United States District Court, D. Maryland
Timothy J. Sullivan, United States Magistrate Judge.
pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment
(ECF No. 94) filed by Defendant Dolgencorp, LLC
(“Dollar General”). Having reviewed the
submissions of the parties (ECF No. 94, 107 & 109), I
find that a hearing is unnecessary. See Loc. R.
105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be
Betty Woods (“Woods”) alleges that on November
19, 2014, she went to the Dollar General store located in
Dundalk, Maryland, and that “[w]hile walking into the
[p]remises, [she] tripped on a buckled mat that was
improperly placed on the ground” and suffered injury.
(ECF No. 26 ¶¶ 2, 6.) In her First Amended
Complaint (“complaint”), Woods raises two claims
against Dollar General: Negligence (Count I) and Premises
Liability (Count II).
General moves for summary judgment on three grounds. First,
it argues that the buckled mat on which Woods tripped was an
open and obvious condition. Second, it argues that Woods was
contributorily negligent. Third, it argues that Woods assumed
the risk of injury. I will address each of these arguments in
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(a). The burden is on the moving party to
demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material
fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable
jury to render a verdict in favor of the party opposing the
motion, then a genuine dispute of material fact is presented
and summary judgment should be denied. See Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However,
the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the [opposing party's] position” is
insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.
Id. at 252. The facts themselves, and the inferences
to be drawn from the underlying facts, must be viewed in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).
Open and Obvious Condition
General argues that it is entitled to summary judgment
because the buckled mat upon which Woods was injured was an
open and obvious condition. (ECF No. 94-1 at 10-12.) In
Maryland, the elements of a negligence claim are “(1)
that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff
from injury, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3)
that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and (4)
that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the
defendant's breach of the duty.” Chicago Title
Ins. Co. v. Allfirst Bank, 394 Md. 270, 290 (2006). In a
claim involving premises liability, the status of the person
injured on the property at the time of the incident is
critical to determining the defendant's duty to that
person. A person invited or permitted to be on another's
property for purposes related to the owner's business is
an invitee. See, e.g., Wagner v. Doehring, 315 Md.
97, 102 (1989). In this case, there is no dispute that Woods
was an invitee on the premises. The duty of a landowner or
occupier to an invitee was summarized by the Court of Appeals
of Maryland in Mondawmin Corp. v. Kres, 258 Md. 307,
The Restatement of the Law of Torts, Second, sec. 343, sets
forth the standards governing the relationship of landowner
and business invitee with respect to a hazardous condition.
The landowner is subject to liability for harm caused by a
natural or artificial condition on his land if (a) he knows
or by the exercise of reasonable care could discover the
condition, (b) he should expect that invitees will not
discover the danger, or will fail to protect themselves
against it, (c) he invites entry upon the land without (1)
making the condition safe, or (2) giving a warning.
landowner owes a duty to warn of hidden dangers, an
“invitee has a duty to exercise due care for his or her
own safety.” Tennant v. Shoppers Food Warehouse Md.
Corp, 115 Md.App. 381, 389 (1997); see also Coleman
v. United States, 369 F. App'x 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.”) “An open and obvious condition is
where the condition and risk are apparent to and would be
recognized by a reasonable person in the position of a
visitor, exercising ordinary perception, intelligence, and
judgment.” Coleman, 369 F. App'x at 462
(internal quotation marks omitted). Determining whether a
condition constitutes an open and obvious danger is a
fact-specific inquiry that usually should be left for the
jury. See Feldman v. NVR, Inc., No. GJH-14-0672,
2014 WL 6066022, at *4 (D. Md. Nov. 12, 2014) (citing C
& M Builders, LLC v. Strub, 420 Md. 268, 287
(2011)); Diffendal v. Kash & Karry Serv. Corp.,
74 Md.App. 170, 175 (1988).
General contends that the mat was an open and obvious
condition. It notes that it “was large enough and it
contrasted the color of the sidewalk, such that it was easily
seen by the naked eye.” (ECF No. 94-1 at 11.) Woods
argues that Dollar General's argument misses the point.
She notes that the mat itself was not an open and obvious
condition because pedestrians walk upon mats every day
without incident. (ECF No. 107 at 8.) Woods argues that the
dangerous condition at issue was a buckling of the mat. This
buckling, according to Woods, was “not easily
discernable to the naked eye.” (Id.)
could reasonably find that the buckle in the mat was not so
apparent that a reasonable person in Woods' place would
have noticed it. The photographs attached to the parties'
submissions show a mat that is uneven on one side.
(See ECF Nos. 94-4 & 107-4.) As Dollar General
argues, the mat itself is obvious and a reasonable person in
Woods' place would have noticed the mat. What is not
obvious, however, is the wrinkle or buckle on one corner of
the mat. The facts of this case are unlike those in
Ramseur v. United States, 587 F.Supp.2d 672 (D. Md.
2007), where a plaintiff's high heel shoes were caught in
one of the holes of a perforated doormat. As Woods points
out, in this case the danger was not the mat itself, but a
barely visible defect in the placement of the mat. (ECF No.
107 at 8.)
addition, a reasonable jury might agree with Woods'
argument that “a reasonable person would not presume a
mat is something to be avoided or hazardous.”
(Id.) Although several courts in Maryland have held
that “small cracks, holes and uneven spots often
develop” on sidewalks, see, e.g., Sampson v. United
States, No. DKC-15-0243, 2017 WL 3022971, at *5-6 (D.
Md. July 17, 2017); Schaefer v. United States, No.
PX-15-2690, 2017 WL 250617, at *3-4 (D. Md. June 9, 2017);
Gellerman v. Shawan Road Hotel Ltd. P'ship, 5
F.Supp.2d 351, 353 (D. Md. 1998), there is no such consensus
regarding mats placed on sidewalks or near store
entranceways. See, e.g., Payne v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., No. SAG-10-2241, 2011 WL 6738501, at *2-3 (D. Md.
Dec. 21, 2011) (“Maryland courts typically deny summary
judgment motions in cases in which a store patron fell as a
result of an obstacle known to or created by store
employees.”); Williams-Stewart v. Shoppers Food
Warehouse Corp., No. JKS-13-2518, 2014 WL 4406895, at *4
(D. Md. Sept. 5, 2014); Fortini v. Advance Stores
Co., No. PWG-12-309, 2012 WL 6563235, at *2-3 (D. Md.
Dec. 13, 2012). Dollar General is not entitled to summary
judgment on the basis of its argument that the buckled mat
was an open and obvious condition.