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Davis-Brown v. Scott Management, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 20, 2014



JILLYN K. SCHULZE, Magistrate Judge.

Presently pending is Defendant's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 27. The issues have been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be granted.[1]

1. Undisputed Facts.

This case arises out of an incident that occurred on June 15, 2011 on the grounds of Oakcrest Towers Apartments in Prince George's County, managed by Defendant, Scott Management, Inc. ECF No. 2 at 1. Plaintiff, Audrey D. Davis-Brown, tripped and fell over a heavy-duty water hose that was stretched across the front entranceway of the apartment building. ECF No. 29-1 at 1. Plaintiff testified that, "for the years that I've been [at the apartment building], " she had noticed that "the hose would run from inside the building out the door." ECF No. 27-5 at 2. On the day of her fall, she first noticed the hose as she approached the building on her way back from dropping her grandson off at a bus stop. ECF No. 29-1 at 1. As she walked closer to the front entrance, she saw a female worker adjusting the hose in the doorway. Id. When she was four or five feet from the door, the female worker was no longer at the door, but the hose was still there. Plaintiff took a high step over the hose so she could make sure that the worker was not still adjusting it. ECF No. 27-5 at 1, 3. "I took a high step with my right foot over the hose, and just as I brought the left foot up, I was clipped, and I felt the hose taught [sic] between the legs, and I was made to fall." Id. Plaintiff claims severe and permanent injuries as a result of the fall. ECF No. 29-2.

2. Standard of Review.

Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate "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 judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 343, 347 (1986). "For purposes of summary judgment, a fact is material if, when applied to the substantive law, it affects the outcome of the litigation." Nero v. Baltimore Cnty., MD, 512 F.Supp.2d 407, 409 (D. Md. 2007) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). "Summary judgment is also appropriate when a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'" Laura Campbell Trust v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co., 411 F.Supp.2d 606, 609 (D. Md. 2006) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)).

A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. "When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in [Rule 56], an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in [Rule 56] must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Bertrand v. Children's Home, 489 F.Supp.2d 516, 518 (D. Md. 2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). "The facts, as well as the justifiable inferences to be drawn therefrom, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id. at 518-19 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986)). "The court, however, cannot rely upon unsupported speculation and it has an affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Id. at 519 (citing Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987)).

3. Discussion.

Defendant argues that summary judgment is warranted because (1) it had no duty to warn Plaintiff of an open and obvious condition and (2) Plaintiff was contributorily negligent in failing to exercise due care for her own safety. ECF No. 27-1 at 6, 9. Plaintiff responds that the danger was not open and obvious because she should not have expected the hose to be pulled as she crossed over it, and that contributory negligence is a question for a jury to decide. ECF No. 29 at 5, 7.

a. Open and Obvious Condition.

A property owner owes a duty to warn of hidden dangers, but not open or obvious dangers. Ramseur v. United States, 587 F.Supp.2d 672, 684 (D. Md. 2007) (citing Yaniger v. Calvert Bldg. & Constr. Co., 183 Md. 285, 288 (1944)); see also Coleman v. United States, 369 F.Appx. 459, 462 (4th Cir. 2010) ("[I]t is well established under Maryland Law that an invitee who is harmed by an open and obvious condition is ordinarily not entitled to any recovery for his injuries."). In Ramseur, the plaintiff was a customer attending a presentation in the conference room of a United States Post Office branch. 587 F.Supp. at 675. While exiting the room, the plaintiff tripped over a perforated mat on the conference room floor when the high heel of her shoe accidently slid into one of the perforations in the mat. Id. The plaintiff testified that she did not look down and did not notice the mat as she exited the conference room. Id. at 684. The court found that "[t]here is no doubt that the perforated mat was open and obvious, " noting that Ms. Ramseur made a diagram at her deposition "depict[ing] the mat as prominent in the conference room." She also "testified that the perforated mat was in the middle of the floor'... indicating [that] the mat was not in an obscure or hidden location." As reasoned by the court, "the invitee has a duty to exercise due care for his or her own safety, '" and this "includes the duty to look and see what is around the invitee.'" Id. (quoting Tennant v. Shoppers Food Warehouse, 115 Md.App. 381, 389 (1997)). Here, of course, the hose was clearly open and obvious, because Plaintiff saw it before she tripped on it.

In Pfaff v. Yacht Basin Co., Inc., 58 Md.App. 348 (1984), the plaintiff was injured falling out of a pickup truck parked on the upper tier of a two-tier parking lot. Id. at 351-52. The plaintiff testified that he knew that the lot was two-tiered and did not have guardrails before he climbed into the back of the truck and attempted to crawl out of the truck backwards. Id. The court upheld summary judgment in favor of the defendant, citing the plaintiff's admission that, although he was aware of the danger before him, he chose to exit his vehicle from the rear, not looking in the direction he was moving "in complete disregard of the condition he now argues was a dangerous one." Id. at 356.

Similarly, in Coleman v. United States, 369 F.Appx. 459 (4th Cir. 2010), a pedestrian stepped on a piece of loose gravel on the sidewalk. The court concluded that the loose debris was an open and obvious condition, noting that "[i]t cannot be overstated that Coleman was also very familiar with the Post Office, as he had visited it at least once or twice a week for the past eight years" and "on prior visits to the Post Office, he had noticed the debris on which he slipped and fell." Id. at 462-63. Thus, "the open and obvious nature of the risk, if any, posed by the debris negated USA's duty to warn or protect Coleman against it." Id. at 463.

Frostbutter v. Bob Evans Farms, Inc., Case No. CBD 12-2388, 2013 WL 4026985 (D. Md. Aug. 6, 2013), is an example of a condition that was not open and obvious. There, the plaintiff tripped on a curtain hanging underneath the sink in the woman's restroom of a restaurant. The court distinguished Pfaff, stating that it was "not convinced that the curtain constituted an open and obvious danger as a matter of law" because it was not clear that a reasonably prudent person "would appreciate the length of the curtain and the danger of stepping too closely to it." Id. at *10. The court noted that in Pfaff "the danger of falling was readily apparent, " and "unlike the plaintiff in Pfaff who crawled backwards out of the back of his truck ...

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