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Raines v. Hale

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

March 28, 2018


          On Appeal from the 414th District Court McLennan County, Texas Trial Court No. 2009-3005-5; Honorable Vicki Menard, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.


          Patrick A. Pirtle Justice

         Appellant, Norman Raines, appeals a "take nothing" summary judgment entered against him in his personal injury lawsuit filed against Appellees, Ira Hale and One Pine Tree, Inc., d/b/a Alpha Auto (hereinafter "Hale"), for injuries sustained while working at Hale's place of business. By three issues, Raines contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because a fact issue existed regarding (1) whether a premise defect existed, (2) whether the premise defect was open and obvious, and (3) whether Hale breached a duty to provide a safe work environment.[1] We affirm.


         Raines worked for Hale as an independent contractor doing auto-body repairs, when he was asked to sharpen the blade on a riding lawnmower. Raines attempted to sharpen the blade by first raising it on an automotive frame machine. To remove the mower blade, Raines used his own pneumatic impact wrench rather than a simple hand-held wrench because there was no hand-held wrench available that fit the bolt securing the blade to the lawnmower. There is nothing in the record to suggest that Hale required or recommended that Raines use the impact wrench. After Raines sharpened the blade he then attempted to reattach it to the lawnmower by again using the pneumatic impact wrench. During that process, the bolt snapped and the blade fell, striking Raines in the face.

         Raines then sued Hale, seeking recovery for the injuries he sustained, based on theories of premises liability and failure to provide a safe work environment. In his pleadings, Raines maintained that he was an invitee because he was not hired to perform maintenance or repair work on lawnmowers. Raines contended that, as an invitee, Hale owed him a duty to use ordinary care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition, inspect the property to discover latent defects, and to make safe any premise defect or give an adequate warning of any dangers. Raines further alleged that Hale should have provided him with a reasonably safe working environment, including a proper lift to elevate the lawnmower and a person to assist him.

         Hale filed a traditional motion for summary judgment alleging the accident and the resultant injuries were not caused by a condition of the real property but rather by Raines's own negligence in using an impact wrench on a job that did not call for the use of such equipment. Based on excerpts taken from Raines's deposition, Hale further alleged that, even if Raines's claim was considered to be a premises liability claim, the danger of using an impact wrench was open and obvious. Hale also claimed that he was not obligated to provide Raines any tools or instruments because he was an independent contractor.

         Standard of Review

         The standard of review for a traditional summary judgment under Rule 166a(c) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure is well established. Nixon v. Mr. Property Management Company, Inc., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548 (Tex. 1985). The moving party carries the burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Diversicare General Partner, Inc. v. Rubio, 185 S.W.3d 842, 846 (Tex. 2005). Evidence favorable to the nonmovant will be taken as true in deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact. Fort Worth Osteopathic Hosp., Inc. v. Reese, 148 S.W.3d 94, 99 (Tex. 2004). All reasonable inferences, including any doubts, must be resolved in favor of the nonmovant. Id. A defendant is entitled to summary judgment if the evidence disproves as a matter of law at least one element of every cause of action alleged or if it conclusively establishes all elements of an affirmative defense. Randall's Food Markets, Inc. v. Johnson, 891 S.W.2d 640, 644 (Tex. 1995). Once the defendant establishes a right to summary judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to respond to the motion and present evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact. City of Houston v. Clear Creek Basin Authority, 589 S.W.2d 671, 678-79 (Tex. 1979).

         When, as here, a party presents multiple grounds for summary judgment and the order does not specify the ground on which the trial court rendered summary judgment, the appellant must negate all grounds on appeal. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. S.S., 858 S.W.2d 374, 381 (Tex. 1993). That is, the summary judgment must be affirmed on appeal if any of the grounds presented in the motion are meritorious. Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 216 (Tex. 2003); FM Props. Operating Co. v. City of Austin, 22 S.W.3d 868, 872 (Tex. 2000).

         Issue One-Premises Liability

         By his first issue, Raines contends the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of Hale because, under his theory of premises liability, there was a material fact issue regarding whether a premise defect existed that caused his injuries. In response, Hale contends Raines's injuries were not caused by a premise defect but instead by his own negligence.

         In a premises liability action, the duty owed by a property owner or occupant is determined by the status of the complaining party at the time and place of injury, i.e., whether the claimant was an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Scott & White Mem. Hosp. v. Fair,310 S.W.3d 411, 412 (Tex. 2010); Greater Houston Transportation Company v. Phillips, 801 S.W.2d 523, 525 (Tex. 1990). An invitee is a person who enters the property of another at the express or implied invitation of the owner or occupier for mutual benefit. Rosas v. Buddies Food Store, 518 S.W.2d 534, 536 (Tex. 1975). As such, it is clear from the summary judgment record that Raines was an invitee. However, the occurrence of an injury on the property of another does not alone make the ...

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