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Potts v. City of St. Louis

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

September 27, 2016

RHONDA POTTS, Appellant,
v.
CITY OF ST. LOUIS, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Julian L. Bush

          KURT S. ODENWALD, JUDGE

         Introduction

         Appellant Rhonda Potts ("Potts") appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment for Respondent City of St. Louis ("City") on her claim for damages suffered after a fall on a city sidewalk. The trial court found that Potts did not provide the City adequate notice of her injuries as required by Section 82.210, [1] which defeated her claim. Potts contends that the notice she provided the City substantially complied with the statute's notice requirements. Because we cannot conclude on the facts provided that Potts's notice was deficient as a matter of law, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for a hearing under the procedure prescribed by Travis v. City of Kansas City, 491 S.W.2d 521, 523-24 (Mo. banc 1973).

         Factual and Procedural History

         Potts severely injured her right foot during a fall on a city sidewalk. Pursuant to Section 82.210, Potts's attorney sent a letter to the Mayor of St. Louis, within the statutory timeframe, stating in part:

This letter is written pursuant to §82.210 R.S.Mo., §77.600 R.S.Mo. and all other Missouri Statutes and is to place the City of St. Louis on notice of its responsibility for injuries sustained by Rhonda Potts on June 14, 2013. Ms. Potts was injured when she fell on the sidewalk/curb area outside of St. Louis Loan and Jewelry located at 2906 Union Blvd. in the City of St. Louis. It is the position of my client that the City of St. Louis is responsible for the damage she has suffered as a result of the above incident. It is her intention to assert a claim for said damages against the City of St. Louis.

         Over a year later, Potts sued the City to recover damages for her injuries. Potts's petition alleged that she sustained severe injuries when she tripped and fell on an allegedly uneven city sidewalk. The City raised as an affirmative defense Potts's failure to comply with Section 82.210, contending that she did not provide adequate written notice of her injuries within the required statutory timeframe.

         After substantial discovery, the City moved for summary judgment on its affirmative defense of ineffective notice. The City argued that Potts's notice was deficient because it failed to describe the circumstances of her injury in that the letter did not inform the City of any defective condition on or near the city sidewalk. The City asserted in its Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts that the population of the City of St. Louis exceeded 100, 000 inhabitants, that Potts's petition alleged that her injuries were caused by the defective condition of a city sidewalk, and that Potts's Section 82.210 notice did not describe the dangerous or defective condition of the city sidewalk. In addition to other attachments, the City included affidavits in its motion for summary judgment from a legal investigator and a street inspector involved with Potts's case. The affidavit of the legal investigator stated that the City received Potts's notice, that Potts refused to provide a statement in the claims process, and that the legal investigator was unable to determine if the City was liable for Potts's claim. The affidavit of the street inspector stated that he inspected the sidewalk at 2906 Union Boulevard after Potts filed her petition, and he was unable to determine the cause of her fall. The reasons for the inability of the legal investigator to determine the City's liability on Potts's claim and the inability of the street inspector to ascertain the cause of Potts's injury were not included in the City's Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts.

         Potts countered that the liberal requirements as to the contents of the notice were satisfied because the letter naturally pointed investigators to the precise location of the city sidewalk in front of 2906 Union Boulevard. Potts asserted as an additional uncontroverted material fact that the City sent her attorney a letter denying liability for her injuries.

         The trial court granted summary judgment for the City, finding that Potts's letter did not provide the City with adequate notice of the circumstances of her injury as required by statute, and was therefore a bar to her claim. Specifically, the trial court determined that the notice informed the City that it was responsible for the injury Potts suffered "when she fell on the sidewalk/curb area, but the city was not advised of the circumstances of the fall, such as she fell because of the defective condition of the city's sidewalk, or because she was hit by the fire department while it was answering a call, or because a city employee punched her in the nose." As a result, the trial court reasoned that the City would not know if it should inspect the sidewalk, interview the fire department, or interview violent city employees. The trial court concluded, "[T]he notice fails to point the city in the right direction. (Although most sensible people would be able to make a pretty good assessment as to the most fruitful place to begin.) And so it is inadequate."

         Accordingly, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the City on Potts's claim, This appeal follows.

         Points on Appeal

         In her sole point on appeal, Potts argues that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the City because she provided sufficient notice to the City of her claim as required by Section 82.210, in ...


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