United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Michael and
Kathy Chelst (ECF No. 44), has been fully briefed, and the
court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local
Rule 105.6. There are genuine disputes of material fact as to
whether the Plaintiff Robert Chehadeh (“Mr.
Chehadeh”) has established that a dangerous condition
existed, and if so, whether Defendant Michael Chelst
(“Mr. Chelst”) had a duty to warn of such a
condition, as well as, whether Plaintiff was contributorily
negligent, and whether an agency relationship existed, in
this premises liability case. For the following reasons, the
motion for summary judgment will be denied, in part, and the
claims against Defendant Kathy Chelst will be dismissed.
Robert Chehadeh, a closet designer employed by Closet
Stretchers (ECF No. 1 ¶ 4), first met Defendants Michael
Chelst and Clifton Dobson (“Mr. Dobson”) when
Defendants visited Mr. Chehadeh at Closet Stretchers to
inquire about extending a portion of Mr. Chelst's master
bedroom into the attic space above the garage. (ECF No. 44,
at 4). Mr. Dobson was a handyman hired by Mr. Chelst to
assist in home remodeling and alteration projects. (ECF No. 1
¶ 2). Following Plaintiff's meeting with those
Defendants, Plaintiff visited Mr. Chelst's home on May
23, 2013 for an inspection of the bathroom, closet, and
attic. (ECF No. 44, at 5). Mr. Chelst and Mr. Dobson
accompanied Plaintiff throughout the home during the
inspection. (Id.). While following Mr.
Dobson, and without first looking before he stepped,
Plaintiff entered the attic through a hole in Mr.
Chelst's bathroom wall, fell through the drywall, and
landed on the concrete floor of the garage below. (ECF No. 1
¶ 6). As a result, Plaintiff suffered a variety of
injuries, including fractures, a concussion, and chronic
pain. (Id. ¶ 8). Plaintiff alleges that Mr.
Dobson assured him that the attic was equipped with plywood
flooring that was safe to stand upon. Plywood flooring had
not been installed, however, and the attic consisted of only
wooden joists with drywall attached underneath separating the
garage from the attic. Due to this construction, the only
load-bearing footings for Plaintiff to stand upon were the
wooden joists. Defendant Mr. Chelst alleges that he did not
hear Mr. Dobson assure Plaintiff that the attic had plywood
flooring. The parties dispute: (1) the level of visibility
the bathroom lights provided the attic flooring; (2) whether
there were any internal attic windows and, if so, what level
of visibility they provided; (3) how long Mr. Dobson and Mr.
Chehadeh were in the attic before the fall; (4) whether Mr.
Chelst told Mr. Chehadeh after his fall that he was sorry
because Mr. Dobson was supposed to install plywood flooring
in the attic; and (5) whether the hole in the wall was made
by Mr. Dobson for this specific project or whether
firefighters broke a hole through the wall to check the attic
for smoke. Notably, the parties have not provided any
photographs or evidence of the relevant condition of the
attic, or the hole made to enter the attic. Defendant Mr.
Dobson is now deceased and has not been subject to a
deposition or otherwise submitted testimony in any form.
filed a complaint on May 11, 2016. (ECF No. 1).
Plaintiff's complaint alleges that his injuries were
proximately caused by the negligence of all three Defendants:
Mr. Chelst, Mrs. Chelst, and Mr. Dobson. Mr. Dobson passed
away on May 17, 2017. Defendants filed a suggestion of death
on May 11, 2018. (ECF No. 43). On May 14, 2018, Defendants
Mr. Chelst and Mrs. Chelst filed a motion for summary
judgment. (ECF No. 44). Plaintiff filed an opposition on June
15, 2018 (ECF No. 47), and Defendants Mr. Chelst and Mrs.
Chelst replied on June 21, 2018 (ECF No. 48). Plaintiff then
filed a consent motion for substitution of Defendant pursuant
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a) on July 31, 2018. (ECF No. 49). The
motion was granted on August 16, 2018, and the Estate of
Clifton Michael Dobson, c/o Marvin Liss, Personal
Representative was substituted for Mr. Dobson. (ECF No. 51).
Plaintiff was directed to serve Marvin Liss, Personal
Representative of the Estate of Clifton Michael Dobson, and
did so on August 30, 2018. (ECF No. 54). Defendant Marvin
Liss, Personal Representative of the Estate of Clifton
Michael Dobson, has not entered an appearance, or answered
the amended complaint. Plaintiff will be directed to file and
serve by mail on the Estate a motion for entry of default by
the Clerk or provide a report as to why such motion would be
Standard of Review
motion for summary judgment will be granted only if
“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); see Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986);
Emmett v. Johnson, 532 F.3d 291, 297 (4th
Cir. 2008). To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the
movant generally bears the burden of showing that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact. Liberty
Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248-50. A dispute about a material
fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Id. at 249. In undertaking this
inquiry, a court must view the facts and the reasonable
inferences drawn therefrom “in the light most favorable
to the party opposing the motion, ” Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
587 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc.,
369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also EEOC v. Navy Fed.
Credit Union, 424 F.3d 397, 405 (4th Cir.
2005), but 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) (citation omitted). If a party
“fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case .
. . which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial[,
]” there can be no “genuine issue as to any
material fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning
an essential element of the nonmoving party's case
necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.”
Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.
establish a prima facie case for negligence under Maryland
law, a plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant owed a duty to
protect the plaintiff from injury; (2) the defendant breached
that duty; (3) the plaintiff suffered an injury; and (4) the
defendant's breach was the proximate cause of the injury.
See Rosenblatt v. Exxon Co., U.S.A., 335 Md. 58, 76
(1994). In a negligence case postured under premises
liability, the evidence must show that: (1) a dangerous
condition existed; (2) the defendant had actual or
constructive knowledge of it; and (3) such knowledge was
gained in sufficient time to give the defendant the
opportunity to remove it or to warn of it. See Maans v.
Giant of Md., LLC, 161 Md.App. 620, 629 (2005). Under
Maryland law, “no presumption of negligence on the part
of the proprietor arises merely from a showing that an injury
was sustained [on] his [property].” Rawls v.
Hochschild, Kohn & Co., 207 Md. 113, 118-19 (1955).
Defendant Kathy Chelst
motion for summary judgment asserts that all claims against
Mrs. Chelst should be dismissed because, at the time of the
incident, Mrs. Chelst did not know about the master bathroom
closet renovation project, did not hire Mr. Dobson to
supervise, and did not know that Plaintiff came to inspect
her home. (ECF No. 44, at 8). Plaintiff's response to
Defendants' motion for summary judgment stipulates to a
voluntary dismissal with prejudice for Plaintiff's claims
against Mrs. Chelst. (ECF No. 47, at 2). All claims against
Mrs. Chelst are therefore dismissed.