United States District Court, D. Maryland
STACEY UHLER, et al.
OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE OF FLORIDA, LLC t/a Outback Steakhouse
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Outback Steakhouse of Florida, LLC (“Defendant”
or “Outback”) filed a motion for summary judgment
in this personal injury case on May 2, 2018. (ECF No. 18).
The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules,
no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the
following reasons, the motion for summary judgment will be
February 9, 2017, Plaintiff Stacey Uhler
(“Plaintiff”) and her friend, Virginia Wills
(“Ms. Wills”), visited Defendant's restaurant
in Prince Frederick, Maryland (the “restaurant”).
(ECF No. 21-4, at 19-20). Plaintiff arrived at the restaurant
sometime between 11:30 am and 11:40 am. (Id. at 33).
Plaintiff and Ms. Wills were seated at booth 18 (ECF No.
21-6, at 7, p. 23), which was situated at floor level (ECF
No. 21-4, at 34) and set with two sets of silverware rolled
in separate cloth napkins (ECF Nos. 21-4, at 21-23; 21-6, at
7, p. 24). Ms. Shannon Mundo (“Ms. Mundo”), a
server at Defendant's restaurant, served Plaintiff and
Ms. Wills. (ECF Nos. 21-6, at 4, p. 13; 21-7, at 5, p. 14).
Shortly after taking her seat, Plaintiff placed her napkin on
her lap and arranged her silverware on the
table. (ECF No. 21-4, at 22). Outback staff
brought no additional napkins to the table during the time
that Plaintiff and Ms. Wills dined. (Id. at 23).
After Plaintiff paid for lunch (ECF No. 21-5 ¶ 4), Ms.
Mundo placed the receipt in a checkbook and delivered it to
Plaintiff's table around 12:55 pm. (ECF No. 21-6, at 6,
effort to use the restroom while Ms. Wills engaged in a phone
call, Plaintiff stood up to exit the booth. (ECF No. 21-4, at
24-25). Immediately after standing up and taking a step
toward the restroom, Plaintiff fell in front of booth 18,
within Ms. Wills' line of vision. (ECF No. 21-4, at 34).
Plaintiff states that she wore rubber-soled boots on the day
of the accident (id. at 36), and previously
encountered no trouble walking in the boots (id.).
Plaintiff alleges that an Outback employee had dropped a
cloth napkin next to Plaintiff's booth and “her
foot touched down on the napkin[, ] causing her foot to go
out from under her . . . resulting in her landing on the
floor.” (ECF No. 2 ¶ 5).
the fall, an ambulance transported Plaintiff to Calvert
Memorial Hospital, where Plaintiff learned that her ankle was
fractured and dislocated. (ECF No. 21-4, at 39-46).
Physicians at Calvert Memorial Hospital twice attempted to
reset Plaintiff's ankle. (Id. at 38-40). Due to
the severity of her injuries, Plaintiff was relocated to
Washington Hospital Center, where physicians again attempted
to reset her ankle. (Id. at 41). The next morning,
upon release from Washington Hospital Center, physicians
informed Plaintiff that her injuries required surgery.
(Id. at 42). After waiting for the swelling in her
ankle to subside, Plaintiff underwent initial surgery on
February 15, 2017 and additional surgery on February 23,
2017. (Id. at 43-45). Beginning May 9, 2017,
Plaintiff sought treatment through a course of physical
therapy. (Id. at 53-54). Plaintiff testified that
she continues to experience occasional pain and stiffness due
to the permanent plates implanted in her ankle. (Id.
at 55). Plaintiff also has ongoing pain in her knees,
shoulder, and lower back. (Id. at 60).
August 23, 2017, Plaintiff and her husband Richard Uhler
(collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint in
the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, against
Defendant as a result of injuries suffered by Plaintiff after
she slipped and fell at Defendant's
restaurant. (ECF No. 2). Defendant removed the case to
this court based on diversity jurisdiction on November 21,
2017. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition
on May 21, 2018 (ECF No. 21), and Defendant replied on June
5, 2018 (ECF No. 22).
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.
Analysis A. Negligence
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 defendant's breach proximately caused
plaintiff's injury; and (4) the plaintiff suffered an
injury. See Rosenblatt v. Exxon Co.,
U.S.A., 335 Md. 58, 76 (1994).
of any negligence cause of action begins by determining
whether a legally cognizable duty existed. The duty Defendant
owed to Plaintiff depends on Plaintiff's status while
present on Defendant's property. Jackson v. A.M.F.
Bowling Centers, Inc., 128 F.Supp.2d 307, 311
(D.Md. 2001) (citing Rowley v. Mayor & City
Council of Baltimore, 305 Md. 456, 464-65 (1986)).
business invitee is ‘one invited or permitted to enter
another's property for purposes related to the
landowner's business.'” Id. (quoting
Tennant v. Shoppers Food Warehouse Md. Corp., 115
Md.App. 381, 388 (1997)). Plaintiff entered Defendant's
establishment as a consumer and was thus a business invitee.
Here, neither party disputes that Plaintiff was a business
invitee on Defendant's property and that Defendant owed
Plaintiff a duty of care in maintaining the restaurant. (ECF
Nos. 18; 21-1, at 3, 15). Maryland applies the standard
articulated in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343
(1965) when analyzing a private landowner's duty to an
possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm
caused to his invitees by a condition ...