Johnson et al v. Logans Roadhouse Inc
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER - For the reasons discussed above, the Court (1) DENIES as moot the defendants motion to strike, (2) DENIES the defendants motion for summary judgment with respect to Ms. Johnsons negligence claim, and (3) GRANTS the defe ndants motion for summary judgment with respect to Ms. Johnsons wantonness claim. The Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE Ms. Johnsons wantonness claim and asks the Clerk to please term Docs. 22 and 30. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 9/2/2016. (KEK)
2016 Sep-02 AM 11:19
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LORETTA JOHNSON and RAY
LOGAN’S ROADHOUSE, INC.,
Case No.: 5:14-cv-02037-MHH
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Loretta Johnson sued defendant Logan’s Roadhouse, Inc. after she
slipped and fell in the women’s restroom at a Logan’s Roadhouse restaurant. Ms.
Johnson asserts claims against Logan’s Roadhouse for negligence and wantonness.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, Logan’s Roadhouse has asked the
Court to enter judgment in its favor on both of Ms. Johnson’s claims. (Doc. 22).
For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion
for summary judgment.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). To demonstrate that there is a genuine
dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a
motion for summary judgment must cite “to particular parts of materials in the
record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information,
affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the
motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must
view the evidence in the record and draw reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789
F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015).
“The court need consider only the cited
materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. Johnson, reveals
that on September 24, 2012, she went to the Logan’s Roadhouse restaurant in
Huntsville, Alabama to meet friends. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 34-35). While she was at the
restaurant, Ms. Johnson went to the women’s restroom. (Doc. 32-1, p. 35). She
was walking with the assistance of a cane. (Doc. 32-1, p. 36). 1
Ms. Johnson was walking with the assistance of a cane because in 2007, she injured her right
knee, and she had knee replacement surgery. (Doc. 32-1, p. 9). As a result of the knee
replacement surgery, Ms. Johnson developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which causes severe
pain in her right leg. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 7, 10). In 2011, Ms. Johnson tore the meniscus in her left
knee, which required arthroscopic surgery. (Doc. 32-1, p. 24).
When she reached the restroom door, she held her cane in her right hand and
used her left hand to push the door open. (Doc. 32-1, p. 38). Ms. Johnson took
two steps into the restroom and allowed the door to begin closing behind her.
(Doc. 32-1, pp. 40-41). Ms. Johnson reports that as she took her third step, her
cane slipped because the bathroom floor was flooded with water. (Doc. 32-1, pp.
40-41). Ms. Johnson did not fall to the ground, but her cane and her right foot
slipped forward. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 47-49). Ms. Johnson stabilized herself with her
left leg and was able to prevent herself from landing in the water. (Doc. 32-1, pp.
47-49). Ms. Johnson heard a popping sound and then felt pain in her shoulder and
her right hip. (Doc. 32-1, p. 47). Although there was another woman in one of the
restroom’s stalls when Ms. Johnson slipped (Doc. 32-1, p. 43), no one witnessed
At the time of the incident, there was between a quarter-inch and a half-inch
of water covering the restroom floor. (Doc. 32-1, p. 42). According to Ms.
Johnson, the water “came over the sole” of her “Ugg” boots, and she “had to slosh
to walk through” the water. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 34, 42). Although nothing obstructed
Ms. Johnson’s view of the water, she did not notice the water until she slipped.
(Doc. 32-1, pp. 42-43). Ms. Johnson testified in her deposition that she would
have seen the water immediately if she had looked down when she opened the
restroom door. (Doc. 32-1, p. 43). The water on the restroom floor was clear; it
did not appear to contain sewage. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 43-44).
When Ms. Johnson fell, there was an orange, three-foot-tall “wet floor” sign
in the middle of the restroom floor near the stalls. (Doc. 32-1, p. 50). 2 Ms.
Johnson testified that once she was completely inside of the restroom, nothing
obstructed her view of the warning sign. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 67-68). It is unclear
whether Ms. Johnson could see the warning sign before she slipped.
After Ms. Johnson slipped, she used the restroom, “sloshed through the
water,” and washed her hands. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 43, 49-50). Ms. Johnson then left
the restroom and spoke to the restaurant’s host. (Doc. 32-1, p. 51). As the host
walked Ms. Johnson to a table, Ms. Johnson told the host what happened and asked
to speak to a manager. (Doc. 32-1, p. 51). A manager came to Ms. Johnson’s
table, and Ms. Johnson explained what happened and told the manger that she “was
(Doc. 32-1, p. 51).
A little later, the manager came back to Ms.
Johnson’s table and told Ms. Johnson that she used towels to dry off the restroom
The parties offer conflicting evidence about the location of the wet floor sign. Ms. Johnson
testified that the sign was inside of the restroom. (Doc. 32-1, p. 50). The defendant’s corporate
representative testified that the sign was just outside of the restroom. (Doc. 32-2, p. 21) (“There
was a wet floor sign outside of the restroom. . . . [T]he way that the bathroom is designed, when
you walk in, there’s an air drier right there and a hand sink not far from it. We chose to put the
wet floor sign in front of the door. There’s more space, you see it right away, versus on the
inside where it would get hit, you could move it with the -- with the door the way that door
opened. There’s no space right there.”).
floor. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 51-52). While at the restaurant, Ms. Johnson did not ask for
medical care or treatment. (Doc. 32-1, p. 58).
Several days later, Ms. Johnson called the restaurant and spoke to the
restaurant’s general manager, Randall Yarbrough.
(Doc. 32-1, p. 57).
Yarbrough told Ms. Johnson that one of the toilets in the women’s restroom had to
be replaced. (Doc. 32-1, p. 59).
Logan’s Roadhouse restaurants have an inspection policy that requires
restaurant employees to inspect the restrooms every 15 minutes. (Doc. 32-2, pp.
63-64). Pursuant to this policy, restaurant employees use a checklist to ensure that
the floors are clean, the counters are dry, and the toilet paper is stocked. (Doc. 322, p. 64).
Before this incident, Ms. Johnson had visited the Logan’s restaurant in
Huntsville many times. (Doc. 32-1, p. 33). Ms. Johnson did not have difficulties
during her previous visits. (Doc. 32-1, p. 33).
On September 23, 2014, Ms. Johnson filed a complaint against Logan’s
Roadhouse in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Alabama. In the complaint,
Ms. Johnson asserts claims for negligence, gross negligence, and wantonness.
(Doc. 1-1). 3 Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Logan’s
Ms. Johnson’s husband, Ray Johnson, also asserted a loss of consortium claim against Logan’s
Roadhouse. After Mr. Johnson filed a motion for voluntarily dismissal (Doc. 13), the Court
dismissed Mr. Johnson’s claim against Logan’s without prejudice (Doc. 14).
Roadhouse asks the Court to enter judgment in its favor on all of Ms. Johnson’s
claims. (Docs. 22, 23). The parties have fully briefed the summary judgment
motion. (Docs. 26, 29). In addition to her brief, Ms. Johnson filed an affidavit in
opposition to the summary judgment motion. (Doc. 27-1). Logan’s has filed a
motion to strike that affidavit. (Doc. 30). On this record, the Court considers the
motion to strike and the motion for summary judgment.
A. Motion to Strike
Logan’s Roadhouse urges the Court to strike Ms. Johnson’s affidavit from
the summary judgment record because Logan’s believes that some of the
information that Ms. Johnson provided in her affidavit contradicts testimony that
Ms. Johnson gave under oath during her deposition. “When a party has given clear
answers to unambiguous questions which negate the existence of any genuine issue
of material fact, that party cannot thereafter create such an issue with an affidavit
that merely contradicts, without explanation, previously given clear testimony.”
Van T. Junkins & Associates, Inc. v. U.S. Indus., Inc., 736 F.2d 656, 657 (11th Cir.
Logan’s contends that Ms. Johnson has taken inconsistent positions about
the point at which she saw the water on the floor of the women’s restroom. (Doc.
30, pp. 1-2). During her deposition, Ms. Johnson testified that as she pushed the
restroom door inward to open it, she took two steps into the restroom and slipped
as she began to release the door and take her third step. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 40-42).
Ms. Johnson also testified that nothing was obstructing her view of the water, and
if she had looked down as she opened the restroom door, she would have seen the
water on the floor. (Doc. 32-1, pp. 43, 50). In her affidavit, Ms. Johnson stated:
As I entered through the door, I placed my cane in front of me and
used it to help me move into the restroom. At the same time that I
placed weight on the cane, I saw water on the floor and the cane
I did not have any opportunity to see the water before my cane
After I slipped, I could see that standing clear water covered the floor.
(Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 4-6).
Although the Court can envision ways to reconcile Ms. Johnson’s affidavit
and her deposition testimony, the Court does not need to reach the issue because
the Court relies on other evidence to deny Logan’s Restaurant’s summary
judgment motion on Ms. Johnson’s negligence claim.
Restaurant’s motion to strike is moot.4
In its motion to strike, Logan’s Roadhouse also expresses concern about Ms. Johnson’s
testimony concerning statements that Mr. Yarbrough, the restaurant manager, made to her about
a faulty toilet in the women’s restroom. Compare Doc. 24-1, p. 32 and Doc. 27-1, pp. 2-3, ¶ 9.
In assessing Logan’s motion for summary judgment, the Court did not consider this evidence.
B. Motion for Summary Judgment
“In [a] premises-liability case, the elements of negligence are the same as
those in any tort litigation: duty, breach of duty, cause in fact, proximate or legal
cause, and damages.” Sessions v. Nonnenmann, 842 So. 2d 649, 651 (Ala. 2002)
(quoting Ex parte Harold L. Martine Distrib. Co., 769 So. 2d 313, 314 (Ala.
2000)) (internal quotation marks omitted). 5 The duty of a premises owner to an
injured person depends on the status of the injured person in relation to the owner’s
property. Galaxy Cable, Inc. v. Davis, 58 So. 3d 93, 98 (Ala. 2010). In this case,
Ms. Johnson was a business invitee when she fell at the restaurant. See Jones Food
Co. v. Shipman, 981 So. 2d 355, 361 (Ala. 2006) (“Under Alabama law, a person
invited onto another’s premises for commercial purposes is an invitee.”) (citing Ex
parte Mountain Top Indoor Flea Market, Inc., 699 So. 2d 158, 161 (Ala. 1997)).
“[A] landowner owes an invitee the duty to keep the premises in a
reasonably safe condition and, if the premises are unsafe, to warn of hidden defects
and dangers that are known to the landowner but that are hidden or unknown to the
invitee.” Galaxy Cable, 58 So. 3d at 98. “The entire basis of an invitor’s liability
rests upon his superior knowledge of the danger that causes the invitee’s injuries.
The parties do not dispute that Alabama law governs Ms. Johnson’s tort claims. Their position
is consistent with Alabama’s place of injury rule.
If that superior knowledge is lacking, as when the danger is obvious, the invitor
cannot be held liable.” Sessions, 842 So. 2d at 652.
a. Duty to Warn
It is well-settled that a wet floor inside a place of business like a restaurant
constitutes an unsafe condition for the business’s customers. See, e.g., Terrell v.
Warehouse Groceries, 364 So. 2d 675, 676 (Ala. 1978). Logan’s argues that Ms.
Johnson’s negligence claim fails as a matter of law because the water on the
restroom floor was open and obvious, and therefore, Logan’s did not have a duty to
warn Ms. Johnson of the standing water in its bathroom. (Doc. 23, pp. 14-17).
“[T]he owner of premises has no duty to warn an invitee of open and
obvious defects in the premises which the invitee is aware of, or should be aware
of, in the exercise of reasonable care on the invitee’s part.” Dolgencorp, Inc. v.
Taylor, 28 So. 3d 737, 742 (Ala. 2009) (quoting Mountain Top Indoor Flea
Market, 699 So. 2d at 161) (internal quotation marks omitted). In other words,
proof of an open and obvious hazard negates an invitor’s duty to warn an invitee of
the hazard. See Sessions, 842 So. 2d at 652. Courts use an objective standard to
assess whether a hazard is open and obvious. See Dolgencorp, 28 So. 3d at 741-42
(noting that the question is whether the invitee should have observed the hazard,
not whether the invitee actually appreciated it). “[E]ach case must be examined in
light of its particular circumstances.” See Gray v. Mobile Greyhound Park, Ltd.,
370 So. 2d 1384, 1389 (Ala. 1979) (quoting Terrell v. Warehouse Groceries, 364
So. 2d 675, 677 (Ala. 1978) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, the Court
must determine whether an objectively reasonable person in Ms. Johnson’s
circumstances would have noticed and appreciated the dangerousness of the water
on the restaurant’s restroom floor.
The material facts concerning the water on the restroom floor are these: Ms.
Johnson testified that there was between a quarter-inch to a half-inch of water
covering the restroom floor, that the water came over the sole of her boots, and that
she had to “slosh” through the water. Additionally, Ms. Johnson testified that she
took between two and three steps into the restroom before she slipped. (Doc. 32-1,
pp. 40-41). The record does not indicate how quickly Ms. Johnson entered the
restroom or how much time transpired between her first and third step. More
importantly, the record does not indicate whether the bottom of the restroom door
was low enough to move the water on the floor as the door opened, such that the
water would have been concealed from view until a person was fully inside the
restroom, beyond the door. Without knowing these facts, the Court cannot find as
a matter of law that an objectively reasonable person would have seen and
appreciated the danger that the water on the bathroom floor presented. See Ex
parte Kraatz, 775 So. 2d 801, 804 (Ala. 2000) (“Questions of openness and
obviousness of a defect or danger and of an [invitee’s] knowledge are generally not
to be resolved on a motion for summary judgment.”) (quoting Harding v. Pierce
Hardy Real Estate, 628 So. 2d 461, 463 (Ala. 1993) (internal quotation marks
omitted)); see also Kraatz, 775 So. 2d at 804 (“The variable factors which make
openness-and-obviousness under partial or poor light conditions a fact question not
appropriate for resolution by summary judgment are direction, level, color,
diffusion, shadows, and like qualities of light, as well as the other physical features
of the scene.”).
Logan’s cites Sheikh v. Lakeshore Foundation, 64 So. 3d 1055 (Ala. Civ.
App. 2010), to support its contention that water at a depth of between a quarterinch and a half-inch covering a restroom floor would be obvious to an objectively
The plaintiff in Sheikh “was exercising at Lakeshore’s
[physical rehabilitation] facility when he tripped over some cables on the floor and,
as a result, was injured.” Id. at 1057. “The cables were approximately three inches
above the floor and were being used to connect a wheelchair containing another
person who was also exercising to an exercise machine.” Id. The plaintiff asserted
a premises liability claim against the Lakeshore Foundation.
The trial court found that the hazard that the cables presented was open and
obvious as a matter of law, and the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the
trial court’s decision. In doing so, the Court of Civil Appeals noted that the
plaintiff had exercised at the rehabilitation facility nearly 500 times over a period
of four years, Lakeshore routinely connected wheelchairs to exercise machines
with cables, and the color of the cables contrasted distinctively with the color of
the underlying carpet. Id. at 1060. Additionally, the Court of Civil Appeals stated
that “a person utilizing an exercise facility is on notice to watch his or her path of
travel because. . . there are many potential small hazards below eye level
inherently present at an exercise facility that may be present in his or her path.” Id.
There are several significant distinctions between the facts in the instant case
and those in Sheikh. First, nothing in the record suggests that Logan’s had a
routine practice of flooding its restroom floors such that its customers would be on
notice that water might be standing on the bathroom floor. To the contrary,
Logan’s had a policy that required employees to inspect the bathrooms every 15
minutes, presumably for customer safety and comfort. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 63-64).
Second, the water on the restroom floor was clear and, thus, did not stand out like
the cables in Sheikh.
Third, a person walking into a public restroom is not
expected to pay as much attention to her path of travel as is a person walking
through a gym, because while a person might reasonably expect to find a few drops
of water on the basin counter and on the floor in a public restroom, a full half-inch
of water is not inherently present on public restroom floors. Therefore, a factfinder
must determine whether the water on the restroom floor at Logan’s was open and
b. Knowledge of Hazard
Logan’s alternatively contends that it did not have a duty to warn Ms.
Johnson because Ms. Johnson has not established that Logan’s either knew or
should have known of the water on the restroom floor. (Doc. 23, pp. 19-22). To
establish that Logan’s had a duty to warn Ms. Johnson of the water on the restroom
floor, Ms. Johnson must prove that Logan’s had actual or constructive notice of the
dangerous condition. See Maddox By and Through Maddox v. K-Mart Corp., 565
So. 2d 14, 16 (Ala. 1990). Specifically, Ms. Johnson must prove:
(1) that the substance slipped upon had been on the floor a sufficient
length of time to impute constructive notice to [Logan’s]; or (2) that
[Logan’s] had actual notice that the substance was on the floor; or (3)
that [Logan’s] was delinquent in not discovering and removing the
See Dunklin v. Winn-Dixie of Montgomery, Inc., 595 So. 2d 463, 464 (Ala. 1992).
Although there is no evidence that Logan’s was aware of the quantity of
water on the floor of the women’s restroom when Ms. Johnson slipped, the fact
that Logan’s placed a wet floor sign in or around the restroom demonstrates that
Logan’s was aware of at least some water on the restroom floor. Additionally, the
defendant’s corporate representative testified that Logan’s did not continuously
display a wet floor sign in or around the restrooms. (Doc. 32-2, p. 66). This
evidence permits a reasonable inference that a Logan’s employee learned that the
floor was wet and then displayed the warning sign. Therefore, there is sufficient
evidence to allow a factfinder to determine whether Logan’s had actual notice of
the hazardous condition at issue.
c. Breach of Duty
Logan’s also asserts that “to the extent that any duty to warn arose, Logan’s
satisfied that duty.” (Doc. 23, pp. 17-19). In other words, Logan’s asserts that it
did not breach the duty to warn Ms. Johnson of the water on its restroom floor.
Although Logan’s attempted to warn its customers of a wet floor by displaying a
wet floor sign, the exact placement of the sign and the extent to which it effectively
warned customers of the wet floor in the women’s restroom is disputed.
Additionally, the question of whether a defendant breached a duty of care generally
is a question of fact to be resolved by a jury. See Jones Food, 981 So. 2d at 361.
Therefore, the Court declines to find as a matter of law that Logan’s did not breach
its duty to warn Ms. Johnson of the water on its restroom floor.
Under Alabama law, wantonness is defined as “the conscious doing of some
act or the omission of some duty, while knowing of the existing conditions and
being conscious that, from doing or omitting to do an act, injury will likely or
probably result.” See Alfa Mut. Ins. Co. v. Roush, 723 So. 2d 1250, 1256 (Ala.
1998). Nothing in the record suggests that Logan’s or its employees consciously
acted or failed to act with knowledge that injury was likely to occur. The record
demonstrates that Logan’s placed a wet floor sign either in the restroom or
immediately outside of the restroom.
There is no evidence that someone
consciously placed the sign in a location in which it was difficult to see.
Therefore, Logan’s is entitled to summary judgment on Ms. Johnson’s wantonness
For the reasons discussed above, the Court (1) DENIES as moot the
defendant’s motion to strike, (2) DENIES the defendant’s motion for summary
judgment with respect to Ms. Johnson’s negligence claim, and (3) GRANTS the
defendant’s motion for summary judgment with respect to Ms. Johnson’s
wantonness claim. The Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE Ms. Johnson’s
wantonness claim and asks the Clerk to please term Docs. 22 and 30.
DONE and ORDERED this September 2, 2016.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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