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Morris v. The Home Depot

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

June 1, 2018

Renee Morris, Plaintiff,
v.
The Home Depot, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SEAN F. COX, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         While shopping at Home Depot, Plaintiff was injured when she tripped over a pallet lying in the center of a walkway. She has now sued Home Depot on a premises liability theory and Defendant has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons below, the Court shall grant Defendant's motion because any danger posed by the pallet was open and obvious.

         BACKGROUND

         In May 2016, Plaintiff Renee Morris went to a Home Depot in Livonia to do some shopping. Pl. Dep., p. 19. While searching for some patio cushions, she walked down a pathway that had patio furniture to her left and a stack of charcoal to her right. Id. at 22. Several wooden pallets were also nearby the charcoal. Id.

         As Plaintiff was looking at a patio cushion, she tripped over a light-colored wooden pallet that was lying in the center of the concrete walkway. Id. at 22, 24; Def. Stmt. of Material Facts, ¶ 13. The pallet was about 2.5 inches high and, when lying flat, spanned almost the entire walkway. Pl. Dep., p. 25-26. Yet Plaintiff claims that she did not see the pallet because patio furniture was blocking her view of the walkway. Id. at 22.

         After Plaintiff fell, Home Deport employee Steve Larkins lifted up the pallet and propped it up against the charcoal.[1] Id. at 24. The next day, Plaintiff returned to the store and filed an incident report. Id. at 33.

         About seven months later, Plaintiff filed a negligence suit in state court against Defendant Home Depot, which removed the case to this Court on diversity grounds (Doc. # 1). Defendant has moved for summary judgment (Doc. # 13) and Plaintiff has responded (Doc. # 15). The Court held a hearing on Defendant's motion on May 31, 2018.

         STANDARD OF DECISION

         Summary judgment will be granted when no genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The Court “must view the evidence, all facts, and any inferences that may be drawn from the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Skousen v. Brighton High Sch., 305 F.3d 520, 526 (6th Cir. 2002).

         ANALYSIS

         In a premises liability case, the plaintiff “must prove (1) that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, (2) that the defendant breached the duty, (3) that the defendant's breach of the duty caused the plaintiff's injuries, and (4) that the plaintiff suffered damages.” Kennedy v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 737 N.W.2d 179, 181 (Mich. Ct. App. 2007). Here, the only issue is whether Defendant owed Plaintiff a duty.

         A landowner owes a duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees, like Plaintiff, “from unreasonable reasonable risks of harm posed by dangerous conditions on the owner's land.” Hoffner v. Lanctoe, 821 N.W.2d 88, 94 (Mich. 2012). But there is generally no duty to protect an invitee against “open and obvious” dangers, which, “by their nature, apprise an invitee of the potential hazard, which the invitee may then take reasonable measures to avoid.” Id. An exception to this rule exists only if special aspects of the condition make the open and obvious risk unreasonable, either because the hazard is unreasonably dangerous or because the danger is effectively unavoidable. Id. at 95-96.

         Defendant argues that the pallet Plaintiff tripped over was open and obvious. This is determined using an objective standard: “Whether a danger is open and obvious depends on whether it is reasonable to expect that an average person with ordinary intelligence would have discovered it upon casual inspection.” Id. at 94-95.

         The undisputed facts show that the pallet spanned nearly the entire pathway in which Plaintiff was walking. This alone made it readily visible to a casual observer. See LaFontaine v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., 2011 WL 6757480, at * 2 (holding that a pallet sticking out three feet into an aisle was open and obvious); Summers v. Carter's Inc., 2005 WL 2372075, at * 1 (Mich. Ct. App. 2005) (holding that a five-foot strip of plastic wrap lying in an aisle was open and obvious). What's more, the pallet contrasted with its surroundings-the light wooden pallet rose several inches above the concrete floor. See LaFontaine, 2011 WL 6757480, at * 2 (noting that the pallet contrasted with the floor); Maronek v. Wal-Mart Stores, 2008 WL 1959255, at * 2 (holding that the edge of an exposed black pallet lying on white floor tiles was open and obvious). It was a clear obstacle in Plaintiff's path-one that an average person would have observed upon casual ...


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