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Wise v. Stonebridge Communities, LLC

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

April 29, 2019

Barbara Wise, et al., Appellants,
v.
Stonebridge Communities, LLC, Respondent..

          Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CV-17-3248

          Thomas E. Marshall, Engelmeier & Umanah, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Nicholas L. Klehr, LaBore, Giuliani & Viltoft, Ltd., Hopkins, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Considered and decided by Reyes, Presiding Judge; Hooten, Judge; and Cochran, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         The covenants of habitability in Minn. Stat. § 504B.161, subd. 1(a) (2018), do not support a private negligence cause of action by a tenant against a landlord for breach of the landlord's duty to repair and maintain the common areas of the leased premises.

          OPINION

          REYES, JUDGE.

         Appellant tenants appeal from a district court's grant of summary judgment for respondent landlord. Appellants argue that (1) respondent has an "unwaivable" statutory and common-law duty as a landlord to repair and maintain the leased premises; (2) the district court incorrectly applied the law on a landlord's common-law duty toward tenants; (3) genuine issues of material fact existed; and (4) the district court failed to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         FACTS

         Appellants David and Barbara Wise (collectively, the Wises) are longtime residents of Graham Place Apartments, a senior community in St. Paul. Graham Place Apartments is owned and managed by respondent Stonebridge Communities, LLC (Stonebridge). On October 20, 2014, Barbara Wise (Wise) tripped and fell on an uneven section of the sidewalk in front of the main entrance to Graham Place Apartments. Wise claimed that she tripped on both the uneven sidewalk and a black mat, but the precise location of the mat is disputed. As a result of her fall, Wise suffered a bloody nose, concussion, torn right bicep tendon, severe bruising, and an aggravation of a prior rotator-cuff repair to her right arm. She claims resulting pain, headaches, vision problems, and insomnia.

         The Wises sued Stonebridge in August 2016, claiming negligence and loss of consortium.[1] Stonebridge moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Wises' claims fail because Stonebridge did not have notice of the mat being in a dangerous position on the sidewalk, and, in the alternative, that the uneven sidewalk constituted an open-and-obvious condition, for which Stonebridge did not owe the Wises a duty to warn. The Wises opposed Stonebridge's motion, arguing that Stonebridge had an unwaivable duty, under statute and common law, to repair and maintain the common areas of the premises and that this duty superseded any open-and-obvious determination.

         The district court granted Stonebridge's motion for summary judgment on the sole basis that the uneven sidewalk presented an open-and-obvious condition. In the same order, the district court denied as moot the parties' other pretrial motions. This appeal follows.

         ISSUES

         I. Did the district court err in granting summary judgment to Stonebridge on the Wises' negligence claim against Stonebridge for allegedly violating its unwaivable statutory duty under Minn. Stat § 504B.161, subd. ...


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