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Gress v. Lakhani Hospitality, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

May 2, 2018

KARLA GRESS, Individually, and DEAN GRESS, Individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
LAKHANI HOSPITALITY, INC., an Illinois Corporation, d/b/a Holiday Inn Chicago-Skokie; LAKHANI HOSPITALITY, INC., an Illinois Corporation, d/b/a Bar Louie Skokie; MANSOOR LAKHANI, Individually; SHEILA GILANI, Individually; HOSTMARK HOSPITALITY GROUP, INC., an Illinois Corporation; INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP OPERATING CORPORATION, a Foreign Corporation; INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP RESOURCES, INC., a Foreign Corporation; and ALHAGIE SINGHATEH, Individually, Defendants Lakhani Hospitality, Inc., d/b/a Holiday Inn Chicago-Skokie; Lakhani Hospitality, Inc., d/b/a Bar Louie Skokie; Mansoor Lakhani; Sheila Gilani; Hostmark Hospitality Group, Inc.; Intercontinental Hotels Group Operating Corporation; and Intercontinental Hotels Group Resources, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 2015 L 1314, The Honorable Kathy M. Flanagan, Judge Presiding.

          LAVIN JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Cobbs and Justice Fitzgerald Smith concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          LAVIN JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 On the evening of October 2, 2013, Karla Gress was a guest at the Holiday Inn Chicago-Skokie (Skokie Holiday Inn), which was owned and/or managed by defendants Lakhani Hospitality, Inc. (LHI), and Mansoor Lakhani (Lakhani). After eating dinner and consuming an alcoholic beverage in the hotel restaurant, Karla went to her room where she was subsequently raped while unconscious, allegedly by the hotel security guard who also did some maintenance work at the hotel.

         ¶ 2 Karla and her husband, Dean Gress (via a loss of consortium claim) (plaintiffs), brought a premises liability action against LHI; Lakhani; hotel Director of Operations Sheila Gilani; and the LHI franchisors, Intercontinental Hotels Group Operating Corporation and Intercontinental Hotels Group Resources, Inc. (collectively Intercontinental). As to the alleged offender, Alhagie Singhateh, plaintiffs claimed that he committed assault and battery, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress and gender violence. Plaintiffs also sued Intercontinental and Hostmark Hospitality Group, Inc. (Hostmark) for negligently hiring and retaining Singhateh, alleging that Hostmark processed Singhateh's initial job application but failed to discover his arrest for soliciting a prostitute. Finally, plaintiffs sued Intercontinental for negligent training and supervision of LHI employees. The trial court dismissed, with prejudice, the premises liability counts and also the counts related to negligent hiring and retention and negligent training and supervision under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (2012)), leaving the unrepresented alleged perpetrator as the lone defendant. Plaintiffs filed the present interlocutory appeal after the trial court held that there was no just reason to delay an appeal of its order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016).

         ¶ 3 For the reasons to follow, we reverse and remand the dismissal of the premises liability counts in plaintiffs' fourth-amended complaint that were directed at LHI, Lakhani, and Gilani. We agree with plaintiffs, finding that they adequately pleaded the existence of a special relationship duty of care between LHI and its employees as the innkeeper and Karla as the guest, and contrary to the trial court's finding, we find that plaintiffs adequately alleged that Singhateh's sexual assault was reasonably foreseeable under both the duty and causation elements of negligence. We affirm the trial court's dismissal of the counts directed at Intercontinental and Hostmark, as none of those defendants were alleged to be a possessor of the premises, and they had no ability or authority to control any activities of LHI's employees. Thus, they owed no duty of care to plaintiffs under these circumstances.

         ¶ 4 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 Singhateh was hired as a security guard at an O'Hare Holiday Inn in 2004. The following year, LHI purchased both the O'Hare Holiday Inn and the Skokie Holiday Inn, with Intercontinental serving as the franchisor. Singhateh became an LHI employee as a result of the sale and worked at both hotels.

         ¶ 6 Plaintiffs' first four complaints at law were dismissed with leave to amend. The trial court's dismissal of plaintiffs' fourth-amended complaint is the subject of this appeal. The following operative facts are taken directly from plaintiffs' complaint. Karla alleged that she was a guest at the Skokie Holiday Inn and that she had a drink at the hotel's Bar Louie restaurant/lounge. During that time, she alleged that, unbeknownst to her, Singhateh placed a narcotic substance in her drink. Singhateh, as a hotel security guard, had a key to Karla's room. On the evening in question, Singhateh was directed by another LHI employee to enter Karla's room alone, allegedly in order to repair a faulty air conditioner unit, even though LHI had been advised that Karla was intoxicated. The limited key card records show that "a duplicate key" was used to access Karla's room at 9:40 p.m. Once there, Singhateh raped Karla while she was unconscious. When Karla awoke, she realized that she had been sexually assaulted. A rape kit was taken the next morning at a nearby hospital, and police matched fluid to Singhateh's DNA at a subsequent date. Meanwhile, for reasons that are not disclosed in plaintiffs' complaint or the parties' briefs, Singhateh continued to work for LHI for several years after this occurrence.

         ¶ 7 Plaintiffs' complaint made numerous allegations about unseemly conduct by Singhateh and others at the Skokie Holiday Inn. Plaintiffs alleged that Singhateh had previously been arrested for solicitation of prostitution after offering an undercover police officer $10 for sexual relations. There was no indication that LHI was aware of that arrest, although the hotel was allegedly aware of another named employee's embezzlement of LHI funds, which was reported to police. In spite of this, LHI also continued to employ this employee. According to plaintiffs, prior to the incident in this case, several named LHI guests filed police reports of stolen property from their rooms, with the key card history of one guest showing that only LHI employees had accessed his room. Plaintiffs also alleged that employees often brought women into the hotel and gave them alcoholic beverages and fraternized with them in a hotel room. Prostitutes were alleged to have frequented the hotel and were served alcohol at the bar. These hotel employees also disabled surveillance cameras, presumably for improper purposes. In April 2011, an unnamed guest called the police department reporting a sexual assault (this allegation lacked further details). In December 2013, just two months after Karla's rape, another unnamed LHI guest allegedly had several drinks at the bar, then was approached by two males, only to later awake in her hotel room naked, and although she did not remember certain portions of the evening, she recalled one male on top of her having intercourse. She reported this rape to the Skokie police.

         ¶ 8 Additionally, Singhateh was allegedly known by management to have harassed managers and was seen searching their bags without consent. Some six years before this occurrence, plaintiffs alleged that Singhateh was working at the O'Hare Holiday Inn during which time a female guest complained about creepy behavior by the security guard, which included him contacting her at her hotel room via the hotel telephone, even though she had not given this security guard her name or room number. She also said that the same person offered to bring a Caesar salad to her room, even though she had not ordered any food. Finally, she became concerned when she saw a shadow outside her room, leading her to latch and barricade the door. She complained to management that she was concerned for her physical safety and that of other hotel guests based on the interaction. Although Singhateh was not identified by name, the resulting report was placed in his LHI file, implying that management knew that the guest was talking about Singhateh.

         ¶ 9 In response to these allegations, the trial court ruled that the hotel and its management employees could not have reasonably foreseen that their security guard (who doubled as a handyman) might sexually assault an intoxicated female guest if granted access to her room. Finding that plaintiffs' allegations "continue to lack relevant facts to support the foreseeability of [the] attack, " primarily because none of the "additional incidents" alleged by plaintiffs included "a sexual assault by Singhateh or another employee of a hotel guest in her room, " the court thereby relieved defendants of any duty to protect Karla from the security guard's criminal activities. The court likewise found that neither Karla's intoxication nor Singhateh's arrest provided a basis for foreseeability. Thus, in dismissing the premises liability counts, the trial court accepted defendants' argument that they had no duty to foresee that Singhateh might rape Karla since they had not known him to have done that previously and that plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead causation. As stated, the court determined that the counts related to negligent hiring and retention, and also to negligent supervision and training against Intercontinental and Hostmark, should be dismissed because there was no nexus between Singhateh's alleged unfitness due to his arrest and the sexual assault of Karla. Plaintiffs appealed.

         ¶ 10 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 11 Plaintiffs now challenge the trial court's judgment. The question presented by a motion to dismiss a complaint under section 2-615 of the Code is whether the complaint alleges sufficient facts that, if proved, would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Bogenberger v. Pi Kappa Alpha Corp., 2018 IL 120951, ¶ 23. Such a motion challenges only the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Id. We accept all well pleaded facts and reasonable inferences from the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, with the critical inquiry being whether the allegations are sufficient to state a cause of action on which relief can be granted. Id.; Marshall v. Burger King Corp., 222 Ill.2d 422, 429 (2006). A court should only dismiss a complaint under section 2-615 where no set of facts can be proved, which would entitle the plaintiff to recovery. Marshall, 222 Ill.2d at 429. In other words, if the pleadings put at issue one or more facts material to recovery under a claim, evidence must be taken to resolve such issues, and judgment dismissing that claim on the pleadings is inappropriate. Platson v. NSM, America, Inc., 322 Ill.App.3d 138, 143 (2001). A claim need only show a possibility of recovery, not an absolute right to recovery, to survive a section 2-615 motion. Id. Our review is de novo. Id. at 144.

         ¶ 12 Premises Liability Against LHI, Lakhani, and Gilani

         ¶ 13 Plaintiffs first contend that they alleged sufficient facts to establish premises liability negligence in that the defendants LHI, Lakhani, and Gilani[1] (1) failed to ensure the safety of their guests generally and also via policy and procedure, (2) improperly gave Singhateh a key to Karla's room and instructed him to fix the air conditioner despite being informed that she was demonstrably intoxicated, (3) failed to perform background checks on their employees, (4) failed to provide adequate security personnel and security cameras, and (5) failed to keep track of the rooms' key cards. Plaintiffs also challenge the dismissal of the associated loss of consortium claims.

         ¶ 14 In an action like the present, where the plaintiff seeks recovery based on the defendant's alleged negligence, the plaintiff must plead and prove the existence of a duty owed by the defendant, a breach of that duty, and injury proximately resulting from that breach. Bogenberger, 2018 IL 120951, ¶ 21. We begin our analysis with a discussion of duty. The touchstone of the duty analysis is to ask whether the plaintiff and the defendant stood in such a relationship to one another that the law imposes on the defendant an obligation of reasonable conduct for the benefit of the plaintiff. Krywin v. Chicago Transit Authority, 238 Ill.2d 215, 226 (2010). Whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court to decide subject to our de novo review, and thus to determine whether dismissal was proper, we must examine whether the plaintiff alleged sufficient facts, which if proven, establish a duty of care owed to them by defendants. Id.; Doe-3 v. McLean County Unit District No. 5 Board of Directors, 2012 IL 112479, ¶ 20. On the other hand, questions of a breach of the duty and proximate cause of the injury are factual matters for the jury to decide, provided there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding those issues. Krywin, 238 Ill.2d at 226; Marshall, 222 Ill.2d at 430.

         ¶ 15 Plaintiffs contend that they adequately pleaded the existence of a special relationship between the hotel and Karla, such that the hotel had a duty to protect her against the criminal actions of a third party, including the hotel's own employee. While generally speaking, the owner or possessor of property does not owe a duty to protect invitees from the criminal acts of third parties, however, a notable exception to this is if a special relationship exists between the parties, such as, in this case, an innkeeper and its guests, a common carrier and its passengers, a voluntary custodian and ward, or a business invitor and invitee. Iseberg v. Gross, 227 Ill.2d 78, 88 (2007); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314A (1965). As section 314A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts puts it,

"A[n] [innkeeper] is under a duty to its [guests] to take ...

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