Monique Couvillion v. Speedway, LLC
Filed Nonprecedential Disposition PER CURIAM. AFFIRMED. Diane P. Wood, Chief Judge; Frank H. Easterbrook, Circuit Judge and Diane S. Sykes, Circuit Judge, dissenting. [6806591-1]  [16-1202]
To be cited only in accordance with Fed. R. App. P. 32.1
United States Court of Appeals
For the Seventh Circuit
Chicago, Illinois 60604
Argued September 12, 2016
Decided December 22, 2016
DIANE P. WOOD, Chief Judge
FRANK H. EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge
DIANE S. SYKES, Circuit Judge
Appeal from the United
States District Court for the
Southern District of Indiana,
Denise K. LaRue, Magistrate
Monique Couvillion injured herself while adding air to her car’s tires at a Speedway
service station in Cumberland, Indiana. Either her foot or the air hose snagged on a pal-‐‑
let of salt bags near the air pump, and she fell awkwardly. The parties agreed to have a
magistrate judge decide this suit, see 28 U.S.C. §636(c), which rests on the diversity ju-‐‑
The magistrate judge granted summary judgment to Speedway, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
6383 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 20, 2016), ruling that it could not be liable because the pallet was
easy to see (Couvillion admits seeing it) and Speedway had no reason to anticipate that
accidents would ensue. The fall occurred in daylight and no other elements, such as
snow, obscured the view. The magistrate judge applied the standards in Restatement
(Second) of Torts §§ 343, 343A (1965), which Indiana has adopted for use in premises-‐‑
liability cases. See, e.g., Douglass v. Irvin, 549 N.E.2d 368 (Ind. 1990).
We affirm for substantially the reasons given in the magistrate judge’s opinion,
though we briefly discuss Couvillion’s principal appellate arguments.
She maintains that, even though the pallets were visible, she did not appreciate the
tripping hazard and therefore should be able to recover. This is a subjective, plaintiff-‐‑
specific line of argument. But Indiana law poses an objective inquiry: It asks how own-‐‑
ers of business premises should expect reasonable customers to understand and react to
risks, not how careless ones might proceed. See, e.g., Miller v. Rosehill Hotels, LLC, 45
N.E.3d 15, 20 (Ind. App. 2015) (a risk is “‘[o]bvious’ [and not a source of liability if] both
the condition and the risk are apparent to and would be recognized by a reasona-‐‑
ble person, in the position of the visitor, exercising ordinary perception, intelligence, and
judgment.”) (emphasis added).
Couvillion also contends that Indiana’s courts favor jury trials in tort suits. See, e.g.,
Countrymark Cooperative, Inc. v. Hammes, 892 N.E.2d 683, 688 (Ind. App. 2008) (“negli-‐‑
gence cases are especially fact sensitive and are governed by a standard of the objective
reasonable person—one best applied by a jury after hearing all of the evidence.”) (cita-‐‑
tions and internal quotation marks omitted); Yates v. Johnson County Board of Commis-‐‑
sioners, 888 N.E.2d 842, 847 (Ind. App. 2008); Winchell v. Guy, 857 N.E.2d 1024, 1026–27
(Ind. App. 2006). Maybe Indiana’s judiciary would have submitted Couvillion’s claim to
a jury. But federal rules govern the allocation of tasks between judge and jury in federal
court. See, e.g., Mayer v. Gary Partners & Co., 29 F.3d 330 (7th Cir. 1994). In federal prac-‐‑
tice, reflected in Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, the absence of a material factual dispute means that a
judge will resolve the case by summary judgment. We know from Walker v. Armco Steel
Corp., 446 U.S. 740 (1980), and other decisions, that federal procedure governs all federal
cases, even if this implies an outcome different from the one likely in state court.
SYKES, Circuit Judge, dissenting. Monique Couvillion sustained a serious injury when
she tripped and fell while using the air pump at a Speedway service station in
Cumberland, Indiana. Two wooden pallets stacked with bags of salt surrounded the
pump on either side. To access the air hose, Couvillion had to position her car between
the pallets and navigate around them while filling her tires. She fell when her foot or
the air hose caught on one of the pallets.
Couvillion sued Speedway in state court alleging that it negligently maintained the
premises, creating a dangerous condition that caused her injury. Speedway removed
the case to federal court. A magistrate judge entered summary judgment for Speedway
and Couvillion appealed.
The parties agree that Indiana’s law of premises liability applies. Indiana has
adopted §§ 343 and 343A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts:
§ 343. A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to his
invitees by a condition on the land if, but only if, he
(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition,
and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such
(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail
to protect themselves against it, and
(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.
§ 343A(1). A possessor of land is not liable to his invitees for physical harm
caused to them by any activity or condition on the land whose danger is known
or obvious to them, unless the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such
knowledge or obviousness.
RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS §§ 343, 343A(1) (AM. LAW INST. 2016).
The magistrate judge held that no reasonable jury could find that Speedway had
breached its duty of care under §§ 343 and 343A. My colleagues affirm that decision,
but they give short shrift to a key part of the liability analysis summarized in §§ 343 and
When a known or obvious premises condition causes injury, the landowner is
subject to liability if a reasonable landowner would anticipate that (1) invitees will fail
to protect themselves against the condition, or (2) harm may occur despite the
obviousness of the condition or an invitee’s actual awareness of it. The commentary to
§ 343A elaborates on these liability principles:
f. There are, however, cases in which the possessor of land can and should
anticipate that the dangerous condition will cause physical harm to the invitee
notwithstanding its known or obvious danger. In such cases the possessor is not
relieved of the duty of reasonable care which he owes to the invitee for his
protection. This duty may require him to warn the invitee, or to take other reasonable
steps to protect him, against the known or obvious condition or activity, if the possessor
has reason to expect that the invitee will nevertheless suffer physical harm.
Such reason to expect harm to the visitor from known or obvious dangers may
arise, for example, where the possessor has reason to expect that the invitee’s attention
may be distracted, so that he will not discover what is obvious, or will forget what he has
discovered, or fail to protect himself against it.
Id. § 343A(1) cmt. f (emphases added).
Accordingly, Indiana courts have recognized that “in the proper case, a landowner
may anticipate that a known or obvious danger will cause harm to the invitee when, for
example, there is reason to expect that the invitee’s attention may be distracted.” Merrill
v. Knauf Fiber Glass GmbH, 771 N.E.2d 1258, 1267 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002).
Applying these standards here, a reasonable jury could find that Speedway should
have anticipated that customers using ordinary care for their own safety would
nonetheless misapprehend the risk presented by the pallets or fail to protect themselves
against it. Speedway positioned the pallets on either side of the air pump, blocking
access to the pump from the sides. To access the air hose, a customer had to park
directly in front of the pump, at an angle between the pallets, leaving little room to
navigate on foot to reach the vehicle’s tires while using the pump. Speedway’s
placement of the pallets thus created both a tripping hazard and an obstacle for the air
hose to catch on. A reasonable jury could conclude that even though the presence of the
pallets was obvious (and Couvillion was in fact aware of them), Speedway should have
anticipated that its customers could become distracted while filling their tires or
otherwise would fail to adequately protect themselves against the danger presented by
the two pallets placed so near to the air pump.
Finally, I have a brief comment about the summary judgment standard. My
colleagues write that “[i]n federal practice, reflected in Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, the absence of
a material factual dispute means that a judge will resolve the case by summary
judgment.” Order at 2. Not so. Under Rule 56 (and in state practice), a judge may
resolve the case by summary judgment only if there is no material factual dispute “and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a) (emphasis
added); see also IND. R. TRIAL P. 56(C). The historical facts are undisputed here, but it
doesn’t follow that a judge decides liability. Couvillion is entitled to have a jury
determine Speedway’s liability unless on this record no reasonable jury could find a
breach of duty under §§ 343 and 343A. I’ve already explained why a reasonable jury
could find that Speedway breached its duty to invitees.
I would reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case for a jury
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