United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division
DONALD E. WALTER, District Judge.
Before the court is the motion for summary judgment, [doc. #53], filed on behalf of defendants Lodging America at West Monroe, LLC, d/b/a Hilton Garden Inn of West Monroe, LLC ("Lodging America"); Apple Nine Louisiana, LLC ("Apple Nine"); and Federal Insurance Company ("Federal") (collectively, "Defendants"). Also before the court is defendants' motion to strike portions of plaintiff's opposition brief. [Doc. #62]. For the following reasons, defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The motion to strike is DENIED.
Plaintiff Gloria Hines ("Plaintiff") claims that she was injured at the Hilton Garden Inn in West Monroe, Louisiana ("the hotel") on August 13, 2012. [Doc. #1-3, pp. 2-3]. According to plaintiff, the handle of her hotel-provided coffee pot broke off as she was attempting to pour herself a cup of coffee, thereby causing her to spill hot coffee on her upper body. Id. She claims that she suffered second-degree burns as a result. Id. at 3. Plaintiff therefore sued the above-captioned defendants in Louisiana state court,  claiming that the coffee pot was defective and that Lodging America and Apple Nine, "through their agents and employees, were negligent in failing to properly handle, maintain, inspect, display, instruct and/or warn of the dangers of the defective coffee pot." [Doc. #1-3, p. 4]. Plaintiff named Federal in its capacity as Apple Nine's insurer. Id. at 5.
After the suit was removed to this court, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment. [Doc. #53]. Defendants argue that the record fails to support any of plaintiff's theories of recovery. Specifically, defendants claim: (1) that the coffee pot was inspected on each day plaintiff stayed in the hotel pursuant to standard operating procedure; (2) that no damage to the coffee pot was ever noted by hotel employees; (3) that undisputed expert inspection of the coffee pot revealed that the coffee pot's handle broke because it had been melted with an external heat source, most likely a microwave; and (4) that plaintiff admitted to hotel staff that she placed the coffee pot in the microwave. [Doc. #53-1, pp. 4-8].
In support of its claims, defendants attach an affidavit from Ms. Gloria Flint, the General Manager of the hotel. [Doc. #53-4, pp. 14-17]. In her affidavit, Ms. Flint describes the procedure by which the hotel's coffee pots are usually inspected and states that the subject coffee pot was so inspected each day plaintiff stayed at the hotel. Id. at 15. Ms. Flint also states that plaintiff "admitted that she placed the subject coffee pot in the microwave" when she reported her injuries to Ms. Flint at the front desk. Id. at 15, ¶ 14; [ see also doc. #53, p. 3.]. Along with Ms. Flint's affidavit, defendants also attached a blank "Room Attendant Inspection Checklist, " which indicates that hotel coffee pots should be dusted, cleaned, and checked for wear when rooms are cleaned. [Doc. #53-4, p.18].
Defendants also attach an affidavit from James Mason, who states that he has "extensive experience in failure analysis in materials including metals, composites, ceramics, plastics and glass." [Doc. #53-4, pp. 19-30]. Mr. Mason states that he inspected the subject coffee pot and determined that its handle broke off due to "localized melting in the area of the metal screw attached to the plastic handle...." Id. at 20. He states that neither the coffee maker nor the hotel's cleaning procedures are capable of producing enough heat to melt the handle. Id. Mr. Mason concludes that "the only readily available external heating source that could melt the plastic coffee pot handle was the Hilton Garden Inn's guest room microwave positioned above the coffee maker...." Id.
Alternatively, defendants assert that Lodging America sold the hotel to Apple Nine in 2010, two years before the accident occurred. [Doc. #53-1, p. 9]. As such, defendants argue that Lodging America had no interest in the hotel on the date of the accident, and therefore cannot be held liable. Id. In support of this assertion, defendants attach a "cash deed" provided by the Ouachita Parish Conveyance Office. [Doc. #53-4, pp. 31-36]. The cash deed confirms that Lodging America did, in fact, sell the hotel to Apple Nine on July 28, 2010. Id.
In her opposition brief, plaintiff disputes the majority of defendants' assertions. [Doc. #60, p. 9]. Most importantly, plaintiff flatly denies defendants' claim that she admitted to placing the coffee pot in the microwave. Id. Plaintiff also disputes the admissibility of Mr. Mason's expert testimony based on two exhibits of correspondence in which counsel argue over what exactly occurred during Mr. Mason's testing. [Doc. #60-1, #60-4]. According to plaintiff, this correspondence casts doubt onto the veracity of Mr. Mason's affidavit. [Doc. #60, pp. 10-13]. Finally, plaintiff argues that she is entitled to additional discovery to address defendants' assertion that Lodging America sold the hotel Id. at 14.
After plaintiff filed her opposition brief, defendants filed a motion to strike the portions of plaintiff's brief displaying or referencing correspondence between counsel. [Doc. #62]. Defendants argue that communication between lawyers is not competent summary judgment evidence and therefore any and all reference to or argument premised on plaintiff's exhibits should be stricken as inadmissible, irrelevant, and prejudicial. Id. at 3.
II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW
A. Summary Judgment
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs that a court "shall 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." A fact is "material" if it may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is "genuine" if there is sufficient evidence so that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Id. The court must "review the facts drawing all inferences most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Reid v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 784 F.2d 577, 578 (5th Cir. 1986) (citing United States Steel Corp. v. Darby, 516 F.2d 961 (5th Cir. 1975)).
The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Lawrence v. Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at Galveston, 163 F.3d 309, 311 (5th Cir. 1999). The moving party need not produce evidence to negate the elements of the non-moving party's case, but need only ...