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Haney v. Marriott Int'l

October 9, 2007

ENOCH KELLY HANEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARRIOTT INT'L, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This diversity case arises from a slip-and-fall incident at the Marriott Metro Center in Washington, D.C. On November 12, 2002 plaintiff, Enoch Kelly Haney, fell in the bathtub of his hotel room, sustaining injuries to his head and shoulder in the process. The next day, plaintiff was allegedly told by a Marriott employee that the hotel would pay his hospital costs if he sought medical assistance. Plaintiff then proceeded to go to the emergency room for treatment of his injuries before flying home to Oklahoma. Because his shoulder pain lingered for several weeks, plaintiff sought further medical treatment in Oklahoma, and ultimately had surgery to repair the damage allegedly caused by his fall. Plaintiff then brought suit against the Marriott in a District of Columbia court, alleging both negligence and breach of contract claims. Defendant removed the case to this Court and discovery ensued. At the close of discovery, following unsuccessful settlement negotiations, defendant moved for summary judgment on both grounds. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant defendant's motion.

BACKGROUND

The operative facts of this case are not in dispute. In November, 2002 plaintiff -- then an Oklahoma State Senator -- was visiting Washington to meet with Oklahoma's congressional delegates. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1 at 5. During the course of that trip, plaintiff was a guest at the Marriott at Metro Center, which is owned by defendant Marriott International, Inc. (hereinafter "Marriott"). Id. at 3. On the afternoon of November 12, 2002 plaintiff, intending to shower, entered the bathroom of his hotel room and turned on the water in the bathtub. Id.; Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff had showered in this tub on previous occasions without incident. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1 at 5. Upon entering the tub this time, however, after he had "both feet" on the surface of the tub plaintiff felt his feet "slip up" beneath him. Id. Struggling to avoid ramming into the hand rail in the shower on his way down, plaintiff fell to the floor of the tub, sustaining a minor blow to his head and more extensive injuries to his left shoulder. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff explained in his deposition that at the time of his fall he had yet to use any soap or shampoo and that he did not notice "[a]nything else unusual about the floor of the tub." Id. at 6.

After recovering from the fall and drying himself off, plaintiff phoned his associate Thomas Smith to assist him. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1 at 7. Mr. Smith proceeded to the front desk of the Marriott and informed the employee there that plaintiff had fallen in the tub and inquired of her as to what steps he needed to take at this time. Id. at 8. The employee advised that plaintiff wait until the next day to gauge the seriousness of his injuries and he did so. Id. The next morning plaintiff's arm was "really swollen up," and he spoke with Mr. Fletcher at the Marriott front desk, who allegedly informed plaintiff that the Marriott would "take care of the cost" of plaintiff's hospital visit. Id. Plaintiff then went to The George Washington University Hospital where he was diagnosed with a left shoulder strain. Id. at 9. After that, plaintiff returned home to Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, plaintiff continued to experience pain in his shoulder for several weeks following the fall and decided to seek further medical assistance from Dr. German in Oklahoma. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1 at 9. Following a series of physical therapy sessions that failed to relieve his shoulder pain, plaintiff underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in 2003. Id. at 9-10. For a period of time following the surgery, plaintiff lost use of his left arm entirely because it was in a sling. Id. at 10. Moreover, due to the combination of the injury and the surgery's after-effects, plaintiff -- who, in addition to being a legislator, is a recognized artist who owns his own art gallery business (id. at 4) -- was unable to work on his sculptures and other projects. Id. at 10. Thus, plaintiff's income suffered in 2003 (as compared to 2002) due to the fact that he could not sculpt and sell his artwork during the period following his injury and surgery. Id. at 10-11.

After plaintiff's fall, Marriott officials contacted him on several occasions with offers to pay him $300 -- plaintiff's medical bill from The George Washington University Hospital totaled $192.25 -- in return for a release from all potential claims. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Exs. 5-7, 9. Plaintiff declined to accept Marriott's offer. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 8. Instead, plaintiff brought a suit in negligence in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia alleging that the bathtub in his hotel room was "not safe for normal use" because it lacked a sufficiently slip-resistant surface and consequently caused him to fall that afternoon. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. He has also asserted a breach of contract claim concerning Marriott's alleged promise to pay his medical expenses, which he now estimates total $23,000. Id. at 13 n.2. Plaintiff seeks damages for "medical expenses, physical therapy, loss of income, pain and suffering, prescription costs, and other similarly related consequential damages." Compl. ¶ b. Defendant removed the case to this Court, and following a lengthy discovery process now moves for summary judgment on both counts of plaintiff's Complaint.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by "informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).

In determining whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the non-moving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-movant fails to offer "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Id. at 252.

DISCUSSION

In Count I of his Complaint, plaintiff seeks damages on the grounds that defendant's negligence in maintaining the bathroom shower caused his fall and his resulting injuries. In Count II, he alleges that defendant breached an agreement to pay for plaintiff's medical costs associated with the treatment of his injuries. The Court will address both counts in turn.

A. Negligence

Defendant makes two main relevant arguments in support of summary judgment. First, defendant contends that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate an appropriate standard of care that would allow a jury to determine whether defendant breached any duty owed to plaintiff. In addition, and in any event, defendant claims that the bathtub was not unreasonably dangerous. The second principal argument that defendant makes is that, even assuming for the purposes of argument that the tub's surface was unreasonably ...


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