This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. §480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).






Betty Elaine Fernow,





East Side Hospitality, Inc.,

d/b/a Hillcrest Bowl,



Filed December 18, 2001


Toussaint, Chief Judge


Ramsey County District Court

File No. C8006435



Tina Michele Dobbelaere, Tewksbury, Kerfeld, Zimmer, 219 South Fourth Street, Suite 500, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)


Michael S. Kreidler, Stich, Angell, Kreidler, Brownson & Ballou, P.A., The Crossings, Suite 120, 250 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Hanson, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

On appeal from summary judgment dismissing her negligence action against Eastside Hospitality, Inc., d/b/a Hillcrest Bowl, Betty Fernow argues the district court erred in concluding that no genuine issues of material fact remain as to whether Hillcrest Bowl had actual or constructive notice that the stairwell in which Fernow fell was not illuminated at the time of the fall.  Alternatively, Fernow argues that issues of material fact remain on whether (1) the stairwell light switch was negligently located; and (2) Hillcrest Bowl failed to monitor the stairwell and negligently allowed the wrought-iron gate at the top of the steps to remain open while the stairwell lights were off.  Because we conclude that the unilluminated stairwell posed an obvious risk of harm, we affirm.


            When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, this court must determine whether genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district court applied the law correctly.  Moe v. Kilde, 419 N.W.2d 820, 821 (Minn. App. 1988).  Genuine issues of material fact exist when “the evidence presents sufficient disagreement to require submission [of a claim] to a jury.”  DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69 (Minn. 1997) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2512 (1986)).  By contrast, no genuine issues of material fact exist when the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational fact finder to find for the nonmoving party.  Id.  Whether a landowner owes an entrant a duty of care is a question of law subject to de novo review. See Germann v. F.L. Smithe Mach. Co., 395 N.W.2d 922, 924 (Minn. 1986)(concluding that manufacturer had legal duty to warn operators of danger.)    

            Fernow essentially argues the district court erred in concluding that Hillcrest Bowl owed her no duty of care as a matter of law.  Landowners owe entrants a duty to use reasonable care to secure their safety.  Sutherland v. Barton, 570 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn. 1997).  But the landowners’ duty of care is limited.  See Wolvert v. Gustafson, 275 Minn. 239, 241, 146 N.W.2d 172, 173 (1966) (stating landowners are not insurers of the safety of all people on their premises).  Landowners are thus not liable for unanticipated dangers.  Sutherland, 570 N.W.2d at 7.  Nor are they liable for obvious dangers, unless they have reason to anticipate the harm despite the obvious nature of the danger.  Lawrence v. Hollerich, 394 N.W.2d 853, 855 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Dec. 17, 1986). 

A danger is obvious if it is plainly visible.  Id.; see, e.g., Bisher v. Homart Dev. Co., 328 N.W.2d 731, 733-34 (Minn. 1983) (concluding large planter in plain view was obvious danger); Munoz v. Applebaum’s Food Market, Inc., 293 Minn. 433, 434, 196 N.W.2d 921, 921-22 (1972) (concluding danger associated with pool of water 20 feet square and one-quarter inch deep was obvious); Sperr v. Ramsey County, 429 N.W.2d 315, 317-18 (Minn. App. 1988) (concluding clearly visible low-hanging branch constituted obvious danger), review denied (Minn. Nov. 23, 1988).  And whether a danger is visible depends not on whether the injured party actually saw the danger, but on whether a person would reasonably have perceived the danger.  Lawrence, 394 N.W.2d at 855-56.

The district court dismissed Fernow’s negligence action on a finding that Hillcrest Bowl lacked actual or constructive notice that the stairwell was not illuminated.  But we need not decide whether the record conclusively shows that Hillcrest Bowl had no notice of the danger, because we conclude as a matter of law that the dark stairwell posed an obvious danger.  See Hoyt Inv. Co. v. Bloomington Commerce & Trade Ctr. Assocs., 418 N.W.2d 173, 176 (Minn. 1988) (when affirming lower court judgment appellate court may modify basis for grant of relief); Kafka v. O’Malley, 221 Minn. 490, 499, 22 N.W.2d 845, 849 (1946) (appellate court may affirm lower court ruling on any ground appearing as a matter of law on the record even if ground not considered by lower court).  The stairwell was visibly dark and Fernow would reasonably have perceived the danger and, in fact, did perceive the danger.  Approximately halfway down the steps, Fernow realized that the light at the bottom of the stairwell was off and that the stairwell was “extra dark.”  She considered retreating, but was in a hurry to get her shoes and ball and opted to proceed.  Fernow fell when she let go of the handrail and missed the last step. 

In addition to the risk being obvious, Hillcrest Bowl had no reason to anticipate that harm would result despite the obvious nature of the risk because the dark stairwell was not more treacherous than it obviously appeared to be.  See Lawrence, 394 N.W.2d at 855 (granting possessors of land summary judgment on grounds that they had no duty to warn of danger that could result from descending slope because slope was not more treacherous than it obviously appeared to be.)  Accordingly, we conclude that, under the circumstances, Hillcrest Bowl did not breach a duty of care because the danger was obvious.  Summary judgment dismissing Fernow’s negligence action is, therefore, appropriate.