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McAlister v. Gatlinburg Roadhouse Investors

August 28, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge


This civil action is before the court for consideration of the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant [doc. 21]. Plaintiffs have filed a response [doc. 27]. The court has determined that oral argument is unnecessary, and the motion is ripe for the court's consideration and determination.

Plaintiff*fn1 has brought suit for personal injuries she allegedly sustained in a fall at a restaurant operated by the defendant. Plaintiff contends that the defendant was negligent in allowing a dangerous condition to exist at the restaurant, peanut shells on the floor, which resulted in her falling and being injured. For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be denied.

I. Background

On May 20, 2005, plaintiff and her husband, Franklin McAlister,*fn2 and their friends Dorothy and Hubert Huffman went to dine at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Plaintiff and Dorothy Huffman were seated upon entry to the restaurant while their husbands went to the restroom. They were seated at a booth that required a step up to the seats. After being seated a few minutes, both ladies decided to go to the restroom as well.

Dorothy Huffman was first to exit the booth on her side and observed the plaintiff as she exited her side of the booth. Just before she stepped down, the plaintiff slipped and fell backwards landing on the floor and on the step of the booth. She hit her right hip on the step and her head and right shoulder on the floor. There were peanut hulls on the back of plaintiff's clothes and hair after the fall.

II. Summary Judgment

Standard Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate when "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 judgment as a matter of law." Canderm Pharmacal, Ltd. v. Elder Pharms., Inc., 862 F.2d 597, 601 (6th Cir. 1988) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). The moving party may discharge its burden by demonstrating that the non-moving party has failed to establish an essential element of that party's case for which he or she bears the ultimate burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party need not support its motion with affidavits or other materials negating the opponent's claim. Id. at 323. Although the moving party has the initial burden, that burden may be discharged by a "showing" to the district court that there is an absence of evidence in support of the non-moving party's case. Id. at 325 (emphasis in original).

After the moving party has carried its initial burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). "The 'mere possibility' of a factual dispute is not enough." Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 582 (6th Cir. 1992) (citing Gregg v. Allen-Bradley Co., 801 F.2d 859, 863 (6th Cir. 1986)). In order to defeat the motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must present probative evidence that supports its complaint. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). The non-moving party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in that party's favor. Id. at 255. The court determines whether the evidence requires submission to a jury or whether one party must prevail as a matter of law because the issue is so one-sided. Id. at 251-52.

III. Analysis

Premises liability law in Tennessee provides: Owners or occupiers of business premises are not insurers of their customers' safety. However, because of their superior knowledge of the premises, premises owners have a duty to use reasonable care to protect their customers from unreasonable risks of harm. This duty includes maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition either by removing or repairing potentially dangerous conditions or by helping customers and guests avoid injury by warning them of the existence of dangerous conditions that cannot, as a practical matter, be removed or repaired.

Psillas v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc., 66 S.W.3d 860, 864 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) (internal citations omitted). Further, to hold an owner or premises operator liable for negligence in permitting a dangerous or defective condition to exist on its premises, a plaintiff must demonstrate, in addition to the elements of negligence, that "1) the condition was caused or created by the owner, operator, or his agent, or 2) if the condition was created by someone other than the owner, operator, or his agent, that the owner or operator had actual or constructive notice that the condition existed prior to the accident." Blair v. West Town Mall, 130 S.W.3d 761, 764 (Tenn. 2004) (citations omitted).

Defendant's basis for seeking summary judgment is that plaintiff's testimony is speculative as to causation and this bars her negligence claim. Defendant argues that plaintiff assumes she slipped on the peanut shells because they were "everywhere" but that she cannot specifically identify the cause of her fall. Plaintiff testified that the lighting was appropriate; she did not see peanut shells under the table when she walked to the booth; there were no liquids under or near the table; no one in her party consumed peanuts before the fall; and she ...

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