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Benitez v. Namco Jefferson, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

February 18, 2015

ROXANA BENITEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NAMCO JEFFERSON, LLC, and ORION PROPERTY GROUP, LLC, Defendants.

ORDER

ROBERT E. LARSEN, Magistrate Judge.

Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment on both counts of plaintiff's petition on the grounds that her claims are barred by the release she signed in the lease agreement. I find that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether a reasonable person would be on notice that the release clause included the common areas of the apartment complex based on the address of 11530 Holiday Dr. #2111 being listed in that paragraph, and a genuine issue of material fact exists as to the relationship between NAMCO Jefferson, LLC, and Orion Property Group, LLC, to Jefferson Place East, the landlord in this lease agreement. Therefore, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 29, 2014, plaintiff filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, against defendants NAMCO Jefferson, LLC, and Orion Property Group, LLC. The petition alleges two counts of negligence, one against each of the defendants, stemming from plaintiff's fall on stairs at the apartment complex where she resided. Plaintiff alleges that defendants were negligent in failing to remove ice from the stairs, causing her fall. On July 14, 2014, defendants removed the action to federal district court. On January 7, 2015, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Defendants argue that plaintiff's claims are barred by a paragraph in the lease agreement entitled, "RELEASE OF LANDLORD FROM PAST AND FUTURE NEGLIGENCE" which plaintiff initialed in addition to signing the lease agreement.

On January 28, 2015, plaintiff filed suggestions in opposition, arguing that the exculpatory clause is not enforceable because (1) the description of the area covered by the clause is ambiguous, (2) the clause does not clearly disclose who is being released, and (3) the clause did not effectively notify plaintiff that she was releasing defendants from claims arising from their negligence because it was written in English and plaintiff cannot read English.

On February 13, 2015, defendants filed reply suggestions, arguing that (1) because the clause used the street address of the apartment complex, it covered all common areas of the apartment complex, (2) the clause clearly released both the landlord and the landlord's agents, and the fact that those unambiguous terms are not defined in the lease agreement does not cause the release to be unenforceable, and (3) the standard for effective notice is from the perspective of a reasonable person, not plaintiff herself.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Rule 56(c), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, permits summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

The key to determining whether summary judgment is proper is ascertaining whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if: (1) there is a dispute of fact; (2) the disputed fact is material to the outcome of the case; and (3) the dispute is genuine, that is, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. American Academy of Family Physicians v. United States, 75 A.F.T.R.2d 95-1709 (W.D. Mo. 1995), aff'd 91 F.3d 1155 (8th Cir. 1996). The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of proving that these requirements for summary judgment have been met. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970).

In a summary judgment analysis, a court must first consider whether there are any issues of fact. If the only issues are issues of law, then summary judgment is appropriate. Disesa v. St. Louis Community College, 79 F.3d 92, 94 (8th Cir. 1996). If issues of fact are raised, a court must consider whether these issues are material to the outcome of the case. Materiality is identified by the substantive law that is to be applied. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. Factual disputes that are collateral to the substantive law will not preclude summary judgment. Id.

In addition to the requirement that a dispute of fact be material, the dispute must also be genuine. A dispute of fact is considered genuine if the non-moving party has produced sufficient evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for that party. Id. at 249. When considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in its favor. Id. at 255. If the evidence submitted by the non-moving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, then summary judgment may be granted. Id. at 249-250.

Where the party moving for summary judgment does not bear the burden of proof at trial, that party must show "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). This burden is met when the moving party identifies portions of the record demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. If the moving party meets the requirement, the burden shifts to the non-moving party who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 474 U.S. at 248. The trial judge then determines whether a trial is needed - "whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250.

III. UNDISPUTED FACTS

The facts listed in blue below are found to be undisputed. I note that plaintiff, in her response, included "additional material facts that remain in dispute." However, plaintiff presents all of these additional facts as undisputed. Because, as is stated in the Scheduling Order, a material disputed fact is required to defeat a motion for ...


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