United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
October 7, 2005.
SIEW TIONG GOH and LYSA HONG GOH, Plaintiffs,
CRE ACQUISITION, INC.; CLARK RETAIL ENTERPRISES, INC.; and CNC ELECTRONICS, INC., Defendants. HERBERT MIDDLETON, Plaintiff, v. CRE ACQUISITION, INC.; CLARK RETAIL ENTERPRISES, INC.; and CNC ELECTRONICS, INC., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MORAN, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Siew Tiong Goh brought this action against defendants
CRE Acquisition, Clark Retail Enterprises and CNC Electronics,
alleging that defendants neligently maintained a staircase on
which he fell, sustaining injuries. Plaintiff Herbert Middleton
also fell on the same staircase and brought an action against
defendants that has been consolidated with Goh's case (04 C 1250,
docket #10, 4/21/04). Defendant CNC Electronics (CNC) now moves
for summary judgment, arguing that it owed no duty to either
plaintiff. For the following reasons, CNC's motion is granted. Summary judgment is proper when the record shows that "there is
no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV.
P. 56(c). Facts and inferences are construed in the light most
favorable to plaintiffs, the nonmoving parties. Darnell v.
Thermafiber, Inc., 417 F.3d 657, 659 (7th Cir. 2005).
Plaintiffs each fell*fn1 on a staircase that connected the
first level of a truckstop located in Hampshire, Illinois, to the
basement level. CNC leased an area in the basement level, from
which it operated a CB radio repair shop. CNC only occupied a
small area of the lower level,*fn2 which was primarily
devoted to restrooms, showers and laundry facilities. Neither
plaintiff alleges that he knew CNC existed.
CNC contends that it owed no duty to plaintiffs because they
were not business invitees, and also because it merely leased a
portion of the basement and had no control over the staircase. In
response, plaintiffs argue that CNC had a duty to maintain the
staircase because it knew that it presented a dangerous condition
and that it was the only path of ingress and egress to CNC's
The core dispute is whether CNC owed a duty to plaintiffs; if
there was no duty, then plaintiffs' negligence actions fail.
See Cochran v. Sollitt Constr. Co., 832 N.E.2d 355,
295 Ill. Dec. 204 (Ill.App. 1st Dist. 2005) ("The essential elements
of a cause of action based on common-law negligence are the
existence of a duty owed by defendant to plaintiff, the breach of
that duty, and injury proximately caused by that breach."). The
existence of a duty is a question of law that depends on whether the "law imposes an
obligation on the defendant to act reasonably for the protection
of the plaintiff." Friedman v. City of Chicago,
333 Ill. App. 3d 1070, 777 N.E.2d 430, 432-33, 267 Ill. Dec. 627 (Ill.App.
1st Dist. 2002); see also Dodd v. Cavett Rexall Drugs,
Inc., 178 Ill. App. 3d 424, 533 N.E.2d 486, 491,
127 Ill. Dec. 614 (Ill.App. 1st Dist. 1988). Illinois courts have imposed
a duty on landowners to provide a safe means of ingress and
egress to their premises, but the scope of that duty must be
decided on a case-by-case basis. Kokoszynski v. Chicago S. Shore
& S. Bend R.R., 243 Ill. App. 3d 343, 612 N.E.2d 32, 35,
183 Ill. Dec. 775 (Ill.App. 1st Dist. 1993); Nowak v. Coghill,
296 Ill. App. 3d 886, 695 N.E.2d 532, 537, 231 Ill. Dec. 15
(Ill.App. 2d Dist. 1998).
Defendant emphasizes that neither plaintiff knew of CNC's
presence, frustrating any claim they may have to business invitee
status. However, under Illinois law, owners and occupiers of
premises owe a duty of reasonable care to both invitees and
licensees. Lafever v. Kemlite, 185 Ill.2d 380, 706 N.E.2d 441,
447 n. 1, 235 Ill. Dec. 886 (Ill. 1998). The issue of duty is
best resolved without reference to the legal status of
The facts of this case are unique. Most cases that address
off-premises accidents involve falls occurring on public
sidewalks outside of businesses, but these cases still provide
useful guidelines for staking the boundaries of a tenant's
liability when an injury occurs beyond the physical parameters of
his leasehold. The general rule governing cases involving public
sidewalks is that the building owner must provide a reasonable
means of ingress and egress from his premises, and is not
responsible for injuries occurring on the sidewalk, unless he
appropriates the sidewalk for his own use, or has caused or
contributed to the dangerous condition on the sidewalk.
Friedman, 777 N.E.2d at 433; Evans v. Koshgarian,
234 Ill. App. 3d 922, 602 N.E.2d 27, 29-30, 176 Ill. Dec. 720 (Ill.App.
1st Dist. 1992). In Cooley v. Maske, 46 Ill. App. 2d 25, 196 N.E.2d 396 (Ill.App. 2d Dist. 1964), the
plaintiff fell on a city-owned sidewalk that was the only means
of ingress and egress to a tavern, and he sued both the tavern's
operator and owner. Even though the defendants did not own the
sidewalk, the court treated it as a necessary adjunct to the
tavern and imposed a duty to ensure that its patrons could safely
use the sidewalk. Id. at 389. Central to the court's holding
was the fact that the sidewalk's sole function was to provide
access to the tavern, and as a consequence the defendants had
essentially appropriated the sidewalk for their exclusive use.
Courts have distinguished Cooley by noting that the sidewalks
at issue were not exclusively used by the defendants. See
Dodd, 533 N.E.2d at 491-92; Burke v. Grillo,
227 Ill. App. 3d 9, 590 N.E.2d 964, 169 Ill. Dec. 45 (Ill.App. 2d Dist. 1992).
That distinction applies here. Even though the stairs served
CNC's shop, CNC did not appropriate them for its exclusive use
because the stairs also provided access to the showers, laundry
facilities, and restrooms.
Similarly, CNC did not take any action to assert dominion over
the stairs. In Friedman v. City of Chicago,
333 Ill. App. 3d 1070, 777 N.E.2d 430, 267 Ill. Dec. 627 (Ill.App. 1st Dist.
2002), the defendants sectioned off a portion of the sidewalk to
use as an outdoor café. Plaintiff was forced to walk around the
café and tripped on a cracked and uneven portion of the
sidewalk. The court held that by using the sidewalk for a café
"defendants subjected themselves to the duty to act with
reasonable care toward anyone lawfully on the sidewalk." Id. at
434. In Kokoszynski, the defendant failed to provide adequate
parking for its customers and employees, which caused a number of
cars to clog the street, obstructing the view of oncoming
cross-traffic. The defendant also placed a sign on the street
that designated the strip as customer-only parking. Plaintiff
drove her car from defendant's parking lot and was struck by an
oncoming car. Even though the accident occurred on a city street,
the court held summary judgment was inappropriate because the defendant
encouraged its patrons to park on the street, creating "a factual
question as to whether defendant effectively expanded its parking
lot by expropriating this strip of [the street] for its own
business purposes." Kokoszynski, 612 N.E.2d at 35.
Unlike the defendants in Friedman and Kokoszynski, CNC did
not take any affirmative steps to appropriate the stairs for its
own use. Plaintiffs note that CNC placed a sign at the top of the
stairs that announced its presence in the basement. But CNC did
not acquire any ownership interest in the stairs due to the sign
alone, just as the signs that it placed on the outside of the gas
station did not create an interest in the cash registers or gas
pumps. Neither did the sign prevent the public from using the
stairs in the ordinary manner, nor create any additional dangers
such as the parked cars in Kokoszynski, See also Evans,
602 N.E.2d at 30; McDonald v. Frontier Lanes, Inc.,
1 Ill. App. 3d 345, 272 N.E.2d 369 (Ill.App. 2d Dist. 1971) (defendant parked
cars on the sidewalk, preventing its normal use); King v.
Swanson, 216 Ill. App. 294 (Ill.App. 1st Dist. 1919)
(defendant's dragging of laundry baskets outside his shop made
the area particularly dangerous and slippery). CNC never assumed
control of the stairs. Olson stated that it was his belief that
Clark Retail Enterprises, the owner of the gas station, and not
CNC, was responsible for maintaining and making any changes to
the stairs (Olson dep. at 69-70, 74, 103).*fn3 In sum, it
cannot fairly be said that CNC appropriated the staircase for its
Under the terms of its lease, CNC was responsible for what
Olson dubbed the "little hundred and some square foot room behind the steel door." CNC had
no control over the staircase that provided access to all the
facilities located on the lower level. CNC took no steps to
appropriate the stairs, and it did not create any dangerous
condition that prevented the public from using them. Thus, CNC
owed no duty to plaintiffs, and their negligence claims must be
For the foregoing reasons, CNC's motion for summary judgment is
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