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Meloy v. Store

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District

June 28, 2013

GENEVA MELOY, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
CIRCLE K STORE, et al., Defendant-Appellee.

Civil Appeal from the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2011 CV 00305.

George W. Cochran, (For Plaintiffs-Appellants).

Vincent J. Lodico and Robert C. Buchbinder, Crabbe, Brown & James, LLP, (For Defendant-Appellee).



{¶1} Appellants, Geneva Meloy, et al., appeal from the judgment of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas granting appellee, Circle K Store, summary judgment. At issue is whether there is a genuine issue of material fact on whether the condition which allegedly caused appellant-Geneva Meloy ("Meloy") to trip and fall was open and obvious. For the reasons discussed in this opinion, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the matter for further proceedings.

{¶2} Just before 7 a.m., on August 6, 2010, Meloy stopped into appellee's store in Brimfield, Ohio to purchase lottery tickets. After making the purchase, she exited the store, turned left, and proceeded to walk toward her vehicle. Displays situated outside the Circle K narrowed the walkway that served as both the ingress and egress to the store. As Meloy approached a pallet of Morton water-softening salt, she moved toward the display to accommodate other patrons attempting to enter the store. Meloy felt the fabric of her pants snag on something and, unable to regain her balance, fell to the ground, injuring her knees and shoulder. According to Meloy, as she passed the pallet, her leg became caught on a sign advertising the price of the salt. She further claimed she did not notice the sign until after she fell due to its location and size.

{¶3} With the assistance of two unknown individuals, Meloy returned to her feet and filed an incident report with Robert Wolfe, the store's manager. After returning home, Meloy sought medical treatment, which revealed she suffered a fracture to her right shoulder and bruises to her knees.

{¶4} Appellants filed a complaint against appellee alleging negligence. After completing discovery, appellee moved for summary judgment. Appellants filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion. On December 7, 2012, the trial court granted appellee's motion, ruling appellee owed Meloy no duty of care because the condition at issue was open and obvious. This appeal follows.

{¶5} Appellants assign six errors for this court's review. Each assigned error contests the trial court's entry of summary judgment on their negligence claim. Summary judgment is a procedural tool that terminates litigation and thus should be entered with circumspection. Davis v. Loopco Industries, Inc., 66 Ohio St.3d 64, 66 (1993). Summary judgment is proper where (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact remaining to be litigated; (2) the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law; and (3) it appears from the evidence that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion, and, viewing the evidence in the non-moving party's favor, that conclusion favors the movant. See e.g. Civ.R. 56(C).

{¶6} When considering a motion for summary judgment, the trial court may not weigh the evidence or select among reasonable inferences. Dupler v. Mansfield Journal Co., 64 Ohio St.2d 116, 121 (1980). Rather, all doubts and questions must be resolved in the non-moving party's favor. Murphy v. Reynoldsburg, 65 Ohio St.3d 356, 359 (1992). Hence, a trial court is required to overrule a motion for summary judgment where conflicting evidence exists and alternative reasonable inferences can be drawn. Pierson v. Norfork Southern Corp., 11th Dist. No. 2002-A-0061, 2003-Ohio-6682, ¶36. In short, the central issue on summary judgment is, "whether the evidence presents sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-252 (1986). On appeal, we review a trial court's entry of summary judgment de novo. Grafton v. Ohio Edison Co., 77 Ohio St.3d 102, 105 (1996).

{¶7} For their first assignment of error, appellants allege:

{¶8} "The trial court committed prejudicial error in granting defendant's-appellee's, Circle K Store's[, ] motion for summary judgment based upon its determination that defendant's-appellee's evidence on the 'open and obvious' defense was stronger than plaintiffs'-appellants' evidence."

{¶9} Initially, we note that appellants' first assignment of error suggests the trial court engaged in a weighing exercise in granting appellee summary judgment. A review of the entry, however, demonstrates the trial court's conclusion was premised upon its finding that appellants did not advance sufficient evidence to create an issue for trial on the issue of duty. The court did not find appellee's defense "stronger than appellants' evidence. Rather, the court determined appellants failed to meet their reciprocal burden under Civ.R. 56. Given this clarification, we shall proceed to consider the propriety of the trial court's conclusion.

{¶10} In order to set forth a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must prove the following elements: (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages. See e.g. Hudspath v. The Cafaro Company, 11th Dist. No. 2004-A-0073, 2005-Ohio-6911, ¶9. In this case, Meloy was an invitee on appellee's business premises. A business owner owes his or her invitees a duty of reasonable care in maintaining the business premises in a safe condition. Estate of Mealy v. Sudheendra, 11th Dist. No. 2003-T-0065, 2004-Ohio-3505, ΒΆ29. This duty does not extend to dangers or obstructions that are so obvious that the invitee ...

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