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Allen v. Lockwood

Supreme Court of Louisiana

February 13, 2015

HAZEL ALLEN
v.
HATTIE G. LOCKWOOD, FARM BUREAU INSURANCE COMPANY, WESLEY CHAPEL CHURCH, ABC INS. CO., AND ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY

IN RE: Guideone Specialty Mutual Insurance Company; - Defendant; Applying For Supervisory and/or Remedial Writs, Parish of St. Helena, 21st Judicial District Court Div. B, No. 21,745; to the Court of Appeal, First Circuit, No. 2014 CW 0518;

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIRST CIRCUIT, PARISH OF ST. HELENA.

Jeannette Theriot Knoll, Bernette J. Johnson, John L. Weimer, Greg G. Guidry, Marcus R. Clark, Jefferson D. Hughes, III, Scott J. Crichton.

OPINION

Page 651

[2014-1724 La. 1] PER CURIAM

The narrow issue presented in this writ is whether defendants are entitled to summary judgment when plaintiff is unable to produce any evidence supporting her contention their parking lot was unreasonably dangerous. We granted this writ not only to reverse the district court's denial of summary judgment, but also to provide much needed guidance to both the practitioners and the Judiciary of this State on the proper interpretation and application of our holding in Broussard v. State Ex Rel. Office of State Buildings, 12-1238 (La. 4/5/13), 113 So.3d 175, when addressing motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether an alleged defect presents an unreasonable risk of harm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This matter arises from an accident, which took place in the parking area of the Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church. The church sits in a small patch of partially cleared woods in a rural area of St. Helena Parish, off Louisiana Highway 448. Congregants attending services at the church typically pull in among the trees and unpaved grassy areas on the church grounds to park their vehicles. The accident occurred when an elderly church member, Hattie Lockwood, entered her [2014-1724 La. 2] vehicle following services. Ms. Lockwood reversed her car at a high rate of speed, striking plaintiff as she was walking.

As a result of the accident, plaintiff filed suit against several defendants, including Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church and its insurer, GuideOne Specialty Mutual Insurance Company (hereinafter referred to collectively as the " church defendants" ). With regard to the church defendants, plaintiff alleged they were responsible for all or part of the accident based on various defects in the premises, including defective design of the parking area, improper markings in the parking lot, and improper safety barriers and/or improper safety measures.

The church defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff was unable to establish the accident resulted from any negligence in the design or maintenance of the parking area. In support, they relied on plaintiff's deposition, in which she admitted she was unable to say what the church did wrong to cause the accident. Plaintiff was asked, " [c]an you tell me what it was factually that you feel like the Wesley Chapel did wrong that caused this accident?" Plaintiff replied, " [n]ot really." The church defendants also introduced an affidavit from Mack Cornet, a member of the church's congregation for fifty-one years. Mr. Cornet averred the grassy areas surrounding the church were routinely used by congregants to park. According to Mr. Cornet, " on no occasion other than this one or since has there ever been any accidents or issues with congregants parking in such a fashion." Finally, the church defendants introduced photographs showing the parking area.

Plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing genuine issues of material fact as to the cause of the accident exist. However, plaintiff did not support her opposition with any evidence.

[2014-1724 La. 3] After a hearing, the district court denied the motion for summary judgment, explaining:

Well, quite frankly, I think that both sides could have done a wee bit better job on summary judgment. Telling me what the outlining duties are. I suspect ...

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