Judge: Joel L. Lofton, Case: 20STCV10952, Date: 2022-08-02 Tentative Ruling



Case Number: 20STCV10952    Hearing Date: August 2, 2022    Dept: X

   Tentative Ruling

 

Judge Joel L. Lofton, Department X

 

 

HEARING DATE:     August 2, 2022                                   TRIAL DATE:  October 11, 2022

                                                          

CASE:                         KRISTINE HENDERSON v. GLENDALE FASHION ASSOCIATES, LLC; THE HABIT RESTAURANTS, INC.; DOES 1 to 20.

 

CASE NO.:                 20STCV10952

 

           

 

MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

 

MOVING PARTY:              Defendants The Habit Restaurant, LLC and Glendale Fashion Associates, LLC

 

RESPONDING PARTY:     No response filed.

 

SERVICE:                             Motion by The Habit Restaurant, LLC filed May 16, 2022

                                                Motion by Glendale Fashion Associates, LLC filed May 17, 2022

 

RELIEF REQUESTED

 

            Defendants The Habit Restaurant, LLC and Glendale Fashion Associates, LLC separately move for summary judgment as to the entirety of Plaintiff’s complaint, or in the alternative, for summary adjudication as to each cause of action.

 

BACKGROUND

 

This case arises out of Plaintiff Kristine Henderson’s (“Plaintiff”) claim that she slipped and fell while at the Glendale Fashion Center. Plaintiff alleges that on March 22, 2018, she was walking on a pathway outside of the shops leased by Defendant Glendale Fashion Associates, LLC (“GFA”) when she slipped and fell on grease or cooking oil on the pavement. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant The Habit Restaurant, LLC (“Habit” or “the Habit”) negligently allowed grease to pool on the pavement. Plaintiff filed this form complaint on March 17, 2020, alleging two causes of action for (1) negligence and (2) premises liability.

 

TENTATIVE RULING

 

            The Habit’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

 

            GFA’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

 

 

LEGAL STANDARD

 

“The purpose of the law of summary judgment is to provide courts with a mechanism to cut through the parties’ pleadings in order to determine whether, despite their allegations, trial is in fact necessary to resolve their dispute.”  (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal. 4th 826, 843.) “A party may move for summary judgement in an action or proceeding if it is contented that the action has no merit or that there is no defense to the action or proceeding.” (Code of Civil Procedure section 473c subd. (a)(1).) “The motion for summary judgment shall be granted if all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” (Code of Civil Procedures section 473c subd. (c).)

 

A three-step analysis is employed in ruling on motions for summary judgment. First, the court identifies the issues framed by the pleadings. Next, the court determines, when the moving party is the defendant, whether it has produced evidence showing one or more of the elements of the cause of action cannot be established or there is a complete defense to that cause of action. If the defendant does so, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show the existence of a triable issue of material fact as to that cause of action or defense. (Kline v. Turner (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 1369, 1373.) The court must “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party and accept all inferences reasonably drawn therefrom.”  (Ibid.; see also Dore v. Arnold Worldwide, Inc. (2006) 39 Cal. 4th 384, 389 [Courts “liberally construe the evidence in support of the party opposing summary judgment and resolve doubts concerning the evidence in favor of that party.”].) 

 

“A defendant moving for summary judgment must show that one or more elements of the plaintiff's cause of action cannot be established or that there is a complete defense. The defendant can satisfy its burden by presenting evidence that negates an element of the cause of action or evidence that the plaintiff does not possess and cannot reasonably expect to obtain evidence needed to establish an essential element. (Veera v. Banana Republic, LLC, (2016) 6 Cal.App.5th 907, 914.)

 

DISCUSSION

 

Factual Recitation by Defendants

 

Plaintiff claims that on March 22, 2018, she slipped and fell while at Glendale Fashion Center. Plaintiff had visited Glendale Fashion Center to go to a nail salon named “Nail Forum”. (Habit SSUF No. 2.) Plaintiff arrived sometime after 2:30 p.m. (Habit SSUF No. 5.) Plaintiff stated that it had been raining the day of the incident. (SSUF No. 6.) Plaintiff does not recall what footwear she was wearing when she left the salon. (Habit Exhibit 2 at p. 35:2-8.)

 

Plaintiff initially stated she fell two steps outside of the nail salon, but later stated she fell around the eating area near the front of the nail salon. (Habit Exhibit 2 at pp. 62; 68-69.) Plaintiff stated she noticed the ground was damp but did not notice anything else on the ground in the area she fell. (Id. at pp. 83:1-84:5.) Plaintiff did not recall seeing any other liquid flowing in her direction along the walkway. (Id. at p. 87:8-15.) Plaintiff fell onto her bottom in a seated position. (Id. at p. 89:10-12.) Bystanders helped Plaintiff up, and after they walked away, she fell again. (Id. at p. 91:1-7.)

 

Plaintiff stated that she visited Glendale Fashion Center approximately eight weeks after the incident. (Habit Exhibit 2 at p. 126:4-8.) Plaintiff stated that an employee of the nail salon, identified as Hasnik, told her “Oh, it’s so slippery out there. People fall there all the time.” (Id. at p. 126:22-24.) Two more weeks later, Plaintiff visited the nail salon again, where Hasnik made a similar comment. (Id. at p. 130:1-7.) Two more weeks later, Plaintiff again visited the nail salon where Hasnik stated “It’s so slippery out there. People fall there all the time. And especially with the rain, it’s bad. And then with the restaurants and the grease.” (Id. at p. 130:14-19.) When Plaintiff inquired what Hasnik meant, Hasnik responded by saying “Like the Habit, the grease. It makes it slippery.” (Id. at p. 130:22-23.) Hasnik informed Plaintiff that she believed the grease was coming from the trash cans. (Id. at pp. 144:23-145:6.) Hasnik referenced the Habit as an example of the restaurants in the eating area. (Id. at p. 146:23-25.)

 

Summary Judgment as to the Habit

 

“The elements of a cause of action for negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages.” (Melton v. Boustred (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 521, 529.) “The elements of a cause of action for premises liability are the same as those for negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages.” (McIntyre v. The Colonies-Pacific, LLC (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 664, 671.) 

 

            The Habit argues that Plaintiff’s claims against it must fail because it did not owe a duty to Plaintiff and because Plaintiff is unable to establish causation. Thus, the first issue presented is whether the Habit owed Plaintiff a duty of care.

 

“A duty of care exists when one person has a legal obligation to prevent harm to another person, such that breach of that obligation can give rise to liability.” (Issakhani v. Shadow Glen Homeowners Assn., Inc. (2021) 63 Cal.App.5th 917, 924.) “Duty, being a question of law, is particularly amenable to resolution by summary judgment.” (Regents of University of California v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 607, 618.)

 

The Habit asserts it owed Plaintiff no duty because it leases the inside of the store but does not own, lease, control, or possess the walkway where Plaintiff allegedly fell. (Habit SSUF No. 33.) The Habit also provides the trash cans are accessible to the public and the Habit’s employees do not assist in the removal of trash from those trash cans. (Habit SSUF No. 34-35.) However, the Habit’s separate statement cites the declaration of Lisa Zaroff as supporting evidence. No declaration from Zaroff is attached to the present motion, and although the Habit previously submitted a declaration from Lisa Zaroff in its opposition to SMC’s motion for summary judgment, that declaration does not support the Habit’s present statements of fact.

 

The Habit has failed to meet its burden that it owed Plaintiff no duty.

 

            The next issue is whether Plaintiff can establish the Habits’ acts or omissions caused the alleged injury.

 

            “In order for a plaintiff to satisfy the causation element of a negligence cause of action, he or she must show the defendant's act or omission was a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff's harm. [citation.] ‘In other words, [the] plaintiff must show some substantial link or nexus between omission and injury.’ [citation.] ” (Leyva v. Garcia (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 1095, 1104.) “A mere possibility of such causation is not enough; and when the matter remains one of pure speculation or conjecture, or the probabilities are at best evenly balanced, it becomes the duty of the court to direct a verdict for the defendant.” (Ortega v. Kmart Corp. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1200, 1205-6.)

 

            Here, Plaintiff’s deposition testimony illustrates that the basis of her claim against the Habit is speculation based on statements from Hasnik. The Habit argues, and the Court agrees, that Plaintiff has not provided any evidence that any act or omission by the Habit caused a dangerous condition that led to Plaintiff’s fall. First, Hasnik statements, if offered in the present proceeding, would be hearsay. Second, nothing in Plaintiff’s deposition testimony provides that Hasnik had any first-hand knowledge of the condition of the walkway during the day of the alleged incident. Lastly, Plaintiff recognizes that Hasnik’s reference to the Habit potentially causing grease to be on the walkway was merely illustrative of a possible source of grease that could potentially be present. Plaintiff also does not provide any evidence to support the finding that there was grease on the ground on the day of the incident, much less that it was caused by any act or omission on the part of the Habit. Thus, Plaintiff’s contention that the Habit negligently caused a dangerous condition is based on speculation.

 

            The Habit has met its burden of showing that Plaintiff cannot establish the element of causation for either of her claims against it. Plaintiff has not submitted an opposition or any evidence in opposition to the present motion and has therefore failed to meet her burden of raising a triable issue of material fact.

 

            The Habit’s motion for summary judgment is granted.

 

            Summary Judgement as to GFA

 

            GFA similarly argues that Plaintiff is unable to establish that a dangerous condition existed at the time of the alleged incident. GFA also argues that Plaintiff is unable to establish it had notice of the alleged condition.

 

            As previously stated, the evidence presented shows that Plaintiff is unable to establish that a dangerous condition existed at the time of the alleged incident. Plaintiff was unable to identify any substance that caused her to fall. (GFA SSUF No. 4.) Plaintiff stated in her deposition that Hasnik informed her of the possibility that a restaurant at Glendale Fashion Center caused grease to be on the walkway. (GFA SSUF Nos. 5-6.) However, Plaintiff does not recall seeing any grease in the area. (GFA SSUF No. 7.) Plaintiff also has no recollection of having grease on her clothing or footwear after the incident. (GFA SSUFF No. 8.)

 

            Further, there is no evidence that the walkway had an excess amount of water caused by the rain on the day of the alleged incident. There is also no evidence that the floor was overly slippery because of the rain. GFA has met its burden of showing that Plaintiff is unable to establish that a dangerous condition existed on the day of the incident.

 

            GFA also argues that there is no evidence that it had notice of the alleged dangerous condition. “ ‘Because the owner is not the insurer of the visitor's personal safety [citation], the owner's actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition is a key to establishing its liability.’ [citation.] In the absence of actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition, the owner is not liable.” (Moore v. Wal-mart Stores, Inc. (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 472, 476.)

 

Based on the record, Plaintiff has not submitted any evidence supporting a finding that GFA negligently created a dangerous condition or negligently failed to remove a dangerous condition on its premises. Plaintiff has not submitted an opposition or evidence in opposition to the present motion. Plaintiff has thus failed to raise a triable issue of material fact.

 

GFA’s motion for summary judgment is granted.

 

CONCLUSION

 

            The Habit’s motion for summary judgment is granted.

 

            GFA’s motion for summary judgment is granted.

 

            Moving party to give notice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

Dated:   August 2, 2022                                  ___________________________________

                                                                                    Joel L. Lofton

                                                                                    Judge of the Superior Court

 




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