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Sheil v. Regal Entertainment Group

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 20, 2013




Plaintiff, Eileen Sheil, filed this lawsuit seeking damages for injuries she sustained after falling in a restroom at the Regal Movie Theater in Newtown, Pennsylvania. The defendant, Regal Entertainment Group, has filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

1. Factual background

On August 21, 2011, Ms. Sheil and her sister, Brigid Smyth, entered the ladies’ bathroom at the Regal after watching a movie. They had been to this movie theater many times. According to Ms. Sheil, Ms. Smyth entered the bathroom first. As Ms. Sheil approached the sink area, she felt her shoe and cane slip out from under her and she fell to the floor. Ms. Sheil did not see what caused her to slip and fall, but she believes it was water because there was an area about the size of her hand on the buttocks area of her pants that was wet. At the time of the incident, Ms. Sheil told Ms. Smyth that her pants were wet. On prior visits to this movie theater, both sisters had used the theater’s bathrooms and had observed drips of water on the floor. Neither reported ever falling because of the water on the floor.

Ms. Sheil describes the bathroom as having a tiled floor with sinks on the left side of the room and three bathroom stalls on the left. Hand dryers are located on the right wall approximately six feet past the sinks. There is a mat on the floor below the dryers but no mat in front of the sinks. There was no wet floor sign in the bathroom.

Regal’s associate manager, Henri Scott, responded to the accident and prepared an incident report. See Plt.’s Resp., Exh. D. The report indicates that Ms. Sheil stated she fell when her cane hit a spot of water. Witnesses reported hearing a disposal box fall and then seeing Ms. Sheil fall. The report also indicates that there was no water on the floor when Scott inspected the bathroom. Ms. Sheil was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

Scott also testified that the bathrooms were busiest when movies were letting in and out. He was aware that water would splash on the floor from the sink from time to time. Regal’s inspection policy requires that each bathroom be inspected every half hour. It is not known when this particular bathroom had last been inspected prior to this incident. The testimony of another associate manager, Robert Mayberry, was consistent with Scott’s testimony concerning Regal’s policies and his experience with water on the bathroom floors.

2. Summary Judgment

The standard for summary judgment is well established. I must consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. If there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, summary judgment is appropriate. An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.

However, the non-moving party cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions to defeat a summary judgment motion. Here, Ms. Sheil must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Electrical Industrial Corp. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). She “must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion” and cannot “simply reassert factually unsupported allegations.” Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1992). She cannot “merely rely upon conclusory allegations in her pleadings or in memoranda and briefs.” Harter v. GAF Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 852 (3d Cir. 1992).

3. Discussion[1]

It is uncontested that Sheil was a business invitee, and thus, Regal owed a duty to protect her from foreseeable harm. Under Pennsylvania law, to succeed on her claim of negligence against a business owner, Ms. Sheil must show that Regal: 1) knew or by reasonable care should have known of an unreasonable risk of harm to business invitees; 2) should not expect invitees to discover or protect themselves from the danger; and 3) failed to exercise reasonable care to protect the invitees from the danger. See Carrender v. Fitterer, 469 A.2d 120, 123 (Pa. 1983); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343.[2]

Regal contends that Ms. Sheil has failed to produce any “direct evidence” that there was water on the bathroom floor, and more importantly, that Regal knew or had reason to know that there was water on the floor. Def.’s Mot., ¶¶ 25, 26. Ms. Sheil contends that the “frequency of the occurrence of water being on the bathroom floor each time the bathroom was inspected gave defendant actual notice of the dangerous condition.” Plt.’s Mem. 4. She further asserts that Regal’s “violation of its own bathroom maintenance policy established a factual issue as to [its] compliance with its duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of its business invitees.” Id.

First, I find that there is sufficient evidence offered by Ms. Sheil to raise an issue of material fact as to whether there was water on the floor and whether it was enough to present an unreasonable risk of harm to someone using the bathroom. Ms. Sheil testified that although she didn’t see water on the floor prior to slipping, she believes there was water on the floor because her pants were wet after her fall. She also testified that she had observed drips on the bathroom floors in the sink area on prior visits to the theater. Although Regal employees testified at deposition that they did not observe any water on the bathroom floor, the incident report indicates Ms. Sheil told ...

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