United States District Court, District of Columbia
KATHLEEN C. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
OMNI HOTELS MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION RE DOCUMENT NO: 14
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
12, 2014, Plaintiff Kathleen Martin tripped on a mat and fell
in the lobby of the Omni Shoreham Hotel, a hotel located in
Washington, DC and owned by Defendant Omni Hotels Management
Corporation (“Omni”). Ms. Martin alleges that the
mat, located near a hotel entrance, was in a dangerously
wrinkled condition prior to her accident-a condition that
caused her fall and the resulting injuries. Ms. Martin sued
Omni, claiming that Omni's negligence caused her personal
injuries. Omni has moved for summary judgment, contending
that Ms. Martin is unable to prove that her injuries were
proximately caused by any negligence on the part of Omni. For
the reasons explained below, the Court will grant Omni's
motion for summary judgment.
Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to Ms.
Martin and draws all justifiable inferences in her favor.
See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
255 (1986) (explaining that at summary judgment “[t]he
evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her]
operates and manages the Omni Shoreham Hotel located at 2500
Calvert Street, N.W., in Washington, DC (the “Omni
hotel”). See Def.'s Answer &
Affirmative Defenses ¶ 4, ECF No. 1-4 (filed with Notice
of Removal) [hereinafter Def.'s Answer]. At approximately
6:10 PM on June 12, 2014, Kathleen Martin, a registered guest
at the Omni hotel, walked through the Parkview Lobby, located
on the hotel's eastern side. See Def.'s
Stmt. Material Facts ¶ 2, ECF No. 14; see also
Am. Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1-1 (filed with Notice of
Removal). As she approached the hotel's exit, Ms. Martin
tripped over the raised, wrinkled rubber edge of a mat
located directly in front of a glass doorway. See
Def.'s Stmt. Material Facts ¶¶ 2-3; see
also Am. Compl. ¶ 2. That wrinkled edge caused Ms.
Martin to fall to the floor and, as she fell, Ms. Martin
struck her head, right arm and wrist, and left knee.
See Def.'s Stmt. Material Facts ¶ 3; Am.
Compl. ¶ 2. As a result of her fall, Ms. Martin
sustained a fractured right humerus and injuries to her right
wrist and left knee. See Pl.'s Answers
Def.'s 1st Interrog. ¶ 6, ECF No. 14-2. Ms. Martin
was hospitalized for two days at Georgetown University
Hospital in Washington, DC, and required follow-up treatment
near her home in Illinois. See Id. She filed suit
against Omni, claiming that her fall was the direct and
proximate result of Omni's negligence, because Omni
failed to maintain the lobby in a reasonably safe condition.
See Am. Compl. ¶ 5.
Herbert Sohn, who was traveling with Ms. Martin, took several
photos of the mat on which Ms. Martin tripped (the
“Subject-mat”) shortly after her fall.
See Pl.'s Ex. 13, ECF No. 15-3. Additionally,
Dr. Sohn testified that, after Ms. Martin fell, he observed
other individuals tripping over the mat. See Dep.
Herbert Sohn at 48:19-49:11, ECF No. 15-1 [hereinafter Sohn
Dep.]. The incident was also captured by Omni's security
camera, which records 24-hour footage of the hotel's
lobby. See Dep. Ralphaello McKeython at 33:8-37:9,
ECF No. 17-3 [hereinafter McKeython Dep.]. The recorded
surveillance footage shows a man attempting to flatten the
mat shortly after Ms. Martin's fall. See Dep.
Lawrence C. Dinoff at 147:2-148:1, ECF No. 14-3 [hereinafter
Dinoff Dep.]. Ralphaello McKeython, Omni's security
director, testified that he had the Subject-mat removed from
the lobby after Ms. Martin's fall and that he examined
it, but did not find any defects. See McKeython Dep.
at 17:20-18:4, 19:6-14.
purposes of this lawsuit, Ms. Martin retained an expert
witness, Lawrence C. Dinoff. Mr. Dinoff is an architectural
engineer who has been involved in developing the American
Society for Testing and Materials' (“ASTM”)
national standards for safe walkways. See Dinoff
Dep. at 54:2-56:11. Those guidelines include specific
standards regarding the use of mats and the avoidance of
tripping hazards. See Id. at 54:18-55:1; see
also Rule 26(a)(2) Stmt. Lawrence C. Dinoff at 1-2,
Pl.'s Ex. 12, ECF No. 15-3, [hereinafter Dinoff Stmt.].
And Mr. Dinoff testified that he has “been involved in
the development of every walkway safety standard coming out
of ASTM for more than ten years, ” and “wrote the
section dealing with the need to keep floor mats tight to the
floor without loose edges.” Dinoff Dep. at 55:7-13.
Dinoff examined the Subject-mat on February 25, 2016, at
which point the mat was not in a wrinkled
condition. See Dinoff Dep. at 127:6-12;
128:3-9. Based on his examination, Mr. Dinoff came to two
conclusions. First, he concluded that the mat had what he
called “short-term memory”-that, in other words,
the mat would “self-correct” to the
configuration it had held at the time when it was laid,
whether that initial condition was wrinkled or flat.
Id. at 64:8- 21, 102:20-103:15, 126:2-9. From the
hotel security video footage and Dr. Sohn's photographs,
Mr. Dinoff observed that the Subject-mat's wrinkles were
present in substantially the same location both before and
after Ms. Martin's fall. Id. at 63:16-64:21;
see also Id. at 98:7-101:15. Based on the mat's
“short-term memory, ” this fact suggested to Mr.
Dinoff that the mat would not “change its curled-edge
configuration in the short term, ” and “could not
unmake a ripple in a short period of time.”
Id. at 64:11-64:21. Thus, Mr. Dinoff concluded that,
in his opinion, at the time of Ms. Martin's fall the
wrinkles in the Subject-mat were “[p]ermanent”
features of the mat “in the short term.”
Id. at 64:17-21.
Mr. Dinoff concluded that those wrinkles could only be formed
over a lengthy period of time. See Id. at 64:11-16,
125:4-127:12. For that reason, Mr. Dinoff opined that the
wrinkles were likely formed by the manner in which the mat
had been stored and thus must have been present at the time
the mat was laid. See Id. at 57:12-61:8, 64:17-21,
125:4-127:3. He testified that transitory wrinkles-or
wrinkles formed, for example, by a disruption caused by
another hotel guest traversing the mat-could not occur,
because it would take “hours and hours, if not days and
days” for wrinkles like the ones that caused Ms.
Martin's fall to form. Id. at 125:4-7, 127:3-12.
He stated that “[a] mat of this construction will not
take on new shapes in a short period of time.”
Id. at 127:10-12. By contrast, Mr. Dinoff concluded
that storage of the mat for a substantial period of time in a
folded position could create such wrinkles. See Id.
at 57:12- 61:8. Thus, Mr. Dinoff concluded that the mat must
have been in a wrinkled condition when it was laid, and that
the wrinkles could not have been caused by another guest at
the hotel. See Id. at 63:16-66:13; see also
Dinoff Stmt. at 7.
party knows definitively when the mat was laid or who laid
it. See, e.g., Pl.'s Stmt. Material Facts ¶
18, ECF No. 15 (stating that, without additional video
footage, “nobody can determine how long the mat was in
place”). Omni admits that mats are generally laid in
the lobby by attendants to ensure that the entrance and
interior walkway are kept dry during inclement weather.
See Def.'s Answers. & Objs. Pl.'s
Interrog. at 9, ECF No. 15-2, [hereinafter Def.'s 1st
Interrog. Answers]; Def.'s Suppl. Answers & Objs.
Pl.'s 2d Interrog. at 3, ECF No. 14-4, [hereinafter
Def.'s 2d Interrog. Answers]. But weather reports
contained in the record indicate that it rained on each day
between June 8, 2014, and June 12, 2014, the day of Ms.
Martin's fall. See Pl.'s Ex. 9, ECF No.
15-3. Omni is also unaware of who laid the Subject-mat or how
it was stored. See Def.'s 2d Interrog. Answers
before the Court is Omni's motion for summary judgment,
which contends that Ms. Martin is unable to establish from
the record evidence that Omni had actual or constructive
notice of any dangerous condition caused by the mat. See
generally Def.'s Stmt. P. & A. Supp. Mot. Summ.
J., ECF No. 14 [hereinafter Def.'s Mem. Supp.]. Ms.
Martin argues, however, that a reasonable jury could conclude
that Omni created the dangerous condition by placing the mat
in the lobby with wrinkled edges (and that other persons
traversing the mat could not have caused the wrinkles) and
that, to the extent Omni asserts that it lacked notice of any
dangerous condition, an adverse inference is warranted in
light of the fact that Omni did not preserve more of the
hotel surveillance videotape. See Pl.'s Mem. P.
& A. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 1-2, ECF No.
16 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp'n]. As explained below, the
Court will grant Omni's motion.
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must
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). A “material” fact is one
capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the
litigation. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute
is “genuine” if there is enough evidence for a
reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-movant.
See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). The
inquiry under Rule 56 is essentially “whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.
principal purpose of summary judgment is to determine whether
there is a genuine need for trial by disposing of factually
unsupported claims or defenses. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). The movant bears
the initial burden of identifying portions of the record that
demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material
fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1);
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. In response, the
non-movant must point to specific facts in the record that
reveal a genuine issue that is suitable for trial.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); Celotex, 477
U.S. at 324. The non-movant may not rest upon mere
allegations or denials but must instead present affirmative
evidence. Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236,
1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at
considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must
“eschew making credibility determinations or weighing
the evidence.” Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d
360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007). All underlying facts and
inferences must be analyzed in the light most favorable to
the non-movant. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
Nevertheless, conclusory assertions offered without any
evidentiary support do not establish a genuine issue for
trial. See Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C.
succeed in a negligence action under District of Columbia
law, the plaintiff “bears the burden of proof on three
issues: ‘the applicable standard of care, a deviation
from that standard by the defendant, and a causal
relationship between that deviation and the plaintiff's
injury.'” Toy v. District of Columbia, 549
A.2d 1, 6 (D.C. 1988) (quoting Meek v. Shepard, 484
A.2d 579, 581 (D.C. 1984)). The dispute in this case revolves
almost exclusively around the second prong: demonstrating a
deviation from the standard of care.
Standard of Care
District of Columbia, “there is only one standard of
care for persons lawfully upon the landowner's or land
occupier's property, ” namely, “reasonable
care under the circumstances.” Sandoe v. Lefta
Assocs., 559 A.2d 732, 742 (D.C. 1988). In some cases,
however, “when the subject matter at issue is so
distinctly related to some science, profession, business, or
occupation as to be beyond the ken of the average lay person,
” what constitutes reasonable care in that context
“must be established through expert testimony.”
Rajabi v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 650 A.2d 1319,
1322 (D.C. 1994). In such cases, an expert must
“articulate and refer to a standard of care by which
the defendant's actions can be measured” and
“at the very least, ” specify both “what
standards were violated and how they were violated.”
Sullivan v. AboveNet Commc'ns, Inc., 112 A.3d
347, 357-58 (D.C. 2015) (quoting District of Columbia v.
Carmichael, 577 A.2d 312, 314 ...