This case concerns the standard for granting a motion for summary disposition and the elements of a premises liability claim. On a snowy night, plaintiff Krystal Lowrey went with friends to Woody's Diner (defendant) for drinks to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. While exiting the diner, she fell on the stairs and injured herself. She brought this premises liability action, and the trial court granted summary disposition in defendant's favor. The Court of Appeals subsequently reversed, concluding that defendant had failed to establish that it lacked notice of the hazardous condition alleged in the complaint, reasoning that defendant had not presented evidence of what a reasonable inspection would have entailed under the circumstances. We conclude that in order to obtain summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10), defendant was not required to present proof that it lacked notice of the hazardous condition, but needed only to show that plaintiff presented insufficient proof to establish the notice element of her claim. We conclude that defendant met its burden because plaintiff failed to establish a question of fact as to whether defendant had notice of the hazardous condition. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals regarding defendant's notice, reinstate the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of defendant on that issue, and vacate the remainder of the Court of Appeals' opinion.
I. FACTS AND HISTORY
Plaintiff Krystal Lowrey and her friends went to Woody's Diner for drinks on March 17, 2013, in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. They arrived at approximately 12:30 a.m. and went to the dance area located on the second floor. Plaintiff and her friends used the back stairs to travel from the dance area to the smoking patio several times without incident while they were at the diner. Plaintiff consumed four shots of alcohol before she and her friends left around 1:45 a.m. The group once again used the back stairs, this time for the purpose of exiting the diner. Plaintiff was about five stairs from the bottom when she fell forward on the stairs and landed approximately two or three steps below. She asserted that she had slipped on a wet step. Plaintiff acknowledged that she had not seen any water on the stairs at any time that night, but assumed that the stairs were wet because her backside was wet after she landed from her fall and a person "can't just slip on nothing." Plaintiff did not know which of her feet had slipped on the stairs, but thought it might have been both feet because she had lost her balance. Plaintiff and her friends testified that many people were using the
After being diagnosed with and treated for a broken tibia and fibula, plaintiff sued defendant, alleging negligence. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10), holding that plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition of the stairs; alternatively, the court found the hazardous condition to be open and obvious.
The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded to the trial court, stating that "[w]hen the defendant is convinced that the plaintiff will be unable to support an element of the claim at trial, but is unwilling or unable to marshal his or her own proofs to support a motion under MCR 2.116(C)(10), the defendant's recourse is to wait for trial and move for a directed verdict after the close of the plaintiff's proofs." Lowrey v. LMPS & LMPJ, Inc., 313 Mich.App. 500, 510, 885 N.W.2d 638 (2015). The Court of Appeals also held that defendant had failed to present evidence that it lacked notice of the hazardous condition because it had not presented evidence of what a reasonable inspection would have entailed under the circumstances. Finally, the Court of Appeals ruled that defendant could not invoke the "open and obvious danger" doctrine as a defense because it had failed to present evidence that a reasonable person would have discovered the hazard.
Defendant sought leave to appeal in this Court, challenging the Court of Appeals' analysis of the standard for summary disposition, its analysis of the elements for notice of an alleged dangerous condition, and its application of the open and obvious danger doctrine.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A trial court may grant a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10) when the affidavits or other documentary evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Quinto v. Cross & Peters Co., 451 Mich. 358, 362, 547 N.W.2d 314 (1996). This Court reviews de novo the grant or denial of a motion for summary disposition to determine if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Maiden v. Rozwood, 461 Mich. 109, 118, 597 N.W.2d 817 (1999).
There are two issues in the Court of Appeals' opinion that require our attention. The first pertains to the standard for granting a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10). MCR 2.116 provides in pertinent part:
The moving party may thus satisfy its burden under MCR 2.116(C)(10) by "submit[ting] affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim," or by "demonstrat[ing] to the court that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Quinto, 451 Mich. at 362, 547 N.W.2d 314 (quotation marks and citation omitted). This Court has further described the nonmovant's burden to avoid summary disposition after the movant has satisfied its burden through one of these two courses of actions:
This Court reaffirmed Quinto and the proper application of MCR 2.116(C)(10) in Maiden, 461 Mich. at 121, 597 N.W.2d 817, stating that "[a] litigant's mere pledge to establish an issue of fact at trial cannot survive summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10). The court rule plainly requires the adverse party to set forth specific facts at the time of the motion showing a genuine issue for trial."
In this case, defendant moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10). Plaintiff was an invitee of defendant and her negligence claim is based on premises liability. In order to successfully advance such a claim, an invitee must show that the premises owner breached its duty to the invitee and that the breach constituted the proximate cause of damages suffered by the invitee. Riddle v. McLouth Steel Prod. Corp., 440 Mich. 85, 96, 485 N.W.2d 676 (1992). A premises owner breaches its duty of care when it "knows or should know of a dangerous condition on the premises of which the invitee is unaware and fails to fix the defect, guard against the defect, or warn the invitee of the defect." Hoffner v.
The Court of Appeals recognized that "plaintiff must be able to prove that the premises possessor had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition at issue[.]" Lowrey, 313 Mich.App. at 510, 885 N.W.2d 638. It also understood that defendant would be entitled to summary disposition if there was no question of fact that defendant lacked such notice. Id. Yet, the Court of Appeals determined that "the trial court erred to the extent that it required [plaintiff] to present evidence to establish a question of fact as to whether [defendant] had actual notice[.]" Id. at 512, 885 N.W.2d 638. The Court of Appeals erroneously shifted the burden to defendant by ruling that because defendant "failed to present evidence that, if left unrebutted, would establish that it did not have actual or constructive notice of the condition; [plaintiff] ... had no obligation to come forward with evidence establishing a question of fact as to that element...." Id. at 504, 885 N.W.2d 638. Defendant is not required to go beyond showing the insufficiency of plaintiff's evidence. The Court of Appeals erred when it imposed an additional requirement on defendant: to proffer evidence to negate one of the elements of plaintiff's claim. As discussed, the rule is well established that a moving party may be entitled to summary disposition as a result of the nonmoving party's failure to produce evidence sufficient to demonstrate an essential element of its claim. See, e.g., Bernardoni v. Saginaw, 499 Mich. 470, 886 N.W.2d 109 (2016) (granting summary disposition to the defendant because the defendant demonstrated that the plaintiff's evidence was insufficient to establish an essential element of her claim — the defendant's knowledge of the alleged defect). The Court of Appeals erred to the extent that its opinion is inconsistent with this standard for deciding summary disposition motions under MCR 2.116(C)(10).
The second issue we must clarify pertains to the notice element of a premises liability claim. While the Court of Appeals correctly noted that "[t]o establish a claim of premises liability, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the premises possessor had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition at issue," Lowrey, 313 Mich.App. at 510, 885 N.W.2d 638, the Court of Appeals both improperly shifted the burden to defendant to prove its lack of notice and imposed a new element necessary to prove such lack of notice:
However, this Court has never required a defendant to present evidence of a routine or reasonable inspection under the instant circumstances to prove a premises owner's lack of constructive notice of a dangerous condition on its property. The Court of
Rather, as earlier discussed, defendant could establish its entitlement to summary disposition by demonstrating that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence of notice. To prevail on her claim, plaintiff had to establish that defendant, as a premises owner, possessed actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. We have described liability based on a premises owner's notice of a dangerous condition as follows:
Therefore, in order to show notice, plaintiff had to demonstrate that defendant knew about the alleged water on the stairs or should have known of it because of its character or the duration of its presence. See, e.g., Serinto v. Borman Food Stores, 380 Mich. 637, 640-641, 158 N.W.2d 485 (1968) (stating that premises liability exists when the hazard is "known to the storekeeper or is of such a character or has existed a sufficient length of time that he should have had knowledge of it") (emphasis omitted).
We hold that plaintiff failed to proffer evidence sufficient to demonstrate a question of fact regarding defendant's actual or constructive notice of the hazardous condition, and defendant was entitled to summary disposition on this basis. As it relates to actual notice, plaintiff herself did not see any water on the stairs at any time that night, and defendant's manager testified that no customers or employees had reported water on the stairs or any accidents on the stairs that night. Nor did plaintiff or her friends hear any other customers expressing concerns about water on the stairs. Plaintiff alleged that an employee of the bar was standing at the bottom of the stairs and witnessed her fall, but neither plaintiff nor any of her friends were able to identify the employee. Even assuming an employee was present, his presence would not by itself have indicated that he knew of the water on the step before plaintiff's fall. Thus, plaintiff presented no evidence that defendant had actual knowledge of the hazardous condition.
Plaintiff likewise failed to present any evidence of constructive notice, i.e., that the hazard was of such a character, or had existed for a sufficient time, that a reasonable premises possessor would have discovered it. Plaintiff and her friends traversed the stairs several times during the evening without incident, evidence which would tend to support the conclusion that the hazardous condition that caused plaintiff's fall had not been present on the
In summary, the Court of Appeals (1) improperly altered the burden of proof a moving party must meet to obtain summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10) in a negligence action based on premises liability; (2) improperly required defendant to provide "proof of reasonable inspection" to show that it lacked constructive notice of the alleged harm; and (3) erred by reversing the trial court's grant of summary disposition to defendant. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals regarding defendant's notice, reinstate the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of defendant on that issue, and vacate the remainder of the Court of Appeals' opinion.
YOUNG, C.J., and MARKMAN, ZAHRA, McCORMACK, VIVIANO, BERNSTEIN, and LARSEN, JJ., concurred.