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James v. Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

December 26, 2018

VENITIA JAMES
v.
ERNEST N. MORIAL NEW ORLEANS EXHIBITION HALL AUTHORITY (AKA) THE NEW ORLEANS MORIAL CONVENTION CENTER, HAFELE AMERICA CO., AMERICAN SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY AND AIG INSURANCE

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2014-03859, DIVISION "C" Honorable Sidney H. Cates, Judge

          Bernard Joseph Blair, II ATTORNEY AT LAW COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT

          Coleman T. Organ ORGAN & ASSOCIATES Leigh Ann Schell ADAMS AND REESE LLP COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          Court composed of Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Dale N. Atkins

          DALE N. ATKINS JUDGE

         In this slip and fall case, plaintiff/appellant, Venetia James ("James") appeals the district court's November 28, 2017, judgment granting a Motion for Summary Judgment in favor of Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority (aka) The New Orleans Morial Convention Center ("Convention Center"), and the Insurance Company of The State of Pennsylvania ("ICSOP") (collectively "Defendants"). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         On April 17, 2014, James filed suit against the Convention Center and AIG Insurance Company, alleging that she sustained injuries as a result of having a rug pulled out from under her feet when she was working near a display booth operated by Belenco Quartz Surfaces ("Belenco"). Belenco was an exhibitor at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show being held at the Convention Center. At the time, James was working under contract with Century Security. She was assigned to a security detail for Neilsen Expositions, who in turn was renting space from the Convention Center for the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. The Convention Center answered the lawsuit on June 4, 2014. ICSOP improperly named as AIG Insurance Company, answered on July 11, 2014.

         Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on February 14, 2017, asserting that the Convention Center had no duty to protect James from injury nor did the Convention Center play any part in her alleged injuries. In support of the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants attached the Affidavit of Robert Johnson ("Johnson"), the President and General Manager of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. In his affidavit, Johnson stated that the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show was held at the Convention Center pursuant to a contract with Nielsen Expositions to rent space for the show. Individual contractors, including Belenco, at whose booth the alleged accident occurred, contracted for their space through Nielsen Expositions. Johnson reported that no Convention Center employees were involved in either erecting or dismantling the Belenco booth at the show. Also, he reported that individual exhibitors or their hired contractors were responsible for dismantling the booths; the Convention Center did not employ or supervise employees of the exhibitors, or exhibitor-appointed contractors, or any other entity involved in dismantling the booths. Johnson stated that an incident report regarding James' injury was prepared. A copy of the contract between Nielsen Expositions and the Convention Center and of the incident report was attached to Johnson's affidavit.

         The contract contained an indemnity provision, wherein Nielsen Expositions agreed to indemnify and hold harmless the Convention Center and its officers, assigns, agents, employees, and contractors, in the event of injury or damage to any persons or property arising out of the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show.

         The incident report noted that, on April 21, 2013 at approximately 3:15 p.m., a medical report was taken of Venita James, an employee for Century Security. According to the report, James had dislocated her right shoulder, was in need of further medical treatment, and was transported by emergency medical services to Touro Hospital. At the time the report was taken, James stated that, while walking inside the Kitchen and Bath Convention, she tripped at the Belenco Quartz Surfaces' booth #1535.

         A portion of James' deposition, taken January 15, 2015, was also attached in support of the Motion for Summary Judgment. Therein, James reported that, on the date in question, she saw exhibitors and contractors all tearing down booths "at the same time." As James was walking up to a booth, where she had to "squeeze through" the aisles, a person working on the booth pulled on the carpet where she was walking, causing her to lose her balance. James reported that sometimes the exhibitors will tear down their own booths and sometimes their hired contractors will dismantle them. She did not know the identity of the particular contractor who pulled on the rug but believed he was either with "Freeman Contractors" or "another contractor, I believe." She did not know who had hired the contractor. Although James stated, "We had people from the convention center working in there also," she did not identify anyone from the Convention Center and did not report that any Convention Center employee was tearing down booths or had been involved in tearing down the booth where the accident occurred in her deposition. James conceded that what caused her to fall was the pulling on the rug by the unknown contractor, whose actions caused her to lose her balance and fall down; she did not trip over anything.

         James' Affidavit, executed on May 8, 2017, was submitted in response to the Motion for Summary Judgment. Therein, she stated that there were no warning signs or personnel reporting that demolition work was being conducted on the date of her injury. She also claimed that Convention Center Personnel were "working in and around the booth along with contract personnel," and therefore they [Convention Center personnel] "had to know what took place regarding demolition and construction" of the exhibition.

         The Motion for Summary Judgment came for hearing on October 20, 2017. Defendants argued that the Convention Center did not have a legal duty to protect James from the incident as Convention Center employees played no part in the erection or dismantling of the Belenco booth; did not have any prior knowledge of the action alleged to have caused the injury; and were not responsible for the contractor who pulled the rug out from under James. Defendants further asserted that the accident happened in an instant, was not based on a defect in the premises, or on a condition that had existed for any length of time, that would require notice or warning. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on October 20, 2017, issuing a written judgment on November 28, 2017.

         James raises eight assignments of error on appeal, [1] none of which are briefed or supported by citation to the record. As such, the issues are deemed abandoned. See Uniform Rules- Courts of Appeal, Rule 2-12.4 (B)(3) and (4). The Court addresses, however, the two related and ultimately dispositive issues raised by James, as follows: 1) whether a genuine issue of material fact existed to create a legal duty on behalf of the Convention Center to ...


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