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Medley v. Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

April 7, 2015

GWENDOLYN MEDLEY, Respondent,
v.
JOYCE MEYER MINISTRIES, INC., Appellant

Page 491

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. 1222-CC09664. Honorable Edward W. Sweeney, Jr.

FOR APPELLANT: James C. Morris, Stephen J. Moore, St. Louis, MO.

FOR RESPONDENT: Matthew J. Devoti, Clayton, MO.

ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, Judge. Patricia L. Cohen, P.J., and Roy L. Richter, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 492

ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, Judge.

Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc. (" Defendant" ) appeals the judgment entered upon a jury verdict awarding Gwendolyn Medley (" Plaintiff" ) $280,000.00 on her personal injury claim arising out of Plaintiff's trip and fall during a conference hosted by Defendant at the Edward Jones Dome (" the Dome" ). We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Evidence Adduced at Trial and Plaintiff's Personal Injury Claim

The following evidence was adduced at the jury trial on Plaintiff's personal injury claim. On September 17, 2010, Defendant hosted a women's conference at the Dome (" the conference" ). At least 12,000 women, including Plaintiff, attended the conference.

Defendant set up a " boutique" area in the Dome for the display and sale of its merchandise to women attending the conference. Defendant considered the boutique to be a store. The merchandise at the boutique included items such as t-shirts, tote bags, purses, and key chains.

In the boutique area, Defendant placed a display which the parties referred to at trial as the " window display." The window display was a three-dimensional storefront, measuring sixteen feet long, eight feet tall, and forty-two inches deep. The front of the window display had a black frame and was twelve inches wide along its length, including a part that rested on the floor of the boutique. The window display had two purposes, to " look pretty" and to notify attendees of the conference of the boutique's location.

Defendant made the decision to create the window display, to use the display, and where to place the display. Defendant also designed and constructed the window display and made a floor plan which included Defendant's desired location of the display. After Defendant submitted the floor plan to the Dome, Defendant placed the window display in the boutique at the place of Defendant's choosing as set forth in Defendant's floor plan. Two of Defendant's employees, Michelle Wieczorek and Lonnie Turnbeaugh, admitted at trial that

Page 493

it would have been feasible for Defendant to place the window display in another location at the Dome. Turnbeaugh specifically testified that, " We could put [the window display] anywhere we wanted to."

On the day of the conference, Plaintiff went to the boutique area to purchase a t-shirt. At that time, there were several women waiting in line to get into the boutique, and witnesses at trial described the environment as " chaotic" and " congested." Employees from Defendant's advertising department managed traffic flow in and out of the boutique, holding people back and allowing only a few women into the boutique at a time until others exited.

Plaintiff eventually entered the boutique and purchased a t-shirt. As Plaintiff began exiting the boutique, she stepped toward the front of the window display to allow another person room to pass beside her. Plaintiff then hit her lower leg on the display and tripped and fell, scraping her shin on the board at the bottom that framed the display and injuring her ankle.

Subsequently, Plaintiff sought medical treatment for her injuries, and she filed a personal injury claim against Defendant based on a theory of premises liability. Plaintiff's petition alleged in relevant part that, (1) because of the relationship between Defendant and Plaintiff, Plaintiff was an invitee of the Defendant; (2) " Defendant controlled or had the right to control that area of the premises in which Defendant constructed, or caused to be constructed, the [b]outique and in which Defendant placed, or caused to be placed, the [window] [d]isplay" ; (3) Defendant negligently placed the window display in an area Defendant anticipated would be crowded and congested with attendees of the conference; and (4) Plaintiff suffered injuries and damages as a result of Defendant's negligence.

B. Evidence Excluded at Trial

At trial, Defendant attempted to present evidence of a license agreement entered into by the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (" the CVC" )[1] and Defendant which allowed Defendant to use a portion of the Dome for the purpose of hosting the conference. Defendant also attempted to present other documentary evidence regarding the CVC's involvement in the conference. Plaintiff objected to the admission of the documents on the basis that they were not relevant, and the trial court sustained the objection and considered the documentary evidence for the purposes of Defendant's offer of proof.[2]

Defendant then made an offer of proof during which multiple witnesses testified regarding the CVC's involvement in the conference and the CVC and Defendant's relationship. After the offer of proof, the trial court found in pertinent part that, (1) there was no evidence to suggest that Defendant was not in possession of the premises where Plaintiff's injury occurred; (2) the only relevant relationship in the case was the relationship between Plaintiff and Defendant; and (3) the evidence presented by Defendant in its offer of proof was not relevant. Accordingly, the trial court excluded evidence of the license agreement, excluded evidence regarding the CVC's involvement in the conference, and excluded

Page 494

testimony regarding the CVC and Defendant's relationship.

C. Relevant Procedural Posture

After Defendant's offer of proof, the court held an instruction conference. Plaintiff's proposed verdict director, which the trial court submitted as Instruction No. 8, was based on Missouri Approved Instruction (" MAI" ) 22.03 (7th ed. 2012)[3] and MAI 37.01 and stated:

In your verdict you must assess a percentage of fault to [Defendant], whether or not [P]laintiff was partly at fault, if you believe:
First, there was a window display on the floor of [D]efendant's boutique and as a result the floor ...

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