McDevitt v. Sportsman’s Warehouse, Inc., Docket No. 37244
Idaho Supreme Court
May 27, 2011
Opinion Author: W. Jones, Justice
Concurring in Opinion: Eismann, Chief Justice; Burdick, Justice; J. Jones, Justice; and Horton, Justice
Whether a tenant in a multi-tenant shopping center has a duty to warn invitees of hazards located near an entrance to the tenant’s business.
Summary of Ruling:
Plaintiff-Appellant was injured when she tripped on an irrigation box located on a sidewalk outside of Defendant-Appellee’s business. Appellant asserted a negligence claim against Appellee. The district court granted summary judgment to Appellee because it did not owe Appellant a duty to keep the sidewalk outside its store safe or to warn of any hazards on it. On appeal, the Supreme Court considered whether Appellee owed such a duty to Appellant.
First, the Court held that, as a matter of law, the sidewalk was not part of the leased premises, based on the unambiguous language of the lease. Second, the Court held that Appellee did not have control over the sidewalk, due to the terms of the lease, the Declaration of Conditions, Restrictions and Easements recorded by the landlord. Finally, the Court turned to the key issue of whether to expand Idaho’s negligence law to impose upon a tenant in a multi-tenant shopping center a duty to warn invitees of hazards located in a common area that is also a potential path of ingress and egress.
In support of her position, Appellant cited a New Jersey Superior Court decision, Jackson v. Kmart Corp., 442 A.2d 1087 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 1981), in which the court held that a commercial tenant in a single-tenant shopping center has a duty to provide a safe path of egress from the premises. The Idaho Supreme Court declined to follow Jackson in this case.
First, the Court cited subsequent Third Circuit authority reviewing New Jersey precedent regarding sidewalk liability. In Holmes v. Kimco Realty Corp., 598 F.3d 115 (3d Cir. 2010), the Third Circuit concluded that, distinct from a single-tenant business, “a lessee in a multi-tenant shopping center does not have a duty to maintain common areas controlled by the landlord.” The Idaho Supreme Court cited the following policy reasons articulated by the Third Circuit: “(1) increased costs and confusion in requiring a tenant to make safe an area that the landlord already has a great incentive to keep safe because of its duty to maintain it; (2) uncertainty as to which areas each tenant is responsible for; and (3) the fact that a plaintiff would still have a remedy in a multi-tenant situation because it can recover from the landlord.”
Second, the Court noted the following additional policy reason for rejecting Appellant’s argument. In this case, it would have been an impossible duty for Appellee to warn of hazards because, according to the lease agreement, Appellee was required to seek the permission of the landlord to post signs or warnings within the common area. Thus, Appellee owed no duty.
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Link to Court:
Attorneys of Record:
Jeffrey J. Hepworth, P.A. & Associates
Jeffrey J. Hepworth Argued
Carey Perkins LLP
Jeremy D. Brown Argued
D. Aaron Hooper