SHEAFFER et al.
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC.
BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and REESE, JJ.
Sheaffer and his wife Lorrie L. Sheaffer (the
"Sheaffers") appeal from the trial court's
grant of summary judgment to Marriott International, Inc.
("Marriott") after Marriott allegedly failed to
provide staff to aid Mr. Sheaffer when he suffered a stroke
alone in his hotel room. We affirm for the reasons set forth
judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). "To obtain summary
judgment, a defendant need not produce any evidence, but must
only point to an absence of evidence supporting at least one
essential element of the plaintiff's claim."
(Citation omitted.) Thorpe v. Sterling Equip. Co.,
315 Ga.App. 909, 910 (729 S.E.2d 52) (2012). "We review
a grant or denial of summary judgment de novo and construe
the evidence in the light most favorable to the
nonmovant." (Citation omitted.) Elder v. Hayes,
337 Ga.App. 826, 827 (788 S.E.2d 915) (2016).
viewed, the complaint alleged that Mr. Sheaffer was a guest at
the Renaissance Concourse Hotel (the "Hotel") in
Atlanta, Georgia, when in the early morning of February 13,
2014, he woke up and noticed that his left hand and left side
of his face were "numb and tingly." Mr. Sheaffer
went back to sleep, but woke up again and collapsed when he
tried to get out of bed. Mr. Sheaffer thought that he was
having a stroke, so he dialed "0" on the Hotel
telephone next to his bed. After no employee answered, he
then dialed "66," which he determined was the
Hotel's emergency number. Again, no one answered his
call. Mr. Sheaffer then dialed "911," and an
operator directed an ambulance to the Hotel, but no one was
at the front desk when the EMTs arrived, which, the Sheaffers
allege, delayed their access to Mr. Sheaffer's room.
Eventually, Mr. Sheaffer let the EMTs into his room where
they examined him before transporting him to Atlanta Medical
Center. He was later transferred to Emory University
Hospital, where it was determined that Mr. Sheaffer suffered
an ischemic stroke in his left vertebral artery.
Sheaffers filed a lawsuit against Marriott, whom they
contended owned, maintained, operated or controlled the
Hotel,  asserting a negligence claim by Mr.
Sheaffer and a loss of consortium claim by Mrs. Sheaffer,
alleging, generally, that the Hotel's failure to have
someone answer Mr. Sheaffer's calls and to staff the
front desk worsened the effects of his stroke. Marriott filed
a "Motion to Dismiss and Alternative Motion for Summary
Judgment," arguing that innkeepers such as the Hotel
do not have a duty to rescue their guests or to monitor them
if they are in need of medical assistance. After holding a
conference call, the trial court directed the parties to
brief the issue of whether the Hotel owed Mr. Sheaffer a duty
to staff the front desk or emergency number. After briefing,
the trial court instructed the parties that it would treat
Marriott's motion as a motion for summary judgment and
directed them to file "additional evidence which is
pertinent to the motion[.]" The Sheaffers submitted an
unauthenticated copy of Marriott's Business Conduct
Guide, and Marriott submitted evidence that the trial court
determined was "not pertinent to the issue of the
Hotel's duty to Mr. Sheaffer."
trial court granted summary judgment to Marriott, finding
that the Hotel did not have a duty to rescue Mr. Sheaffer
from a situation of peril that it did not cause. The trial
court also rejected the Sheaffers' arguments "that
the Hotel voluntarily undertook the duty to protect Mr.
Sheaffer from harm by providing an emergency number, and that
the Hotel's negligent performance of that undertaking
provides a basis for liability[, ]" finding that the
Hotel made no representation to Mr. Sheaffer that it would
provide an effective emergency number, staff the front desk,
or otherwise arrange for medical assistance for him and that
"the broad and general safety language in
[Marriott's] Business Conduct Guide does not come close
to an agreement to undertake the duties the [Sheaffers] seek
to impose on the Hotel." This appeal followed.
two related enumerations of error, the Sheaffers assert that
the trial court erred by granting summary judgment to
Marriott when it found that the Hotel neither undertook a
voluntary duty to monitor its emergency line nor had a duty
to staff its front desk to assist emergency responders. We
essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of
a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection
between the defendant's conduct and the plaintiff's
injury; and damages." Boller v. Robert W. Woodruff
Arts Center, Inc., 311 Ga.App. 693, 695 (1) (716 S.E.2d
713) (2011). Thus, "[t]he threshold issue in a
negligence action is whether and to what extent the defendant
owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question
of law." Id. "A legal duty sufficient to
support liability in negligence is 'either a duty imposed
by a valid statutory enactment of the legislature or a duty
imposed by a recognized common law principle declared in the
reported decisions of our appellate courts.'"
Id. at 696 (1) (a). "In the absence of a
legally cognizable duty, there can be no fault or
negligence." Ford Motor Co v. Reese, 300
Ga.App. 82, 84 (1) (a) (684 S.E.2d 279) (2009) (Citation
the Sheaffers argue that Marriott owed a duty to answer its
internal emergency number and to staff its front desk to
ensure that the EMTs promptly reached Mr. Sheaffer's
room. In Rasnick v. Krishna Hosp., Inc., 289 Ga. 565
(713 S.E.2d 835) (2011), our Supreme Court addressed the duty
of inkeepers when a guest experiences a medical emergency and
held that "a person is under no duty to rescue another
from a situation of peril which the former has not
caused." Id. at 567 (1) (Citation and
punctuation omitted). In Rasnick, the wife of a
hotel guest sued for wrongful death after the hotel refused
to check on the guest after repeated phone requests by the
wife. Id. at 565. Because the hotel did not create
or cause the guest's medical emergency, the Supreme Court
affirmed that the hotel owed no duty to investigate or render
aid. Id. at 567 (1); see also Boller, 311
Ga.App. at 698 (1) (a) (affirming trial court's grant of
summary judgment on negligence claim in favor of concert
organizer in custody and control of concert venue because it
had no duty to provide emergency medical services).
Similarly, because there is no evidence that Marriott caused
Mr. Sheaffer to have a stroke, Marriott owed no duty to have
staff available to render aid to him.
the Sheaffers contend that the trial court's reliance on
Rasnick was misplaced, arguing that the Hotel is
liable for the negligent performance of a voluntary
Under this principle, one who undertakes to do an act or
perform a service for another has the duty to exercise care,
and is liable for injury resulting from his failure to do so,
even though his undertaking is purely voluntary or even
though it was completely gratuitous, and he was not under any
obligation to do such act or perform such service, or there
was no consideration for the promise or undertaking
sufficient to support an action ex contractu based thereon.
When one undertakes an act that he has no duty to perform and
another person reasonably relies upon that undertaking, the
act must generally be performed with ordinary or reasonable
Rymer v. Polo and County Club Homeowners Assn.,
Inc., 335 Ga.App. 167, 175-76 (2) (b) (780 S.E.2d 95)
(2015) (citing Osowski v. Smith, 262 Ga.App. 538,
540 (1) (586 S.E.2d 71) (2003)).
the Sheaffers argue that the Hotel voluntarily "created
for itself the specific duty to have a staff member available
to answer guest calls made to the [H]otel's internal
emergency number." However, as Marriott argued and the
trial court's order correctly stated, the Sheaffers
introduced no evidence that the Hotel voluntarily undertook a
duty to staff the emergency number of or operator number at
all times. In fact, the only "evidence" is in the
form of the Sheaffers' pleading. See Bashlor v.
Walker, 303 Ga.App. 478, 478-79 (693 S.E.2d 858) (2010)
(If the moving party discharges its burden of proof by
pointing out "by reference to the affidavits,
depositions and other documents in the record that there is
an absence of evidence to support the ...