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Jakubiec v. Cities Service Co.

decided: April 20, 1988.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 88 C 8724--John A. Nordberg, Judge.

Cummings, Wood, Jr., and Flaum, Circuit Judges.

Author: Per Curiam

Stanley W. Jakubiec, plaintiff, is appealing the district court's order granting summary judgment to defendant Cities Service Company (Cities) and Edward J. Meyers Company.*fn1 We reverse.


The plaintiff's claim, sounded in negligence, is based on an injury Jakubiec suffered on Cities' premises in 1982. The accident occurred when Jakubiec, a truck driver for Edward J. Meyers Company,*fn2 slipped off a platform*fn3 when attempting to load his truck with fuel at Cities' refinery. On this particular night, the platform was covered with ice and snow, the result of natural weather conditions. The plaintiff fell when attempting to fill his truck with fuel using the "bottom" load method. This procedure, implemented several months prior to the accident, required that the driver load the fuel from underneath the truck. Thus, Jakubiec had to bend down to make the necessary connections. (The previous "top" loading method was performed by loading the fuel into the top of the truck, and required the assistance of Cities' personnel.*fn4) In doing so, the plaintiff slipped from the platform to the ground beneath his truck, a distance of about two feet.

Jakubiec alleged that the accident occurred as a result of the slippery condition of the platform. He also alleged that the loading platform itself was dangerous.*fn5 When the defendants moved for summary judgment, the court referred the case to a magistrate to determine whether summary judgment should be granted. The magistrate advised the court to reject the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Despite this recommendation, the court ordered summary judgment for defendants. This appeal followed.


We review a grant of summary judgment to determine whether a genuine issue of a material fact exists and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The primary purpose of the rule is to avoid unnecessary trials when there is no genuine issue in dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); Smith v. Sno Eagles Snowmobile Club, Inc., 823 F.2d 1193, 1195 (7th Cir. 1987). We must therefore decide whether the district court was correct in concluding there was no genuine issue which required a factual finding.

The magistrate decided in favor of Jakubiec on the summary judgment motion. However, a magistrate's findings are not binding on the court since only the judge has adjudicative power over dispositive motions. Taylor v. Oxford, 575 F.2d 152, 154 (7th Cir. 1978). Nevertheless, they are persuasive in the instant case. The reviewing court in a summary judgment appeal must look at the entire record and all reasonable inferences drawn from the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reardon v. Wroan, 811 F.2d 1025, 1027 (7th Cir. 1987). As discussed below, the magistrate's conclusions were reasonable.

A. Patent Defects

The district court ruled, as a matter of law, in favor of Cities since owners and occupiers of land owe no duty to protect or warn of naturally occurring conditions. Jakubiec agrees that Illinois law, the controlling law for the case, does not recognize a landowner's duty to protect or warn business invitees of naturally occurring conditions such as ice or snow. Lohan v. Walgreens Co., 140 Ill. App. 3d 171, 488 N.E.2d 679, 94 Ill. Dec. 680 (1st Dist. 1986); Greenwood v. Leu, 14 Ill. App. 3d 11, 17, 302 N.E.2d 359, 361-62 (5th Dist. 1973). This is true even if the owner is aware that the accumulation itself is hazardous. Hankla v. Burger Chef Systems, Inc., 93 Ill. App. 3d 909, 910, 418 N.E.2d 35, 36, 49 Ill. Dec. 391 (4th Dist. 1981).

However, this does not completely dispose of the issue. Jakubiec contends that the natural conditions were an aggravating factor to an already dangerous condition, the platform from which he fell.*fn6 Where a condition exists which will become dangerous by the addition of ice and snow, such a condition, if able to be discovered by the owner in advance, is a patent defect. McGourty v. Chiapetti, 38 Ill. App. 2d 165, 186 N.E.2d 102 (1st Dist. 1962). A land owner is liable for injuries which result from patent defects. McGourty, 38 Ill. App. 2d at 175, 186 N.E.2d at 106. Thus, the district court should have allowed Jakubiec to proceed on his claim that the platform itself was dangerous. Furthermore, Cities may also be liable under another legal theory. As discussed below, the Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 343A imposes a duty to warn invitees of dangerous conditions.

B. Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 343A

As Cities correctly argues, Illinois law generally restricts a landowner's liability to business invitees. A business invitee is responsible for his own safety and is held to be aware of all obvious and normal hazards incident to the premises. Fisher v. Crippen, 144 Ill. App. 3d 239, 244, 493 N.E.2d 1204, 1207, 98 Ill. Dec. 183 (5th Dist. 1986); see also Nowicki v. Union Starch and Refining Co., 1 Ill. App. 3d 92, 95, 272 N.E.2d 674, 676 (5th Dist. 1971) (plaintiff's knowledge of danger in walking on wet catwalk is relevant to finding of duty), rev'd on other grounds, 54 Ill. 2d 93, 296 N.E.2d 321 (1973); Craig v. Olin Mathieson, 427 F.2d 962 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 964, 27 L. Ed. 2d 383, 91 S. Ct. 365 (1970). Arguably, ...

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