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Peterson v. Outback Steakhouse, Inc.

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

January 11, 2018



          Linda V. Parker, U.S. District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Renata Peterson commenced this action in Michigan state court alleging negligence against Defendants Outback Steakhouse, Inc. and Bloomin' Brands, Inc. (collectively "Defendants") for personal injuries that occurred at their premises. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 32.) For the reasons that follow, the Court grants, in part, Defendants' motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         On May 30, 2014, Plaintiff and her family dined at Outback Steakhouse in Shelby Township, MI. They arrived sometime around dusk and dined for two to three hours. (ECF No. 32 at Pg ID 349; ECF No. 36 at Pg ID 603.) Plaintiff exited the restaurant approximately around 10:30 p.m. with her son and grandson, while her husband used the facilities. (Id.) As she was returning to her vehicle, Plaintiff slipped and fell in the parking lot allegedly owned and operated by Defendants. (ECF No. 1-2 at Pg ID 11.) According to Plaintiff, grease had accumulated next to an underground grease trap system, which caused her to fall and suffer severe injuries. (Id. at Pg ID 11-12.) Plaintiff testified that she did not see the grease prior to her fall, and she did not see the grease when she entered the restaurant. However, Plaintiff testified that she walked a different path when she exited the restaurant. (ECF No. 32 at Pg ID 350; ECF No. 32-2 at Pg ID 385.)

         Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs husband exited the restaurant and witnessed Plaintiff on the ground. After helping her up and showing her to a nearby bench, Plaintiffs husband went inside the restaurant to inform the manager of the incident in the parking lot. (ECF No. 32 at Pg ID 352; ECF No. 32-7 at Pg ID 484-85.) Arturo Word, the manager on duty, testified that there was grease in the parking lot where Plaintiff had fallen, which was located near the underground grease trap system.

         According to Larry LaFray, managing partner of Outback Steakhouse of Florida, LLC, the grease trap system works in conjunction with the plumbing system. (ECF No. 32 at Pg ID 356; ECF No. 32-4 at Pg ID 437.) Its purpose is to prevent food debris and grease from entering the sewer system. On a monthly basis, a third-party contractor, Dover Grease, services the trap system and removes the accumulated grease. Mr. LaFray testified that the grease overflow was a result of two pump failures in the grease trap system. (ECF No. 32 at 356-57.)

         Mr. Word testified that included in the manager's daily opening checklist is an inspection of the parking lot. (ECF No. 32 at Pg ID 357; ECF No. 32-11 at Pg ID 537.) Additionally, throughout the day as shifts change, employees scan the parking lot for any unsafe conditions. (Id.) There was no testimony that anyone had seen grease in the parking lot prior to Plaintiffs fall, as well as to how long the grease had been in the parking lot prior to Plaintiffs fall.

         Following this incident, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants in the Circuit Court for the County of Macomb on October 8, 2015. (ECF No. 1 at Pg ID 2.) Defendants filed a Notice of Removal to this Court on November 12, 2015. On August 16, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing (1) Defendants did not have actual or constructive notice of the alleged condition of the parking lot; (2) the alleged condition of the parking lot was open and obvious; (3) Defendant Outback Steakhouse, Inc. is not an entity, and therefore, is an improper party; and (4) Defendant Bloomin' Brands did not have possession and control of the parking lot. (ECF No. 32.) Plaintiff filed a response on October 9, 2017, and Defendants filed a reply on November 1, 2017. (ECF Nos. 32 & 39.)

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is appropriate "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). The central inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). After adequate time for discovery and upon motion, Rule 56 mandates summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party bears the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The movant has the initial burden of showing "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. Once the movant meets this burden, the "nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine issue, the nonmoving party must present sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for that party; a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252.

         "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed" must designate specifically the materials in the record supporting the assertion, "including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The court must accept as true the non-movant's evidence and draw "all justifiable inferences" in the non-mo vant's favor. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

         III. Applicable Law & Analysis

         As an initial matter, the Court granted Plaintiffs motion to amend (ECF No. 35) to add the proper party, Outback Steakhouse of Florida, LLC. As such, Defendants' arguments, absent the claims of possession and ...

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