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Sanders v. Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, ABC Corp.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 7, 2014

ROSALIND SANDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERATON HOTELS & RESORTS, ABC CORP., and JOHN DOE Defendant.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion of defendant Columbia Properties Newark, LLC[1] ("Columbia Properties") for summary judgment. The motion will be granted because the plaintiff, Rosalind Sanders, has not met her summary judgment burden of coming forward with evidence that her injuries resulted from any breach of a duty of care by Columbia Properties. There is no genuine, material issue of fact and Columbia Properties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Plaintiff alleges that she sustained serious injury as a result of a slip and fall in the shower area of her room when she was staying at a Sheraton hotel. According to Sanders, the hotel had a duty to provide a safe means of using, entering and exiting from the shower, but failed to meet this duty. In short, she argues that Columbia Properties acted negligently by failing to provide her with a handicapped-accessible room. Columbia Properties maintains that it did not act negligently in failing to assign Sanders to a handicapped-accessible room because it had no reason to know that she needed or wanted one. For the reasons enumerated above, I will grant the motion of Columbia Properties for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Rosalind Sanders commenced this action, No. L-6627-11, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, on August 11, 2011. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1441, Defendant Columbia Properties, LLC removed the action to this Court on September 16, 2011. On September 23, 2013, Columbia Properties filed an Answer denying liability and raising several affirmative defenses. All fact and expert discovery is now completed.

The following facts are taken primarily from Sanders' deposition. I credit them as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Sanders for purposes of this motion. That said, most of the facts appear to be undisputed.

The events giving rise to this action occurred on or about August 23, 2009[2] in Guest Room Number 224 of the Sheraton Newark Airport Hotel (the "hotel"), located at 128 Frontage Road in Newark, New Jersey. Sanders alleges that she was staying at the hotel when she slipped and fell in the shower area of the bathroom, suffering an ankle injury. She attributes her accident to the absence of handrails on the wall and/or no-slip strips on the bathroom floor. (At oral argument the focus seemed to be on the handrails.) One (or both) of these accommodations, she alleges, would have been present if she had been assigned a handicapped-accessible room.

Sanders stayed at the hotel when traveling with her sister-in-law, Stephanie Sanders, who was part of a Jehovah's Witnesses tour group. Docket No. 32-4 ("Sanders Deposition Transcript") at 27-28. Sanders made all of her travel arrangements through a travel agent, Ron-Mar Travel. According to Sanders, she contacted the travel agent before the trip and requested a handicapped-accessible room. The agent allegedly assured her that he would request a handicapped-accessible room for her. Id. at 33-35. Sanders wanted such a room because she had problems with her back and a previous ankle injury. (These health conditions predated the injuries for which she sues.) Id. at 47. She testified that she did not speak directly to anyone at the hotel about getting a handicapped-accessible room; the travel agent was supposed to take care of it. Id. at 50:21-24.

Sanders' tour group arrived at the hotel in the evening. Upon check-in, Sanders did not speak to any hotel personnel. Instead, she met the travel agent near the front desk. The agent had obtained room keys for everyone in the tour group, and he distributed Sanders' room key to her. Id. at 43-44. There is no testimony that hotel personnel should have recognized Sanders' need for a handicapped-accessible room based on her appearance. For example, she did not use a walker prior to the accident. Id. at 95:6-7. After receiving her key, Sanders went to her room and discovered that the room was not handicapped-accessible. She testified that she was tired when she got to her room and decided that, because she would only be there for one night, she would "chance it." Id. at 47:3-5. She did not contact the travel agent or the hotel's front desk. She did not request a change of rooms.

The next morning, Sanders took a shower. Before getting into the shower, she was aware that there were no railings along the walls in the shower area. Id. at 59:9-12. (There was, however, a railing inside the shower.) Sanders testified that she was "not really" concerned, because she "thought being that it was only going to be one night, that I would get by with it rather than trying to switch to another room." Id. at 59-60. Before showering, Sanders put down a bath mat provided by the hotel. She steadied herself by holding the towel rack that was over the toilet, and had no trouble getting into the shower. Id. at 63:20-23. After showering, Sanders again grabbed the towel rack and stepped out of the shower, left foot first. She then placed her right foot out of the shower, but her foot missed the bath mat. She slipped and landed on the tile floor. At the time of the fall, she was out of the shower. She testified that her fall was caused by "slippery tiles." The tiles were slippery, she states, because "they had no protective strips like on the tile, like was in the bathtub." Id. at 67:10-13. She also testified that she thought the hotel was wrong in not giving her "the handicapped room that I had requested." Id. at 106:4-6.

Sanders did not speak to anyone associated with the tour group about the accident. She did not call to complain that she did not receive a handicapped-accessible room. Her first contact of any kind with hotel personnel was after the fall. She filed the present action on August 11, 2011. This Court heard oral argument on the summary judgment motion on December 19, 2013.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "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." Fed. R. Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248; Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202, 204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pennsylvania, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Peters v. Delaware River Port Auth. of Pa. & N.J., 16 F.3d 1346, 1349 (3d Cir. 1994)). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "[W]ith respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears ...


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