McDuffie, Jr. et al v. Hillstone Restaurant Group, Inc. et al
ORDER & REASONS that Defendant's 38 Motion for Summary Judgment is hereby DENIED. Signed by Judge Eldon E. Fallon on 9/12/2017. (cms)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
DUNWOODIE A. MCDUFFIE, ET AL.
HILLSTONE RESTAURANT GROUP, INC, ET AL.
SECTION "L" (5)
ORDER & REASONS
Before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. R. Doc. 38. Plaintiff
opposes the motion. R. Doc. 50. Having reviewed the parties’ briefs and the applicable law, the
Court now issues this Order & Reasons.
This case involves a claim for injuries sustained as a result of a slip-and-fall at a Houston’s
Restaurant. On May 27, 2015, Plaintiff Dunwoodie McDuffie, Jr. was eating dinner at a Houston’s
Restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana. R. Doc. 1-1 at 1. While walking to the restroom he fell,
allegedly because of a “dimly-lit step” in the hallway to the restroom. R. Doc. 1-1 at 1. Plaintiffs
allege this condition constituted a hazard and presented an unreasonable risk of harm, which
caused Plaintiff’s alleged injuries. R. Doc. 1-1 at 1. Initially, Plaintiffs filed suit against Hillstone
Restaurant Group, which operated the Houston’s Restaurant, Travelers Indemnity Company, the
liability insurer, and Carmon Carrillo, the manager at Houston’s at the time of the alleged accident.
R. Doc. 1-1 at 2. Plaintiffs have since dismissed their claims against Ms. Carrillo. R. Doc. 7.
According to Plaintiffs, Mr. McDuffie sustained injuries to his ankle, shoulder, neck, back,
and head as a result of the fall. R. Doc. 1-1 at 2. Plaintiffs seek general and special damages,
including medical expenses, lost wages, and lost earning capacity. Additionally, Cheryl McDuffie
seeks recovery for damages resulting from loss of companionship and consortium. R. Doc. 1-1 at
3. Defendants timely removed the case to the Eastern District of Louisiana on May 20, 2016. R.
Doc. 1. They allege the Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. R. Doc. 1 at 2.
A. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (R. Doc. 38)
Defendants Hillstone Restaurant Group, Inc. (“Hillstone”) and its liability insurer,
Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut, argue that because there is no evidence of the
alleged defect or of Defendants’ knowledge of such a defect, Defendants are entitled to judgment
as a matter of law. R. Doc. 38-3 at 1. Defendant argues that there is no competent testimony
showing any defect with the steps or lighting of the steps. R. Doc. 38-3 at 2. Further, Defendant
argues that there is nothing showing that employees of Hillstone were aware of any problems
with the lighting and that no prior incidents on the stairs had been reported. R. Doc. 38-3 at 4.
B. Plaintiff’s Response (R. Doc. 50)
Plaintiff responds arguing that there are facts in dispute precluding summary judgment.
R. Doc. 50 at 2. Plaintiff argues that the issue in this case is not whether the steps were a defect,
but whether the steps created an unreasonable risk of harm. R. Doc. 50 at 2-3. Plaintiff argues
that this is a question for the finder of fact and cannot be resolved on summary judgment. R.
Doc. 50 at 3.
A. Summary Judgment Standard (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56)
Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). “Rule 56(c) mandates the
entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party
who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that
party’s case, and on which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. A party moving for
summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for summary judgment and
identifying those portions of the record, discovery, and any affidavits supporting the conclusion
that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. If the moving party meets that burden,
then the nonmoving party must use evidence cognizable under Rule 56 to demonstrate the
existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 324.
A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1996).
“[U]nsubstantiated assertions,” “conclusory allegations,” and merely colorable factual bases are
insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92, 97 (5th
Cir. 1994); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. In ruling on a summary judgment motion, a
court may not resolve credibility issues or weigh evidence. See Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's Inc.,
939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991). Furthermore, a court must assess the evidence, review the
facts and draw any appropriate inferences based on the evidence in the light most favorable to the
party opposing summary judgment. See Daniels v. City of Arlington, Tex., 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th
Cir. 2001); Reid v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 784 F.2d 577, 578 (5th Cir. 1986).
B. Louisiana Law of Premises Liability
Until 1996, the Louisiana Civil Code imposed a form of strict liability upon the owners of
things and buildings. Article 2317 provides that, “[w]e are responsible, not only for the damage
occasioned by our own act, but for that which is caused by the act of persons for whom we are
answerable, or of the things which we have in our custody.” In 1996, the Louisiana legislature
enacted article 2317.1 which altered the strict liability landscape in Louisiana by injecting a fault
element into the analysis of liability. After this amendment, a plaintiff proceeding on a theory of
premises liability under article 2317.1 must prove that: “(1) the thing which caused damages was
in the control or custody of the defendant; (2) the thing had a defect that created an unreasonable
risk of harm; (3) the injuries were caused by the defect; and (4) the defendant had actual or
constructive knowledge of the defect.” Nelson v. Louisiana Stadium and Exposition Dist., 832
So.2d 1043, 1047 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2007).
C. Burden of Proof in Claims Against Merchants (La. R.S. § 2800.6)
Under Louisiana law, “[a] merchant owes a duty to persons who use his premises to
exercise reasonable care to keep his aisles, passageways, and floors in a reasonably safe
condition.” La. R.S. § 9:2800.6. “In a negligence claim brought against a merchant ... for
damages as a result of an injury ... sustained because of a fall,” the plaintiff must prove, in
addition to elements of negligence, all of the following:
(1) The condition presented an unreasonable risk of harm to the claimant and that
risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable;
(2) The merchant either created or had actual or constructive notice of the
condition which caused the damage, prior to the occurrence;
(3) The merchant failed to exercise reasonable care. In determining reasonable
care, the absence of a written or verbal uniform cleanup or safety procedure is
insufficient, alone, to prove failure to exercise reasonable care.
Here, the parties dispute whether there was a defect in the lighting of the stairs, causing
an unreasonable risk, as well as whether the Defendant was aware of the alleged defect or
unreasonable risk. Central to this dispute is how much light was directed at the staircase at the
time of Plaintiff’s accident. Defendant states that there is no evidence that the stairs were
inadequately illuminated. Plaintiff claims that the stairs were an unreasonable risk because of
poor lighting. Having reviewed the relevant documents, including photographs of the accident
site and deposition testimony, the Court finds that this issue is a disputed material fact.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment is hereby DENIED.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 12th day of September, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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