Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Graham v. Pantry

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

September 24, 2019

JAKE GRAHAM, Plaintiff-Appellant,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 2016 L 7741 The Honorable William E. Gomolinski, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Erron H. Fisher, of Fisher & LaMonica, P.C., of Chicago, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Robert M. Burke Jr. and Michael Spanel, of Heineke & Burke, LLC, of Chicago, for appellee Lakeview Pantry. Frank N. DeBoni, of Nielsen, Zehe & Antas, P.C., of Chicago, for other appellee.

          JUSTICE LAVIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Pucinski and Hyman concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          LAVIN, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 This case stems from Jake Graham's (plaintiff) fall from the threshold of a doorway in St. Alphonsus Hall, which ultimately resulted in lacerations and scarring to his face. Plaintiff visited the food pantry in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood (Lakeview Pantry), located inside St. Alphonsus, which is owned and operated by the Catholic Bishop of Chicago (Archdiocese), and was exiting the premises when he fell. Due to his injury, plaintiff filed a premises liability action against Lakeview Pantry and the Archdiocese, alleging, in the main, that they negligently maintained the premises where the injury occurred and breached their duty of reasonable care to plaintiff as an invitee on the premises. Lakeview Pantry and the Archdiocese filed separate motions for summary judgment under section 2-1005 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 2016)), based on the deposition testimony from plaintiff and employees from both Lakeview Pantry and the Archdiocese, as well as the property's lease agreement. The trial court granted the summary judgment motions of both Lakeview Pantry and the Archdiocese. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 A. Plaintiffs Complaint and the Testimony

         ¶ 4 In the early afternoon on January 17, 2015, plaintiff entered St. Alphonsus, 1414 West Oakdale Avenue in Chicago, through the entrance/exit door for Lakeview Pantry to accept donated food items. Plaintiffs deposition testimony revealed that, on the day of the incident, the weather was unusually warm for a January morning and there was no snow or ice by the door or nearby asphalt. Plaintiff testified that, on arriving to St. Alphonsus, he had no problem opening the door and stepping up about 10 or 11 inches over the threshold through the doorway. After entering, plaintiff walked across a landing and down seven stairs to the basement, which houses the parish school gymnasium, a concession stand, and the food pantry. The process of waiting for and accepting the food took between 30 to 45 minutes, and there were about 100 other people collecting food. Plaintiff then requested and received a "banana box, " weighing about 20 pounds, to carry his food items. Plaintiff held the box with both hands in front of his belly and walked back up the basement stairs. In his testimony, he explained that the box protruded about a foot-and-a-half in front of him and obstructed his vision. The record reveals that nobody witnessed these events prior to plaintiffs fall.

         ¶ 5 As plaintiff reached the exit door of the church, a Lakeview Pantry volunteer, Daniel Rowell, held the door open and began speaking to plaintiff while he stepped out of the hall. According to plaintiff, this conversation distracted him, causing him to look at the volunteer rather than at the ground. He then unexpectedly encountered a drop while stepping over the threshold, lost his balance, and fell to the left. Thus, although Rowell stood on the asphalt outside the doorway and plaintiff had previously stepped up over this same threshold earlier, plaintiff claimed he was unaware of any drop-off during his exit. Rather, he mistakenly believed the exit door and asphalt were on the same level. As he fell, plaintiff dropped his food box, tried to catch himself, took a few steps, then hit a one-foot drop-off, where the asphalt turned into a landscape trench, and he went face-first into a metal fence, suffering head injuries. He noted there were no warnings about any change in elevation.

         ¶ 6 Contrarily, Rowell saw plaintiff lose his balance after the first step and take a few steps to the left, while still holding the box of food as he fell. Rowell, who worked at that location previously, had not seen other clients fall at the entrance/exit, although he had seen "a number of people carrying boxes over the threshold through that door a number of times." Rowell, himself, had never tripped while going over the threshold. Lakeview Pantry coordinator Carrie McCormack similarly testified that after working at the pantry some 15 years, there were never any incidents involving injury from the exit door. Nonetheless, she acknowledged that after plaintiffs fall she was "given" a sign stating, "please step down, " which a volunteer taped to the exit door.

         ¶ 7 After his fall, plaintiff filed the present complaint alleging that the head injuries he sustained from his fall were caused by the negligence of defendants. In particular, plaintiff alleged that both Lakeview Pantry and the Archdiocese operated, managed, maintained, and controlled the premises, and they had a duty to maintain those premises in a reasonably safe condition for persons lawfully on the premises. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that (1) defendants breached their duty of care when they negligently operated, managed, maintained, and controlled the premises in a manner that was unreasonably dangerous; (2) they allowed a dangerous condition to exist because there was no handrail at the exit door; (3) they allowed a tripping hazard to exist in the drop-off threshold from the exit door; and (4) they failed to properly warn entrants of the dangerous condition. As a result of the defendants' actions or omissions, plaintiff asserted that he suffered injuries to his head.

         ¶ 8 B. Summary Judgment and Responsive Pleadings

         ¶ 9 Lakeview Pantry and the Archdiocese filed separate motions for summary judgment, attaching the aforementioned depositions and the property lease contract. Lakeview Pantry first argued that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it owed no legal duty to maintain the area where plaintiff was injured. In so arguing, Lakeview Pantry attached its lease agreement with the Archdiocese, which showed that the Archdiocese, and not Lakeview Pantry, controlled the premises where plaintiff fell. In particular, the lease stated that Lakeview Pantry rented "the Pantry area of the Hall basement" and held a "non-exclusive right and license" over the "Access Areas, " including the means of ingress/egress on the property, exits, stairways, and hallways leading to the premises. Lakeview Pantry's use of "access areas" was ultimately subject to the rules and regulations of the Archdiocese. Lakeview Pantry noted the deposition testimony of several Archdiocese employees corroborated its interpretation of the lease, as they verified that it was the church maintenance department and not Lakeview Pantry that maintained the foundation of the building, asphalt landing, iron fence, and flower bed where plaintiff was injured.

         ¶ 10 In the alternative, Lakeview Pantry argued that it was not liable to plaintiff because the threshold was an open and obvious condition and was discovered by plaintiff when he first entered St. Alphonsus. Lakeview Pantry argued that, as a result, it was not ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.