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Maddox v. The Howard Hughes Corp.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

April 17, 2019

LINDA MADDOX
v.
THE HOWARD HUGHES CORPORATION, RIVERWALK MARKETPLACE (NEW ORLEANS) LLC D/B/A THE OUTLET COLLECTION AT RIVERWALK, ET AL

          APPLICATION FOR WRITS DIRECTED TO CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2015-11307, DIVISION "A" Honorable Ellen M Hazeur, Judge.

          Richard G. Duplantier, Jr. Lindsey M. Soboul GALLOWAY JOHNSON TOMPKINS BURR & SMITH, COUNSEL FOR THE RELATOR/DEFENDANT.

          Tim L. Fields Jon Wasielewski LAW OFFICE OF TIM L. FIELDS, COUNSEL FOR THE RESPONDENT/PLAINTIFF.

          Court composed of Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Dale N. Atkins.

          Rosemary Ledet Judge.

         This is a tort suit. The Relator, The Howard Hughes Corporation ("Howard Hughes"), filed an application for supervisory writ, seeking review of the trial court's judgment denying its motion for summary judgment. In accordance with the requirements of La. C.C.P. art. 966(H), [1] we ordered additional briefing by the parties and heard oral arguments. For the reasons that follow, we grant Howard Hughes' writ application, reverse the trial court's ruling denying its summary judgment motion, and render summary judgment dismissing Ms. Maddox's claims against it.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On November 29, 2014, at about 10:45 p.m., Ms. Maddox slipped and fell while walking down a non-moving escalator at the Riverwalk Shopping Center (the "Riverwalk") in New Orleans, Louisiana.[2] Ms. Maddox went to the Riverwalk that night to deliver a set of keys to her daughter, who was working as the manager of one of the restaurants in the food court. To get to the restaurant, which was located on an upper level of the Riverwalk, Ms. Maddox took an elevator. While at the restaurant, Ms. Maddox helped her daughter take out the garbage to a back hallway where the restaurants in the food court place their garbage and grease traps. After taking out the garbage, Ms. Maddox attempted to exit the Riverwalk using the same route by which she had entered. Although the mall closed at 9:00 p.m., other patrons were still present.

         As Ms. Maddox was leaving, she observed that cleaning machines, which the cleaning company was using, had deposited water on the floor. After discovering that the elevator was turned off, Ms. Maddox walked through the water to the escalator, which likewise was turned off. Nonetheless, she decided to walk down the non-moving escalator, using it as a flight of stairs. When she stepped on the third step, Ms. Maddox's leg went out from under her and she fell, sustaining personal injuries.

         Seeking to recover for her personal injuries, Ms. Maddox commenced this suit against, among others, Howard Hughes.[3] Howard Hughes was sued in its capacity as the owner and operator of the Riverwalk and, by extension, its escalator. In her petition, Ms. Maddox alleged that Howard Hughes' is liable to her for its negligence as a "merchant" under La. R.S. 2800.6 and as the owner of the premises and, by extension, the escalator under La. C.C. art. 2317.1.[4] In addition, Ms. Maddox alleges that Howard Hughes may be held liable under the theory of res ipsa loqitur.

         After taking Ms. Maddox's deposition, Howard Hughes filed a motion for summary judgment. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion. In its oral reasons for judgment, the trial court observed as follows:

[T]here are issues on both sides whether or not the turning off of that escalator and the subsequent fall of the lady was contributed to in some manner by which there was no posting of a sign of warning or that the escalator was wet in some fashion. And whether or not these matters contributed to her incident is something that the trier of fact should determine. We do not make a determination on the merits of the case here, nor do we make a determination as to whether or not the escalator was unreasonably dangerous. The trier of fact is going to have to determine whether . . . there was some negligence on the part of the owner of this property.[5]

         This writ application followed. As noted at the outset, we granted Howard Hughes' writ to address whether the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, we answer that question in the affirmative.

         Summary Judgment Principles

         The summary judgment procedure is used when there is no genuine issue of material fact for all or part of the relief prayed for by a litigant. La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3) (observing that "[a] motion for summary judgment is "a procedural vehicle for dismissing issues of law and/or fact that are not in dispute"). "A defendant can successfully move for summary judgment if he or she can demonstrate beyond peradventure the nonexistence of a fact essential to the plaintiff's cause of action." Frank L. Maraist, 1 La. Civ. L. Treatise, Civil Procedure § 6:8 (2d ed. 2018). The summary judgment procedure is "designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action," and the summary judgment procedure is favored. La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(2).

         Appellate courts review the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment de novo, employing the same criteria that govern the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. Garces-Rodriguez v. GEICO Indem. Co., 16-196, p. 3 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/21/16), 209 So.3d 389, 391; Sislo v. New Orleans Ctr. for Creative Arts, 16-0178, p. 4 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/17/16), 198 So.3d 1202, 1205 (citing Samaha v. Rau, 07-1726, pp. 3-4 (La. 2/26/08), 977 So.2d 880, 882-83). The standard for granting a motion for summary judgment is set forth in La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3), which provides:

After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the ...

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