This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Huntington Point Apartment Building, et al.,
defendants and third party plaintiffs,
Universal Cleaning Services,
third party defendant,
Third Party Defendant.
Filed June 20, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. PI 05-3998
William L. Walker, Theodore W. Stephany, Walker Law Offices, P.A., 3112 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (for appellant)
Timothy J. Leer, Stacey A. Nilsen, Johnson & Condon, P.A., 7401 Metro Boulevard, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55439-3034 (for respondents Huntington Point Apartment Building and Dominium Management Services, Inc.)
Paul E.D. Darsow, Jeanette P. Cogelow, Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetek & Pikala, P.A., 500 Young Quinlan Building, 81 South Ninth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402-3214 (for respondent Universal Cleaning Services)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Harten, Judge.*
Appellant challenges the district court’s final judgment granting summary judgment in favor of respondents and dismissing her slip-and-fall claim, arguing that genuine issues of material fact regarding respondent’s negligence and constructive notice of a dangerous condition preclude summary judgment. We affirm.
Appellant Marlene Frye was a tenant of respondent Huntington Point Apartment Building (Huntington) owned and operated by respondent Dominium Management Services, Inc (Dominium). Respondent Ritzy Clean, Inc. (Ritzy Clean) was a contractor hired to perform water extraction and carpet cleaning services in the lower level of Huntington Point Apartment. Ritzy Clean in turn subcontracted respondent Universal Cleaning Services (Universal) to perform these services two to three times per week.
The facts are largely undisputed. On a morning in January 2004, appellant, who was seven months’ pregnant, left her apartment to work out at a recreation room in another apartment building that was part of the same complex. The apartment building in which appellant resided has an inside foyer and stairs that separate the upstairs and downstairs levels. The floor of the building consists of a tile surface.
When appellant returned to her apartment building after her workout, she observed a white van and a blue “cable” extending from it into the building. Appellant testified that the “cable” was “like a hose” because of its similar size, but was not in fact a hose. The van was used to transport a carpet extractor set-up, which included a hydra-master machine, water tanks and hoses, and various tools used to clean carpet and extract water. Appellant testified that she was careful to avoid any snow on the ground as she approached her apartment building.
When appellant entered her apartment building, she noticed that the cable extended into the foyer area and down the stairs. The floor mat normally located at the entrance was removed, and there were no warning signs that the floor was wet or slippery. When appellant approached the top of the stairs and extended her arm to grasp the railing, she was “swept off [her] feet” and fell, landing at the bottom of the stairs. When appellant sat up, she noticed that she was sitting in a puddle of water and that the backs of her pants and sweatshirt were wet. Appellant admitted that she did not observe water at the top of the stairs or on the stairs either before, during, or after the fall.
Appellant stated that it was her belief that it was water at the top of the stairs that caused her to slip and fall down the stairs. She testified, “I don’t recall anything being on the stairs . . . [b]ut I assume that there is something on the stairs, because [water] was on the back of my shirt.” She denied tripping on the cable.
Subsequently, appellant sued
Dominium and Huntington, alleging that she slipped and fell as a result of their
negligence. Dominium commenced a
third-party action against Ritzy Clean and Universal, alleging that they were
responsible for any injuries that appellant incurred.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant contends that the
district court erred in granting respondents’ summary judgment because genuine
issues of material fact preclude summary judgment. “A motion for summary
judgment shall be granted when the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact
and that either party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fabio
v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (
“The party opposing summary
judgment may not establish genuine issues of material fact by relying upon
unverified and conclusory allegations, or postulated evidence that might be
developed at trial, or metaphysical doubt about the facts.” Dyrdal
v. Golden Nuggets, Inc., 689 N.W.2d 779, 783 (
“A defendant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of
law when the record reflects a complete lack of proof on an essential element
of the plaintiff’s claim.” Lubbers v.
The existence of a
legal duty is generally an issue for this court to review as a matter of law. Louis
v. Louis, 636 N.W.2d 314, 318 (
A. Duty to Keep Premises in a Reasonably Safe Condition
Essentially, appellant makes two arguments. First, appellant asserts that sufficient evidence exists that Dominium breached its duty to keep and maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition, and that the breach proximately caused her to slip and fall on water at the top of the stairs. Appellant relies heavily on circumstantial evidence that there was a cable at the top of the stairs, that she was “swept off [her] feet,” that she observed water where she landed at the bottom of the stairs, and that she felt water on the back of her pants and sweatshirt. Appellant argues that it is reasonable to infer that water existed at the top of the stairs that caused the dangerous condition resulting in her fall. But appellant concedes that for the area in question, there is no evidence of (1) water accumulating at the top of the stairs; (2) a potential source of water accumulation, such as a leaky hose; or (3) water that had previously accumulated and been cleaned up in that area.
To prevail on the negligence
claim, the plaintiff has “the burden of proving either that defendant caused
the dangerous condition or that it knew, or should have known, that the
condition existed.” Messner v. Red
Owl Stores, 238
But there is no evidence—direct or circumstantial—of a dangerous condition caused by respondents’ negligence. Appellant speculates that an accumulation of water at the top of the stairs is the most reasonable inference of what caused her to fall. But we have no evidence that something occurred, like either a leak in a hose or a spill caused by respondent, which resulted in water accumulating at the top of the stairs. Because the evidence does not establish the existence of a dangerous condition at the top of the stairs caused or known by respondents, appellant has not presented sufficient evidence to create an issue of material fact.
relies heavily on Bahl v. Country Club
Mkt., 410 N.W.2d 916 (Minn. App. 1987), to argue that the jury
must be allowed to consider causation.
In Bahl, a woman entered a
supermarket at around 6:00 p.m. in mid-December and slipped and fell near its
also relies on Ingram v. Syverson,
674 N.W.2d 233 (Minn. App. 2004), review
B. Constructive Knowledge
Second, appellant argues
that respondent had constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition, i.e., an
accumulation of water on the floor at the top of the stairs. A landowner who does not cause a dangerous
condition may nonetheless be liable if the landowner had actual or constructive
knowledge of the dangerous condition. Messner, 238
Here, appellant has not
presented evidence of an accumulation of water at the top of the stairs when
she left the apartment for her workout or when she returned. Without evidence that respondents knew about,
or should have known about a dangerous condition, there can be no constructive
knowledge imputed to respondents. See
Appellant relies on Bonniwell v. St. Paul
Union Stockyards Co., 271
Appellant argues that like the property owner in Bonniwell, respondent had notice of the potential danger posed by the water removal work. Appellant suggests that a reasonable inference from the evidence is that the water had accumulated after she left the apartment building and it was in existence for approximately one hour, or the time period before she returned to the apartment building. But appellant’s theory must be based on “sufficient evidence” that gives rise to a reasonable inference of a dangerous condition. Here, we have no evidence from which to conclude that water accumulated at the top of the stairs. Thus, Bonniwell is factually distinguishable.
Appellant also relies on Hasan v. McDonald’s Corp., 377 N.W.2d 472 (Minn. App. 1985),
to argue that respondent had constructive knowledge of a dangerous
condition at the top of the stairs. In Hasan, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a liquid in a heavily
traveled area of a McDonald’s restaurant during lunchtime when the restaurant
was “very busy.”
Appellant argues that a jury could reasonably infer that a water leak from the cable occurred between the time when she left the apartment building and when she returned. But unlike Hasan, appellant presents no evidence or reasonable inference that water had accumulated at the top of the stairs, which would put respondent on constructive notice of a dangerous condition.
We conclude that appellant failed to present sufficient evidence that her slip and fall was caused by an accumulation of water at the top of the stairs directly caused by respondents or that respondents had constructive notice of water accumulating at the top of the stairs. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 Because appellant testified that the cable was not a hose, we refer to it as a cable throughout the remainder of this opinion.
Appellant also cites another case for the proposition that circumstantial
evidence can establish that a landowner has constructive knowledge of a general
danger posed by its operations. See Martin
v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 183 F.3d 770, 774-775 (8th Cir. 1999) (applying
Missouri law and holding that constructive notice existed where customer
slipped on shotgun shells in store because store clerk testified the pellets
could have been on the floor for up to an hour but did not inspect the aisle
when he had the opportunity five minutes before the fall). Martin does