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Stokes v. Lake Property Management, LLC

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Lake

January 13, 2020

DIANE STOKES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
LAKE PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, LLC, Defendant-Appellee.

          Civil Appeal from the Lake County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2017 CV 001439.

         Judgment: Affirmed.

          Mark D. McGraw, (For Plaintiff-Appellant).

          Gary L Nicholson and Mark A. Greer, Gallagher Sharp LLP, (For Defendant-Appellee).

          OPINION

          TIMOTHY P. CANNON, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Diane Stokes ("Stokes"), appeals from the summary judgment ruling in favor of appellee, Lake Property Management, LLC ("Lake Property"), on all claims in her complaint. The judgment was entered by the Lake County Court of Common Pleas on May 10, 2018. For the following reasons, the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

         {¶2} Lake Property owns a commercial building, in which the company's office is located. Several commercial tenants are also located in the building, including Marino's Hair Design ("Marino's"). Marino's has been a tenant for more than seventeen years, since before Lake Property purchased the building in 2012.

         {¶3} Before 2013, most of Marino's clients entered the building through a front door, facing the roadway. During that year, Lake Property's managing partner, Mark Cain, paid for the installation of a back door. Marino's customers were able to use the rear parking lot and enter the building through this back door. The back door opens to a common hallway; an entrance to Marino's is located in that hallway.

         {¶4} The incident involving Stokes occurred in December 2014. At that time, Stokes had been a client of Marino's for five years, where she had an appointment approximately once a week. Stokes is elderly and uses a walker. Although there is a handicap accessible parking area and entrance near Marino's front door, Stokes consistently used the rear parking lot and entrance after the rear door was installed.

         {¶5} On the day at issue, Stokes parked in the rear lot and, using her walker, entered the building through the rear door without incident. Following her appointment, Stokes exited Marino's through the common hallway to the rear door. After opening the door with her right hand, Stokes used her left hand to push her walker through the doorway. According to Stokes, the door closed quickly and hit her backside, which caused her to fall over the walker and land on the parking lot asphalt. Stokes suffered injuries to multiple parts of her body, including her face, neck, and shoulder.

         {¶6} Stokes filed a three-count complaint against Lake Property, alleging (1) negligent installation and maintenance of the rear door, (2) negligent failure to warn, and (3) creating and maintaining a nuisance. In part, Stokes alleges Lake Property was aware that the rear door was difficult to open and closed too quickly but did nothing to remedy the problem.

         {¶7} Lake Property moved for summary judgment, advancing three arguments. First, Lake Property argued that, as a commercial landlord, it only owed Stokes a duty to refrain from willful and wanton misconduct, and Stokes had not produced any evidence meeting this high standard. Second, Lake Property argued Stokes failed to produce any evidence that it had notice of any allegedly hazardous condition on the property. Finally, Lake Property argued that, to the extent Stokes alleges the door was defective, she admittedly knew of the alleged danger and continued to use the door at her own peril.

         {¶8} In response, Stokes argued that Lake Property owed her a duty of ordinary care because she was its "business invitee by implied invitation" and because she was a "frequenter" of the building. She maintained that Lake Property had breached its duty of ordinary care. Further, in relation to her prior knowledge of the danger posed by the door, Stokes referenced her deposition, in which she testified the door had closed much quicker when she exited the building that day than it ever had in the past.

         {¶9} The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Lake Property. The court held that Stokes was a licensee, but not a "frequenter"; there was no evidence that Lake Property had engaged in willful and wanton misconduct; and, even if Stokes was a business invitee, she had prior knowledge of the door's alleged condition.

         {¶10} Stokes noticed an appeal from this judgment and raises nine assignments of error for our review:

[1.] The trial court committed reversible error in determining that [Lake Property] was a commercial landlord out of possession and control of the place of injury.
[2.] The court committed reversible error in determining that there was no evidence before the court that [Lake Property] was in possession and control of the area of the injury.
[3.] The trial court committed reversible error in determining that [Stokes] was not a business invitee of [Lake Property] by implied invitation.
[4.] The trial court committed reversible error in finding that [Stokes] was not a frequenter of the building * * *
[5.] The trial court committed reversible error in finding that [Lake Property's] only duty of care was to refrain from willfully and wantonly injuring plaintiff.
[6.] The trial court committed reversible error in finding there was no evidence [Lake Property] behaved in a willful and/or wanton manner.
[7.] The trial court committed reversible error in finding that [Stokes'] claims fail because she had prior knowledge of the door.
[8.] The trial court committed reversible error in failing to rule on [Stokes'] third cause of action for nuisance in its Judgment Entry granting ...

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