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Boff v. Inter-Continental Hotels Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 4, 2018

RUTH EVANGELISTA BOFF, Plaintiff,
v.
INTER-CONTINENTAL HOTELS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DABNEY L. FRIEDRICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case arises from a slip and fall in front of the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C. Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Dkts. 19, 21. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the defendants' motion in part, deny it in part, and deny the plaintiff's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The parties agree that Ruth Evangelista Boff slipped and fell on a sidewalk in front of the Willard hotel during a rainstorm. See Defs.' Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute ¶¶ 1, 3, Dkt. 19-1; Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts in Dispute, Dkt. 20-3. But they disagree about two factual details.

         First, the parties dispute whether a hotel awning caused excess rainwater to flow onto the public sidewalk where Boff fell. A provision of the D.C. Building Code mandates that “[d]rainage water collected from a roof, awning, canopy or marquee[] . . . shall not flow over a public walking surface.” D.C. Building Code ch. 32, § 3201.4 (2013) (emphasis in original). Boff claims that, on the night of the incident, water flowed from the hotel's awning onto a downward-sloping granite ramp in the sidewalk, making it more slippery than normal. See Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts in Dispute; Pl.'s Responses to Defs.' First Set of Interrogatories ¶¶ 2-5, Dkt. 20-6. The defendants, however, insist that this spillover never happened. Although they have no eyewitness who saw the incident, they commissioned a mechanical engineer to inspect the awning's design, including its drainage system. See Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 4, Dkt. 19-7. The engineer observed the drainage system in practice a few months after Boff's fall and concluded that the awning could not have caused rainwater to overflow onto the sidewalk as Boff describes. Id. at 1, 4-12.

         Second, the parties dispute whether Boff was running after a taxi when she fell. The defendants insist that video surveillance footage and Boff's own deposition testimony conclusively establish that Boff was running in the rain when she fell. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. at 11-12. Boff disagrees. Although she answered “yes” in her deposition when asked if she had “started to run” when she fell, see Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 2 at 43:21-22, 44:4, Dkt. 19-5 (emphasis added), she maintains in a sworn affidavit that she was not actually “running, ” see Boff Affidavit, Dkt. 20-2. Boff does not dispute the defendants' video surveillance footage, but she argues that the footage is “susceptible of divergent inferences” and does not necessarily show that she was running. See Pl.'s Opp'n & Partial Mot. for Summ. J. at 4 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986)).

         On July 17, 2017, Boff filed a negligence action against Intercontinental Hotels Group Resources, Inc. in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleging that the defendant breached its duty “to place the [hotel's] awning so that it properly protected the ramp at the hotel curb from rain and did not pour rainwater directly onto it.” Compl. ¶ 11, Dkt. 1-1 at 10-12. On July 27, 2017, the defendant removed the action here and invoked the Court's diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441; Defs.' Notice of Removal ¶¶ 3-7, Dkt. 1. Boff later amended her complaint to add a second defendant: InterContinental Hotels Corporation. See Am. Compl. ¶ 2, Dkt. 12.

         The defendants seek summary judgment because (1) Boff failed to designate an expert witness to establish the relevant standard of care, (2) Boff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law, and (3) one of the two corporate defendants-InterContinental Hotels Group Resources, Inc.-did not own or control the hotel where Boff was injured. See Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. at 3-13.

         Boff disputes the defendants' first two arguments but appears to concede the third. See Pl.'s Opp'n & Partial Mot. for Summ. J. at 2-3. Boff also cross-moves for partial summary judgment on liability because the defendants failed to rebut her allegation that water overflowed from the awning onto the sidewalk in violation of the D.C. Building Code. Id. at 3-4.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A court must grant summary judgment if the moving party “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); see also Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 247-48. A “material” fact is one with the potential to change the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006).

         In response to a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “[T]he nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (emphasis added in original). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         This diversity suit for negligence is governed by D.C. law, including D.C.'s requirement that plaintiffs in certain negligence cases establish the relevant standard of care through expert testimony. See Burke v. Air Serv Int'l, Inc., 685 F.3d 1102, 1105, 1109 (D.C. Cir. 2012). The Court's duty is “to achieve the same outcome [that] would result if the District of Columbia Court of Appeals considered this case.” Novak v. Capital Mgmt. & Dev. Corp., 452 F.3d 902, 907 (D.C. Cir. 2006). To fulfill that obligation, the Court ...


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