claim including whether the premises owner had actual or constructive notice of the condition that caused the party's injury. The premises owner is not required to present evidence to negate one of the elements of plaintiffs claim and is therefore not required to prove that it did not have actual or constructive notice of the hazard. To place that requirement on the premises owner would improperly shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant. In this case, Woody's Diner only needed to show that Lowrey's evidence was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact about whether Woody's Diner had actual or constructive notice of the hazard because Lowrey was required to produce enough evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact on each element of her premises liability claim to withstand Woody's Diner's motion for summary disposition.

         2. A premises owner moving for summary disposition of a negligence claim against it is not required to present evidence of what would constitute a reasonable inspection of the premises under the circumstances and whether such inspection would apprise the premises owner of the hazard that caused its patron's injury. Never has a premises owner, the moving party in the motion for summary disposition in this case, been required to prove its lack of notice by describing what kind of inspection it should have conducted and that, even if it had engaged in such an inspection, it would have remained unaware of the hazard. Rather, Lowrey was required to present evidence that Woody's Diner had actual or constructive notice of the wet steps. Lowrey failed to present any evidence that Woody's Diner knew or should have known about the wet steps, and the Court of Appeals improperly reversed the trial court's grant of summary disposition in favor of Woody's Diner.

         Court of Appeals judgment regarding notice reversed, remainder of the Court of Appeals judgment vacated, and trial court order granting summary disposition in favor of Woody's Diner reinstated.

         BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         This case concerns the standard for granting a motion for summary disposition and the elements of a premises liability claim. On a snowy night, plaintiff Krystal Lowrey went with friends to Woody's Diner (defendant) for drinks to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. While exiting the diner, she fell on the stairs and injured herself. She brought this premises liability action, and the trial court granted summary disposition in defendant's favor. The Court of Appeals subsequently reversed, concluding that defendant had failed to establish that it lacked notice of the hazardous condition alleged in the complaint, reasoning that defendant had not presented evidence of what a reasonable inspection would have entailed under the circumstances. We conclude that in order to obtain summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10), defendant was not required to present proof that it lacked notice of the hazardous condition, but needed only to show that plaintiff presented insufficient proof to establish the notice element of her claim. We conclude that defendant met its burden because plaintiff failed to establish a question of fact as to whether defendant had notice of the hazardous condition. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals regarding defendant's notice, reinstate the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of defendant on that issue, and vacate the remainder of the Court of Appeals' opinion.

         I. FACTS AND HISTORY

         Plaintiff Krystal Lowrey and her friends went to Woody's Diner for drinks on March 17, 2013, in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. They arrived at approximately 12:30 a.m. and went to the dance area located on the second floor. Plaintiff and her friends used the back stairs to travel from the dance area to the smoking patio several times without incident while they were at the diner. Plaintiff consumed four shots of alcohol before she and her friends left around 1:45 a.m. The group once again used the back stairs, this time for the purpose of exiting the diner. Plaintiff was about five stairs from the bottom when she fell forward on the stairs and landed approximately two or three steps below. She asserted that she had slipped on a wet step. Plaintiff acknowledged that she had not seen any water on the stairs at any time that night, but assumed that the stairs were wet because her backside was wet after she landed from her fall and a person "can't just slip on nothing." Plaintiff did not know which of her feet had slipped on the stairs, but thought it might have been both feet because she had lost her balance. Plaintiff and her friends testified that many people were using the same stairs that night and that plaintiff and her friends had not heard of anyone else slipping on the stairs or complaining that the stairs were slippery. The manager of the diner testified that she had not received a report of anyone else falling on the stairs that night.

         After being diagnosed with and treated for a broken tibia and fibula, plaintiff sued defendant, alleging negligence. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10), holding that plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the ...


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