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Streed v. Neuharth

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 21, 2014

ERIK JOHN STREED, as the Father and Natural Guardian of A.J.S., a Minor; and ERIK JOHN STREED, individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
KEN A. NEUHARTH and SUSANNA M. NEUHARTH, Innkeepers and Owners and Operators of The Country Cove, Defendants.

Ellyn J. Bullock, LAW OFFICE OF ELLYN J. BULLOCK LLC; Alan I. Silver and Steven P. Aggergaard, BASSFORD REMELE, P.A., for plaintiffs.

Anissa M. Mediger and Kathryn R. Downey, MURNANE BRANDT, P.A., for defendants.

ORDER

PATRICK J. SCHILTZ, District Judge.

Defendants Ken A. Neuharth and Susanna M. Neuharth own a house in southeastern Minnesota, not far from the Mississippi River ("the Property"). The Neuharths regularly rent the Property to vacationers. In December 2010, the family of plaintiff Erik John Streed rented the Property from the Neuharths. During the family's stay, Streed's minor son (A.J.S.) and his cousin (I.L.) engaged in horseplay by rapidly spinning each other in a swivel chair that the Neuharths had placed in an open loft. A.J.S. flew off the chair, crashed through the loft's wooden guardrail, and fell to the floor below. Streed brought this lawsuit against the Neuharths, seeking to hold them liable for the injuries that his son suffered. This matter is before the Court on the Neuharths' motion for summary judgment.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Neuharths' motion is granted, and Streed's complaint is dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

The Property - a two-story dwelling located in Goodhue County, Minnesota - was constructed over the course of 2004 and 2005. See Morem Dep. 32-33, 52-53 [ECF No. 47-8]. Among its features is a large second-story loft. See ECF Nos. 47-7 & 47-10. Two sides of the loft are enclosed by walls, and two sides are open to the first story. See ECF No. 47-14. A guardrail consisting of top and bottom horizontal rails and vertical balusters (that is, spindles connecting the top and bottom rails) extends along the open sides of the loft. Id.

Goodhue County building regulations impose various requirements related to guardrails. For example, guardrails must be able to withstand live load forces of 200 pounds per square foot. See Morem Dep. 60. Inspectors test whether a guardrail meets this load-force requirement by "grab[bing] onto the railing... and the newel posts and the spindles" and applying force to each of those elements to ensure that they are "rigid, sound, connected, [and] safe." Id. at 55-56.

The guardrail into which A.J.S. collided was formally inspected twice. First, in May 2005, Goodhue County building official Douglas Morem inspected the guardrail before issuing a Certificate of Occupancy for the Property. Id. at 51-56. Second, in February 2010, home inspector Lanol Leichty was hired by the Neuharths to inspect the Property. See Leichty Dep. 33-34 [ECF No. 47-9]. Although Leichty does not specifically remember conducting a load-pressure test on the guardrail, he testified that it is his routine practice to make certain that the guardrails he inspects meet the applicable load-force requirements, and he did not note any concerns about the Neuharths' guardrail in his report on the Property. Id. at 41-46, 61.

The Neuharths purchased the Property in March 2010 with the intent of renting it to vacationers. See Ken Neuharth Dep. 7, 13 [ECF No. 47-5]. Shortly after the purchase, the Neuharths began advertising the Property on various websites. Id. at 23-26. Joan Streed - Erik's mother and A.J.S.'s grandmother - saw one of those advertisements and inquired about renting the Property over the Christmas holiday. Joan Streed Dep. 9-10, 14 [ECF No. 47-1]. She and her husband toured the Property in October 2010 and, following that tour, reserved the Property for December 22 through December 26, 2010. Id. at 12, 18-21.

Twenty members of the extended Streed family stayed at the Property during that time, including Erik Streed and A.J.S. Id. at 14. On the evening of December 22, A.J.S. and I.L. took turns spinning each other on a swivel chair that had been placed in the loft by the Neuharths. See A.J.S. Dep. 12 [ECF No. 47-15]. At some point while I.L. was being spun by A.J.S., I.L. flew out of the chair and crashed into the guardrail. See I.L. Dep. 11-12 [ECF No. 47-4]. I.L. later testified that, as he hit the guardrail, he "might have heard it move." Id. at 13.

I.L. then spun A.J.S. on the chair. As I.L. had before him, A.J.S. flew out of the chair and crashed into the guardrail. Id. at 14. This time, however, the guardrail did not hold. A number of the balusters gave way, and A.J.S. fell through the guardrail to the floor below. A.J.S. suffered serious injuries, including a broken arm, a concussion, broken teeth, and a collapsed or punctured lung. See Erik Streed Dep. 96-97 [ECF No. 47-2]. Streed later brought this action against the Neuharths, alleging that they had breached their duty of reasonable care to their guests and that this breach proximately caused A.J.S.'s injuries.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute over a fact is "material" only if its resolution might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute over a fact is "genuine" only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." ...


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