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Stewart v. Michigan Pontiac, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 16, 2017

Anissa Stewart, Plaintiff,
Michigan Pontiac, LLC, et. al., Defendants.


          Sean F. Cox United States District Judge

         This action arises out of a fire that occurred in Plaintiff Anissa Stewart's (“Plaintiff”) apartment. Plaintiff alleges the following counts against Defendants: negligence, negligence per se, res ipsa loquitur, gross negligence, breach of lease agreement and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendants liable for damages incurred to her personal property as a result of the fire. Plaintiff also seeks damages for emotional distress.

         Currently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff has filed a response opposing Defendants' motion. Plaintiff's response also seeks spoilation sanctions. The Court heard oral argument as to Defendants' motion on February 9, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the Court shall GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and DENY Plaintiff's request for spoilation sanctions.


         A. Factual Background

         The facts of this case are relatively straight forward. Consistent with this Court's Practice Guidelines, Defendants have filed a statement of material facts not in dispute (Doc. #24, Def.s' Stmt.) and Plaintiff has filed a counter-statement of disputed facts (Doc. #29, Pl.'s Stmt.). Below is an overview of the facts, taken in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

         Plaintiff brings this action against Defendants Michigan Pontiac, LLC and Aspen Square Management, LLC (collectively, “Defendants”). Defendant Michigan Pontiac is the owner of an apartment complex facility located in Pontiac, Michigan. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 1; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 1). Defendant Aspen Square Management is an affiliated entity which manages the apartment complex pursuant to a Seville Pointe Apartments LP Lease Agreement. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 2; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 2).

         Plaintiff has resided at the facility for the last several years and last entered into a Lease with Defendants' predecessor, Seville Pointe Limited Partnership. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 3; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 3). The Lease Agreement covered the period of June 6, 2012 through June 30, 2013. (Id.). The lease was assigned to Defendant Michigan Pontiac as part of its purchase of the facility on March 22, 2013. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 4; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 4).

         On October 27, 2013, a fire occurred in the bathroom of Plaintiff's apartment. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 6; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 6). Plaintiff was not home when the fire started. (Ex. B to Pl.'s Stmt. at 27). When Plaintiff got home, she entered her apartment and noticed heavy, dark smoke. (Id. at 25). Her smoke detectors were not sounding. (Id. at 28).

         The Waterford Regional Fire Department was called to the scene. (Ex. D to Pl.'s Stmt., Fire Dep't Incident Report). The Fire Department noted that the fire originated in Plaintiff's bathroom. (Id.). An origin and cause investigation was subsequently requested. The investigation was conducted by Carl J. Wallace of the Waterford Regional Fire Department. (Id.). Wallace composed an Origin and Cause Investigation Report detailing his findings. (Ex. A to Pl.'s Stmt., Origin & Cause Investigation Report). The Origin & Cause Report concluded that:

The area of origin is at or above ceiling level in the bathroom approximately in the center, the area of the ceiling vent fan. At this time it is this investigator's opinion that the fire is undetermined in nature and wiring and/or the ceiling vent fan cannot be ruled out as the cause of the fire. Should any new evidence become available regarding this investigation I reserve the right to evaluate that evidence and change this opinion accordingly.

(Id. at 3) (emphasis in original).

         Plaintiff's Complaints Regarding Bathroom Ceiling Fan

         The parties dispute whether or not Plaintiff had previously reported any issues with respect to her bathroom ceiling fan. Defendants' position is that Plaintiff had never previously launched any complaints. As evidence of this, Defendants point to Aspen Square Management's service requests report. (Ex. E. To Def.'s Br.). The report indicates that Plaintiff made six total service requests between June 2013 and November 2013, none of which pertained to the bathroom ceiling fan.

         Plaintiff offers her own testimony in support of the fact that she had launched several complaints regarding the bathroom ceiling fan. Plaintiff testified that she had not experienced issues with maintenance until she got the “bathroom blower.” (Ex. B. to Pl.'s Stmt. at 19). Plaintiff used the fan in her bathroom frequently and noticed that it started getting “extremely loud.” (Id.). Plaintiff also noticed that when she would turn on the switch for the fan, the fan would not always turn on. (Id. at 20). Plaintiff recalls leaving a message regarding the fan “going out” around the same time that she had also filed a report requesting bed bug extermination. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, no one came to repair the fan, but someone came regarding extermination. (Id.). Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff noticed that the fan was hanging down from the ceiling. (Id.) Plaintiff called regarding the fan and Plaintiff believes the fan was subsequently re-affixed to the ceiling by someone from maintenance. (Id.).

         Several days prior to the fire, Plaintiff testified that she went to the management office to complain that the fan had been making loud noises. (Id. at 21-22). Plaintiff was told that someone would be sent over to Plaintiff's apartment. (Id. at 21). According to Plaintiff, no one was sent. Plaintiff also recalled experiencing issues with the fan (i.e., loud noises and turning off) on the morning of the fire. (Id.).

         Events That Transpired After The Fire

         Approximately one month after the fire, Plaintiff retained counsel in this matter. Thereafter, Defendants notified Plaintiff's counsel that it was necessary for Plaintiff to remove her personal property and vacate the unit in order to allow Defendants to make necessary reparations to the apartment and get it re-leased. (Def.s' Stmt. at ¶ 10; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 10). Communications between Defendant Aspen Square Management and Plaintiff's counsel were ongoing thereafter. These communications primarily concerned Plaintiff's access to the premises after the fire, the restoration of Plaintiff's personal property and the replacement cost of Plaintiff's damaged property.

         On December 13, 2013, Plaintiff's counsel sent Defendants an email reflecting a telephone conversation between the parties that took place on that date. (Doc. # 34). In the email, Plaintiff's counsel noted that Plaintiff had returned to the damaged unit on December 10, 2013 to collect salvageable personal property. The email also stated that several of Plaintiff's personal items had been removed by Defendants at some point after locks on the unit were changed. The email concluded that Plaintiff finished removing her salvageable property, and that the “remaining items are available for [Defendants] to inspect, and the unit can now be restored.” On January 21, 2014, Defendants notified Plaintiff's counsel that it had comprised a list of Plaintiff's personal property that it felt could be cleaned and/or restored to original condition. (Ex. G to Pl.'s Stmt.). Defendants asked Plaintiff's counsel to advise by January 22, 2014 which items Plaintiff would like to have cleaned.

         On February 10, 2014, Defendants notified Plaintiff's counsel that all efforts to locate a cleaning company had ceased because they had not received a response from Plaintiff regarding her intention to attend to her abandoned property. (Ex. G to Pl.'s Stmt.). To the extent that Plaintiff intended to retrieve any of the property, which was “abandoned when vacating the unit, ” Plaintiff had until February 14, 2014 at 5 p.m.

         On February 17, 2014, Plaintiff's counsel sent an email to defendants stating that she had briefly reviewed Defendants' email and would provide a detailed response at a later time. (Ex. I to Pl.'s Stmt.). Counsel also stated that: “the most important issue to address is your statement that the condition of the unit is no longer the same as it was after October 27, 2013 fire. Please refrain from any further spoilation of evidence and provide an explanation as to what has been changed in the damaged unit.” (Id.).

         On February 24, 2014, Plaintiff's counsel sent an email detailing certain discussions that had taken place between Defendants and counsel. (Ex. H to Pl.'s Stmt.). The email stated that the parties had agreed that Plaintiff would have until February 19, 2014 to remove her personal property from the damaged unit. Plaintiff went to the damaged unit to remove her items on February 17, 2014, but was denied access because the items were already being removed into portable storage containers. The email also indicates that Defendants had a telephone conversation with another attorney (“Joe”) from counsel's firm. During that conversation, Joe permitted Defendants to finish moving the remainder of the items into containers. The email stated that during the conversation between Defendants and Joe, “it became clear that there was no dispute as to the cause of the fire in the unit, and that [Defendants are] responsible for [Plaintiff's] damaged personal property, as a result, the only issue remaining is the extent of damage.” Plaintiff's counsel concluded that Plaintiff no longer wished to have her property cleaned and requested the actual cash value of Plaintiff's personal property ($64, 835.82).

         On February 27, 2014, Plaintiff's counsel sent an email to Defendants summarizing a telephone conversation between the parties that occurred on that date. (Ex. H to Pl.'s Stmt.). The email discussed, among other things, Defendants' concern that the contents list provided by Michigan Fire Claims was not consistent with Defendants' contents list. The email also summarized the parties' positions as to the accurate replacement cost for damaged personal property.

         On June 26, 2014, Defendants notified Plaintiff's counsel that Plaintiff was to remove her personal property, which had been stored in a portable storage container on Defendants' premises, on or before July 25, 2014. (Def.s' Stmt. at ¶ 11; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 11).

         On July 22, 2014, Plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to Defendants acknowledging that Plaintiff would be attending to her property by July 25, 2014. (Def.s' Stmt. at ¶ 12; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 12). Despite this, Plaintiff did not attend to her property by the specified date. (Def.s' Stmt. At ¶ 13; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 13).

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed this action on February 8, 2016. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, filed on March 14, 2016, is the operative complaint in this case. (Doc. # 10, Pl.'s Compl.). Plaintiff's complaint names Michigan Pontiac, LLC (a.k.a. The Crossing at Auburn Hills) and Aspen Square Management, Inc. as defendants in this case. Plaintiff asserts the following six claims against Defendants: Count I - Negligence Per Se; Count II - Gross Negligence; Count III - Negligence; Count IV - Res Ipsa Loquitur; Count V - Breach of Lease Agreement; and Count VI - Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Plaintiff seeks monetary relief for the personal property damaged as a result of the fire and for emotional distress.

         On November 17, 2016, Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 23, Def.s' Br.). Defendants seek dismissal of each of Plaintiff's claims on a number of grounds. Plaintiff opposes the motion. (Doc. # 28, Pl.'s Resp.). Defendants have filed a reply. (Doc. # 32, Def.s' Reply).


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1984), quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

         The party that moves for summary judgment has the burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact in the case. LaPointe v. United Autoworkers Local 600, 8 F.3d 376, 378 (6th Cir. 1993). The moving party may meet its burden by showing that the nonmoving party lacks evidence to support an essential element of its case. Barnhart v. Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling Co., 12 F.3d 1382, 1389 (6th Cir. 1993). In response, the nonmoving party must come forth with more than a “mere scintilla of evidence” in support of his or her position in order to survive summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). “In fact, ‘[t]he failure to present any evidence to counter a well-supported motion for summary judgment alone is grounds for granting the motion.'” Alexander v. CareSource, 576 F.3d 551, 558 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Everson v. Leis, 556 F.3d 484, 496 (6th Cir. 2009)).

         The court must view the evidence, all facts, and any inferences that may permissibly be drawn from the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. ...

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