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Fowler v. Midas Hospitality, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 25, 2019

CATHERINE FOWLER, Plaintiff,
v.
MIDAS HOSPITALITY, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DAVID D. NOCE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendants for summary judgment. The Court heard arguments on the motion on April 19, 2019. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Catherine Fowler has brought a negligence claim against defendants Midas Hospitality, LLC, and Midas St. Peters, LLC. Plaintiff alleges that on December 16, 2016, she fell on ice when she was a guest at the Courtyard Marriott St. Peters, located at 4341 Veterans Memorial Parkway, St. Peters, Missouri. (Doc. 54 at ¶ 1, Doc. 56 at ¶ 1). She claims that defendants owned, operated, managed, or controlled the hotel, and there was ice on the walkway located immediately outside the main entrance of the hotel. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3). Plaintiff claims that under the innkeeper-guest special relationship, both defendants were under an enhanced, affirmative obligation to act with reasonable care to protect guests from injuries while on the premises, and that they were negligent in failing to address the walkway's dangerous condition. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5). As a result of the fall, plaintiff claims she injured her left hip and femur, requiring surgery. (Id. at ¶ 6).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper “if there is no dispute of material fact and reasonable fact finders could not find in favor of the nonmoving party.” Shrable v. Eaton Corp., 695 F.3d 768, 770-71 (8th Cir. 2012). The party moving for summary judgment must show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact on which the non-moving party has the burden of proof and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate that disputes of fact do exist. Id.

         A fact is “material” if it could affect the ultimate disposition of the case, and a factual dispute is “genuine” if there is substantial evidence to support a reasonable jury verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Rademacher v. HBE Corp., 645 F.3d 1005, 1010 (8th Cir. 2011). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and accord it the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         III. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are without substantial dispute. Defendant Midas Hospitality has a management contract to manage the Courtyard Marriott St. Peters hotel, which is owned by defendant Midas St. Peters. (Doc. 54, ¶ 7; Doc. 56, ¶ 7). The hotel is a Marriott franchise subject to Marriott brand standards, which require that the hotel operator “must ensure that all sidewalks and stairways are clear of ice and snow by using sand or salt as needed.” (Doc. 58, ¶ 11). Because of this Marriott brand standard, on December 16, 2016, around 4 p.m., the hotel's chief engineer applied ice melt or salt to the hotel walkway, in an effort to make the walkway safe. (Id. at ¶ 9; Doc. 58, ¶¶ 7-8, 12). Defendants made no further inspection of the walkway for the next three and a half hours and are uncertain whether the walkway needed additional salt during this time. (Doc. 58, ¶¶ 9-10).

         Meanwhile, plaintiff's brother drove plaintiff and his wife from Kansas to St. Charles, Missouri, to attend a cousin's funeral. (Doc. 54, ¶ 10; Doc. 56, ¶ 10). The driving conditions were bad because of an ice storm that produced freezing rain and snow: vehicles were travelling approximately 30 miles per hour on the interstate, and plaintiff's brother observed cars off of the road, in the median, and on the shoulder. (Id. at ¶ 12). By the time plaintiff arrived at the hotel, between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m., “I-70 was a parking lot.” (Id. at ¶ 14).

         Plaintiff's brother pulled into the circular drive in front of the hotel, parking under a covered area. (Id. at ¶ 15). Plaintiff and her sister-in-law got out of the car and took the luggage into the hotel, while plaintiff's brother moved the car to a handicapped spot. (Id.). The weather was misty, and there was no ice or snow accumulating on the hotel walkway at the time plaintiff and her brother arrived at the hotel. (Id. at ¶ 16; Doc. 58, ¶ 4). Plaintiff's party checked into the hotel, and after about 30 minutes in their hotel room, they decided to get dinner. (Doc. 54, ¶ 17; Doc. 56, ¶ 17). Plaintiff and her brother walked out to the car around 7:30 p.m., while plaintiff's sister-in-law waited in the lobby for them to pull the car around. (Id. at ¶ 19). As he left the hotel lobby, plaintiff's brother noticed that the walkway was wet. (Id. at ¶ 20). He slipped on the sidewalk but did not fall. (Id. at ¶ 21). Neither plaintiff nor her brother saw ice or snow accumulating on the hotel walkway when they exited the hotel, nor did they see any type of salt or ice melt on the walkway. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23; Doc. 58 at ¶ 5). Plaintiff did not see anyone shoveling or applying salt or ice melt or any trucks plowing the drive. (Doc. 54, ¶ 24; Doc. 56, ¶ 24). Plaintiff suddenly felt both feet go out from underneath her and she fell. (Id. at ¶ 26). As she lay on the ground, plaintiff felt ice on the hotel walkway. (Id. at ¶ 27). Neither plaintiff nor her brother saw any type of salt or ice melt on the walkway after plaintiff's fall. (Id. at ¶¶ 28-29).

         The parties dispute whose responsibility it was to apply ice melt or salt to the hotel walkway. ¶ 8. They dispute the length of the drive to St. Charles. ¶ 11. The parties dispute that it was “cold” at the time of her fall and the cause of the ground being wet: defendants maintain that it was misting enough to make the ground wet, while plaintiff argues there is no specific evidence in the record of the precise cause of why the ground was wet at the time. (Id. at ¶ 16). It is uncontroverted, however, that defendants were aware “there was a weather event” that began several hours before plaintiff's fall. Defendants claim that plaintiff's brother warned plaintiff prior to walking out to the car that it was a little slick. Plaintiff denies this. (Id. at ¶ 18). Plaintiff also denies that she could tell the sidewalk was slick and feel her feet slipping a bit before her fall. (Id. at ¶ 25).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         In this diversity action, both sides invoke Missouri law as the substantive rules of decision. 28 U.S.C. § 1652. Under Missouri law, in order to establish a premises ...


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