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Carlson v. BRGA Assocs., LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

January 22, 2015

ARTHUR B. CARLSON and ARLENE J. CARLSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRGA ASSOCIATES, LLC and BRUNSWICK HOTEL PARTNERS, Defendants

For Arthur B. Carlson, Arlene J. Carlson, Plaintiffs: Jason M. Tate, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lacey L. Houghton, Roberts Tate, LLC, St. Simons Island, GA.

For Brunswick Hotel Partners, LLC, Brunswick Park Hotel, BRGA Associates, LLC, Defendants: Charles Hansell Watt, IV, LEAD ATTORNEY, Coleman | Talley, LLP, Valdosta, GA.

ORDER

LISA GODBEY WOOD, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This premises liability case concerns a hotel jewelry heist. The thief was never caught, and the jewels are still missing, presumably forever. Plaintiffs Arthur and Arlene Carlson claim that the hotel's failure to remedy a known burglary risk by improving security measures at the hotel amounts to negligence, making its owners and managers liable for their loss. Conversely, Defendants BRGA Associates LLC and Brunswick Hotel Partners argue that Plaintiffs recognized, discussed, and fretted over the risk of leaving Mrs. Carlson's jewelry unattended in their hotel room before choosing to accept that risk. This unheeded premonition, Defendants claim, shows that Plaintiffs assumed the risk of theft and thus are barred from bringing their claims against Defendants.

Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. no. 22) that brings the question of who is to bear liability for the loss before the Court. Defendants have also filed a Motion to Exclude or Limit the Opinions of Kim C. Scott, Plaintiffs' expert gemologist who appraised the stolen jewelry. Dkt. no. 25. Because the undisputed facts, as a matter of law, show that Plaintiffs assumed the risk of theft when they knowingly left their jewelry unattended in the hotel room, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, thus rendering the Motion to Exclude MOOT.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On November 5, 2012, Plaintiffs Arthur and Arlene Carlson were traveling from one home in New Jersey to another home in Florida. Dkt. no. 21-10 (" Mrs. Carlson Dep." ), 13:5-20; Dkt. no. 21-9 (" Mr. Carlson Dep." ), 28:4-8. Having stayed at the Brunswick Park Hotel before, they decided to stop there for the evening once again. Mrs. Carlson Dep. 22:1-5. After arriving at the hotel, Plaintiffs checked in and took their luggage and dog to their room. Id. at 24:15-26:7. Among the luggage was a backpack in which Mrs. Carlson carried about 95 percent of all the jewelry she owned. Id. at 16:24-17:5.

Once they were in the room, Mr. Carlson began to inspect a safe that the hotel had provided guests to secure their valuables. However, the Carlsons ultimately elected not to pursue use of the safe. While Mr. Carlson did spend some time trying to open the safe after Plaintiffs first checked into their room, he was unable to do so. Mr. Carlson Dep. 38:8-11. Rather than contact the front desk to ask for assistance with the safe, Plaintiffs decided that Mrs. Carlson would simply take her backpack of jewelry with her to dinner. Id. at 38:24-39:22.

Plaintiffs then fed their dog and tried to place it in its crate so they could leave for dinner. Mrs. Carlson Dep. 26:8-14. However, the dog did not want to stay in the crate and became upset. Id. After Plaintiffs got the upset dog in its crate, they left the room so quickly that Mrs. Carlson forgot to take her backpack with her. Id. Mrs. Carlson says this oversight was an " accident," as her usual custom is to keep her jewelry bag on her person when she travels. Id. at 20:11-13; 25:24-26:4.

Mrs. Carlson realized that she had left her backpack in the room when she and her husband were at the hotel elevator on their way out of the hotel. Id. at 33:24-34:10; Mr. Carlson Dep. 39:19-22. Mrs. Carlson said to her husband that she " had forgotten [her] backpack and [she] was going back to get it." Mrs. Carlson Dep. 33:24-33:5. Mr. Carlson replied, " [n]o, we're going to dinner; the dog will get upset again, don't go back." Id. Mrs. Carlson's " exact words to him" were " [i]f there's anything missing it's going to cost you a hell of a lot of money." Id. Mr. Carlson, knowing that all of Mrs. Carlson's jewelry was in the backpack, concluded the conversation by saying " [w]hat can happen in 45 minutes?" Id. The couple then walked to a restaurant for dinner, where Mrs. Carlson spent the meal worrying about the jewelry that she had decided to leave in the hotel room. Id. at 35:1-8.

When the Carlsons returned to their room after dinner, Mrs. Carlson immediately went to her backpack to check the jewelry. Id. at 46:15-24. She opened the bag and noticed that almost all of her jewelry, except for a few pieces, was gone. Id. She became very upset, telling her husband " I told you so." Id. at 46:25-47:3.

Similar thefts had occurred at the hotel 13 months before the theft of the Carlsons' jewelry.[1] However, no one was aware of any thefts of any items from the hotel rooms for more than a year prior to the Carlson incident. The prior thefts all occurred when Defendant Brunswick Hotel Partners, which owns the hotel, was also responsible for its management. In January of 2012, Defendant Brunswick Hotel Partners defaulted on its loan, and Defendant BRGA Associates was appointed to serve as Receiver for the hotel property. See generally Dkt. no. 21-4 (Court Order Appointing Receiver). Defendant BRGA Associates was managing the hotel when Plaintiffs' jewelry was stolen on November 5, 2012.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is required where " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is " material" if it " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." FindWhat Investor Grp. v. FindWhat.com,658 F.3d 1282, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). A dispute over such a fact is " genuine" if the " evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In making this determination, the court is to view all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw ...


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