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Koch-Gulotty v. R.L. Morgan Co.

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

April 22, 2019

JUDY KOCH-GULOTTY, Plaintiff,
v.
R.L. MORGAN COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DISMISSING COMPLAINT

          HONORABLE THOMAS L. LUDINGTON JUDGE.

         On May 23, 2018, Plaintiff Judy Koch-Gulotty filed a complaint against Defendant R.L. Morgan Company, a hardware store. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleges that while on Defendant's premises she was “severely injured when she tripped and fell due to a lawn edger that was sticking out into an aisle in an extremely unsafe manner.” Id. at 2. On March 5, 2019, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 18. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion will be granted.

         I.

         According to Plaintiff, on or about July 4, 2017, Plaintiff entered Defendant's store. ECF No. 1 at 2. Defendant's employee, Adam Podboy, greeted Plaintiff and led her down the store's main aisle to help her locate an item. ECF No. 20 at 1. While walking down the main aisle, Mr. Podboy turned left down an aisle that intersected the main aisle perpendicularly. Id. Plaintiff followed Mr. Podboy and tripped on a lawn edger “that was sticking out into the aisle.” Id. at 2. Plaintiff claims that her encounter with the edger left her with a wounded ankle and a “meniscal tear resulting to [sic] a knee replacement and other complications.” ECF No. 1 at 2.

         On May 23, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant, alleging that it was liable for premises liability and negligence. Id. at 2-6.

         II.

         Defendant has now filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 18. A motion for summary judgment should be granted 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 moving party has the initial burden of identifying where to look in the record for evidence “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the opposing party who must set out specific facts showing “a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (citation omitted). The Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant and determine “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.” Id. at 251-52.

         III.

         In diversity cases like this one, federal courts “must apply the substantive law of the state in which the court sits.” Mill's Pride, Inc. v. Cont'l Ins. Co., 300 F.3d 701, 704 (6th Cir. 2002). Thus, this Court will apply Michigan's substantive laws. Accordingly, the question is whether, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding his premises liability claim and negligence claim.

         Michigan law provides that, “[i]n a premises liability action, a 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 Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 274 Mich.App. 710, 712 (2007).

         “In general, a premises possessor owes a duty to an invitee to exercise reasonable care to protect the invitee from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.” Lugo v. Ameritech Corp., 464 Mich. 512, 516 (2001). “However, where the dangers are known to the invitee or are so obvious that the invitee might reasonably be expected to discover them, an invitor owes no duty to protect or warn the invitee unless he should anticipate the harm despite knowledge of it on behalf of the invitee.” Riddle v. McLouth Steel Prod. Corp., 440 Mich. 85, 96 (1992). In other words, “[a] premises possessor is generally not required to protect an invitee from open and obvious dangers.” Kennedy, 274 Mich.App. at 713.

         Defendant contends that Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed because the edger was open and obvious and there were no special aspects making the condition unreasonably dangerous or effectively unavoidable. See generally ECF No. 18. Each of these arguments will be addressed in turn.

         A.

         A premises possessor “‘owes no duty to protect or warn' of dangers that are open and obvious because such dangers, by their nature, apprise an invitee of the potential hazard, which the invitee may then take reasonable measures to avoid.” Hoffner v. Lanctoe, 821 N.W.2d 88, 94 (2012) (quoting Riddle v. McLouth Steel Prod. Corp., 440 Mich. 85 (1992)). It is an objective standard, determining “[w]hether it is reasonable to expect that an average person with ordinary intelligence would have discovered it upon casual inspection.” Id. at 94-95.

         Defendant quotes three separate depositions to supports its argument that the edger's placement was open and obvious. First, it quotes Mr. Podboy's deposition, which provides:

Q: Okay. As one is walking down Aisle 1 from the main entrance towards that end cap, ...

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