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Davis v. Outdoor Design Group, LLC

Superior Court of Delaware

May 16, 2018

DARRYL DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
OUTDOOR DESIGN GROUP, LLC, EMORY HILL REAL ESTATE SERVICES, INC., and CITIGROUP, INC., Defendants.

          Submitted: May 8, 2018

         Upon Defendants' Joint Motion for Summary Judgment GRANTED

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE ANDREA L. ROCANELLI, JUDGE.

         Upon consideration of the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Outdoor Design Group, LLC, Emory Hill Real Estate Services, Inc., and Citigroup, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants"); the opposition thereto filed by Plaintiff Darryl Davis ("Plaintiff); the facts, arguments, and authorities set forth by the parties; the Superior Court Civil Rules; statutory and decisional law; and the entire record in this case, the Court hereby finds as follows:

         1. This is a personal injury case involving a slip and fall. The following facts are undisputed:

Plaintiff was employed by G4S Regulated Security Solutions, LLC ("Employer") as a security officer. Employer contracted with Citigroup, Inc. to provide security services at Citigroup's 500 White Clay Center, Newark Delaware location ("Citigroup Location"). Emory Hill Real Estate Services acted as an agent to Citigroup's landlord at the Citigroup location, and contracted with Outdoor Design Group, LLC to provide snow and ice removal services at the Citigroup Location.
In the early morning hours of January 12, 2015, Plaintiff was acting in the course of his employment providing security services at the Citigroup Location. Freezing rain began to fall by at least 1:00 a.m. and continued to fall until sometime between 8:45 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., at which time rain continued to fall. At approximately 3:30 a.m., Plaintiff slipped and fell twice on ice while checking out a delivery vehicle. There was ongoing freezing rain at the time of Plaintiff s falls.

         2. On January 12, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that negligence on the part of all Defendants caused Defendant's falls, and that he was injured as a result.

         3. Defendants move for summary judgment. Defendants argue that because Plaintiffs falls occurred during ongoing freezing rain, the continuing storm doctrine applied and temporarily suspended Defendants' duty of care to keep the premises safe from hazards associated with ice and snow. As a result, Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot make out a negligence claim as a matter of law. Plaintiff opposes Defendants' motion, arguing that the Court should apply the unusual circumstances exception to the continuing storm doctrine.

         4. The Court may grant summary judgment only where the moving party can "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[1] The moving party bears the initial burden of proof and, once that is met, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to show that a material issue of fact exists.[2] At the motion for summary judgment phase, the Court must view the facts "in the light most favorable to the non-moving party."[3]

         5. To succeed in a negligence claim under Delaware law, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty and that the "breach of that duty proximately caused plaintiffs injury."[4] In this case, it is undisputed that Plaintiff was a business invitee. Delaware law generally provides that a landowner owes a duty to business invitees to "mak[e] safe any dangerous condition on the land which the landowner either knows about or should discover upon reasonable inspection of the property."[5] To that end, landowners and landlords typically have "an affirmative duty to keep the premises safe from hazards associated with natural accumulations of ice and snow."[6]

         6. However, Delaware courts have adopted the continuing storm doctrine as a caveat to a landowner's general duty to remove ice and snow.[7] Under the continuing storm doctrine, "A business establishment, landlord, carrier, or other inviter, in the absence of unusual circumstances, is permitted to await the end of the storm and a reasonable time thereafter to remove ice and snow from an outdoor entrance walk, platform, or steps."[8] The general principle underlying the continuing storm doctrine is that "changing conditions due to the pending storm render it inexpedient and impracticable to take earlier effective action, and that ordinary care does not require it."[9]

         7. It is undisputed that there was ongoing freezing rain at the time of Plaintiffs falls. As a result, Defendants contend that the continuing storm doctrine applied and temporarily suspended Defendants' duty to conduct ice removal and remediation efforts. Plaintiff does not challenge the applicability of the continuing storm doctrine, but argues that the Court should apply the unusual circumstances exception. The applicability of the unusual circumstances exception is a question of law, not fact, and is for the Court to decide.[10]

         8. Plaintiff generally asserts that the unusual circumstances exception should apply because the precipitation was light, the storm was predicted in advance, the lighting was inadequate, and because the policy underlying the continuing storm doctrine would not be ...


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