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Chehadeh v. Chelst

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 29, 2018




         The 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.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff 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.[1] (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.

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff 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 inappropriate.

         II. Standard of Review

         A 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.

         III. Analysis

         To 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).

         A. Defendant Kathy Chelst

         Defendants' 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.

         B. Defendant ...

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