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Ianniello v. San Rocco, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 1, 2019

LUCY IANNIELLO Plaintiff,
v.
SAN ROCCO, INC. d/b/a THE WELLINGTON HOTEL Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Lucy Ianniello filed this negligence action against San Rocco, Inc. d/b/a/ The Wellington Hotel (“San Rocco”). ECF 1. Pending before this Court is San Rocco's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF 35. The issues have been fully briefed, ECF 35, 38, 41, and no hearing is necessary, see Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons stated below, San Rocco's Motion will be denied.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The facts below are taken in the light most favorable to Ianniello, the non-moving party. In July of 2014, Ianniello was vacationing in Ocean City, Maryland and staying at The Wellington Hotel. ECF 10 ¶ 6. Ianniello was staying on the second floor of the hotel, and the only way to access her room was an outdoor wood staircase that had a handrail on one side. ECF 38-1 at 4-5. She had been at the hotel for at least one day prior to July 16, 2014. Ianniello Dep. 19:9-17; ECF 35-4 at 3.

         On or about the morning of July 16, 2014, Ianniello exited the hotel room to get a cup of coffee “a few minutes walk away from the hotel, ” and then returned to her hotel room. Ianniello Dep. 26:5-27:9. At some point in her trip out to get coffee, Ianniello saw the hotel manager and San Rocco's corporate designee, Sal D'Ascoli, who told her to be careful, [1] which Ianniello took to mean, “Be careful coming down the step[s].” Ianniello Dep. 33:6-33:18; see also D'Ascoli Dep. 5:1-15. After her return, Ianniello left her room once more with her coffee and an umbrella, and she slipped while coming down the last few stairs. Ianniello Dep. 27:3-27:8. It had been raining when Ianniello went to get coffee, but the rain became much heavier by the time she left her room the second time. Id. 29:12-29:20. Ianniello suffered bodily injuries from her fall, including a fractured ankle. ECF 10 ¶ 7. Ianniello, through this action, seeks compensatory damages from San Rocco, alleging negligence. ECF 10.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that the 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). San Rocco, as the moving party, bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material facts. See Casey v. Geek Squad, 823 F.Supp.2d 334, 348 (D. Md. 2011). If San Rocco establishes that there is no evidence to support Ianniello's case, the burden then shifts to Ianniello to proffer specific facts to show a genuine issue exists for trial. Id. Ianniello must provide enough admissible evidence to “carry the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 349 (quoting Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1315-16 (4th Cir. 1993)). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of Ianniello's position is insufficient; rather, there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for Ianniello. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Moreover, a genuine issue of material fact cannot rest on “mere speculation, or building one inference upon another.” Casey, 823 F.Supp.2d at 349. Additionally, summary judgment shall be warranted if the non-moving party fails to provide evidence that establishes an essential element of the case. Ianniello “must produce competent evidence on each element of his or her claim.” Miskin v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 107 F.Supp.2d 669, 671 (D. Md. 1999). If Ianniello fails to do so, “there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, ” because the failure to prove an essential element of the case “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); see also Casey, 823 F.Supp.2d at 348-49. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the facts and inferences “in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Since the alleged tort and resulting injury occurred in Maryland, Maryland substantive law determines Plaintiff's burden of proof and what constitutes a “material fact.” See Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496-97 (1941); Branhaven, LLC v. BeefTek, Inc., 965 F.Supp.2d 650, 664 (D. Md. 2013) (“When a claim is based on state law, the choice of law rules are those of the state in which the district court sits.”); Lab. Corp. of America v. Hood, 911 A.2d 841, 845 (Md. 2006) (holding that, in a tort action, Maryland applies the law of the state where the injury occurred). Under well-established Maryland negligence jurisprudence, a properly pleaded claim of negligence includes four elements. Plaintiff must show: (1) that Defendant was under a duty to protect Plaintiff from injury; (2) that Defendant breached that duty; (3) that Defendant's breach of the duty proximately caused the loss or injury suffered by Plaintiff; and (4) that Plaintiff suffered actual loss or injury. See Troxel v. Iguana Cantina, 201 Md.App. 476, 495 (2011). In premises liability cases, the duty of care owed by a landowner is determined by the legal classification of the entrant. See Deboy v. City of Crisfield, 167 Md.App. 548, 555 (2006). That is, the duty of care varies according to whether the visitor is an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Id.

         The business invitee is owed the highest duty of care. See Deboy, 167 Md.App. at 555. A landowner must “exercise reasonable care to protect the invitee from injury caused by an unreasonable risk that the invitee would be unlikely to perceive in the exercise of ordinary care for his or her own safety, and about which the owner knows or could have discovered in the exercise of reasonable care.” Rybas v. Riverview Hotel Corp., 21 F.Supp.3d 548, 561 (2014). More specifically, the duties of a landowner to a business invitee include “the obligation to warn invitees of known hidden dangers, a duty to inspect, and a duty to take reasonable precautions against foreseeable dangers.” Id. A business invitee can reasonably assume that a landowner will exercise reasonable care to “ascertain the condition of the premises, and if [the landowner] discovers any unsafe condition [he or she] will either take such action as will correct the condition and make it reasonably safe or give a warning of the unsafe condition.” Rawls v. Hochschild, Kohn & Co., 207 Md. 113, 117-18 (1955).

         Despite the heightened duty owed to the business invitee, a landowner is not required to be an insurer of the invitee's safety. Id. at 118. The invitee has a duty to observe his or her surroundings and “exercise due care for his or her own safety.” Rybas, 21 F.Supp.3d at 562. As a result, a landowner has no duty to warn against open, obvious, and present dangers. Id. Nor does a presumption of negligence arise solely because an invitee was injured on a landowner's premises. See Rawls, 207 Md. at 118.

         To prove that a landowner breached his duty, the business invitee must show “not only that a dangerous condition existed, but also that the proprietor ‘had actual or constructive knowledge of it, and that that knowledge was gained in sufficient time to give the owner the opportunity to remove it or to warn the invitee.'” Rehn v. Westfield America, 153 Md.App. 586, 593, 837 A.2d 981, 984 (2003) (quoting Keene v. Arlan's Dep't Store of Baltimore, Inc., 35 Md.App. 250, 256, 370 A.2d 124, 128 (1977)). The invitee must proffer evidence indicating the landowner,

could have discovered the condition by the exercise of ordinary care [because] the dangerous condition existed for a length of time sufficient to permit a person under a duty to discover it if [he or she] exercised ordinary care [and the] failure to discover it may in itself be evidence of negligence sufficient to charge [the landowner] with knowledge of it.

Rawls, 207 Md. at 120. The facts and circumstances of each individual case shall determine whether the length of time taken to remedy or warn of a dangerous condition confers liability upon a landowner. Id. at 122. Evidence indicating the “nature of the condition, its foreseeable consequences, the means and opportunities of discovering it, the diligence required to discover and correct it, and the foresight which a person of ordinary prudence would have exercised under similar circumstances” should all be considered. Id. In a motion for summary judgment, “where it might reasonably be decided that the [landowner] could have discovered the dangerous condition by the exercise of reasonable care, the case should be submitted to the jury.” Id. However, where no inference ...


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