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Jaeger v. International Renaissance Festivals, Ltd.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 12, 2017

EUGENE JAEGER, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL RENAISSANCE FESTIVALS, LTD., d/b/a MARYLAND RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Eugene Jaeger (“Jaeger” or “plaintiff”) has filed a one-count Amended Complaint against defendant International Renaissance Festivals, d/b/a Maryland Renaissance Festival (“IRF” or “defendant”) based on injuries he sustained at the 2012 Maryland Renaissance Festival (the “Festival”) when he slipped and fell on an accumulated, slippery patch in a public area of the Festival premises. (ECF No. 10.) Plaintiff alleges that IRF was negligent in the maintenance of its property and that IRF failed to warn plaintiff of a dangerous condition on its property. (Id.)

         Now pending before this Court is defendant IRF's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defendant's Motion”). (ECF No. 20.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED, Summary Judgment is ENTERED in favor of defendant, and this case shall be CLOSED.

         BACKGROUND

         In ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment, this Court considers the facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         Plaintiff Eugene Jaeger operates the Unicorn Strings Music Company (“Unicorn Strings”) and sells his wares at renaissance festivals, music festivals, arts shows, and by internet and phone. (ECF No. 20-1 at ¶¶ 1-2; ECF No. 22 at ¶¶ 1-2.)[1] Unicorn Strings began participating in the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2003 or 2004, and, on December 22, 2011, signed the Festival's 2012 Craft Vendor Lease Agreement (the “Vendor Lease”) in order to participate as a vendor in the 2012 Festival. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 6.) The Vendor Lease covered a period of several days, including September 9, 2012, the day when plaintiff slipped, fell, and sustained injuries. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8, 15-16.)

         At approximately 10:30 a.m. on September 9, 2012, Jaeger walked from the Unicorn Strings vendor booth to the Festival restroom facilities. (ECF No. 20-1 at ¶ 13.) To reach the restroom, plaintiff walked on a gravel walkway and on the Festival's boardwalk. (Id. at ¶ 12.) After using the restroom, plaintiff started walking back along the boardwalk towards his booth. (Id. at ¶ 14.) While walking on the boardwalk, plaintiff stepped onto a patch of a slippery substance, which, he asserts, caused him to slip and fall down hard on his posterior and sustained physical injuries. (Id. at ¶ 15-16.) Defendants argue that the slippery substance was mud which had accrued there from the surrounding, wooded environment. (ECF No. 20-1 at ¶¶ 18, 29, 33.) Plaintiff argues that the slippery substance consisted of a dust and gravel mixture which became slippery after mixing with rain which had fallen the night before. (ECF No. 22 at ¶¶ 18, 20.) Neither plaintiff nor defendant knows exactly when the slippery substance accrued on the boardwalk, though both parties were aware that it had rained the night before. (ECF No. 20-1 at ¶¶ 20-21; ECF No. 22 at ¶ 20-21.)

         The Festival is an outdoor event held in a wooded setting. (ECF No. 20-1 at ¶ 23.) The boardwalk where plaintiff slipped is located at the bottom of a hill and stops the hill's downhill progression. (Id. at ¶ 24.) There is a gravel walkway between the boardwalk and plaintiff's booth. (Id. at ¶ 25.) The area behind the booths is wooded, and trees stand directly adjacent to the booths and boardwalk. (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 29.)

         Plaintiff described the boardwalk on the day that he slipped as “not dangerous or suspicious, ” and dependable for walking. (ECF No. 20-1 at ¶¶ 31-32.) Plaintiff further described the specific spot on which he slipped as “innocuous” and “camouflaged.” (Id. at ¶ 33.) Notwithstanding, plaintiff alleges that IRF breached its duty of care (1) in its construction, maintenance, and/or inspection of the walkway and (2) in failing to warn plaintiff of the slippery condition on the boardwalk. (Id. at ¶ 34.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court “shall grant summary judgment 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(c). A material fact is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A genuine issue over a material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial. Id. at 249.

         In undertaking this inquiry, this Court must consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Libertarian Party of Va., 718 F.3d at 312; see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). This Court “must not weigh evidence or make credibility determinations.” Foster v. University of Md.-Eastern Shore, 787 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French, 499 F.3d 345, 352 (4th Cir. 2007)); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015) (explaining that the trial court may not make credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage). However, this Court must also abide by its affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from going to trial. Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993). If the evidence presented by the nonmoving party is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment must be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. On the other hand, a party opposing summary judgment must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also In re Apex Express Corp., 190 F.3d 624, 633 (4th Cir. 1999). This Court has previously explained that a “party cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact through mere speculation or compilation of inferences.” Shin v. Shalala, 166 F.Supp.2d 373, 375 (D. Md. 2001) (citations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         IRF raises two arguments in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment. First, IRF argues that the Vendor Lease's Waiver Clause expressly releases IRF from all liability. (ECF No. 20-1 at 8-14.) Second, IRF asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff has produced no evidence that IRF had actual or constructive knowledge of the slippery patch, as required under Maryland premises liability law. (Id. at 14-17.)

         In opposition, Jaeger first asserts that the release in the Vendor Lease does not apply to his claims, both based on the circumstances surrounding his slip and fall and based on a preceding clause in the contract. (ECF No. 21 at 8-11.) Jaeger further asserts that whether defendant had ...


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