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Jose A. Nieves-Romero et al v. United States et al

May 3, 2013

JOSE A. NIEVES-ROMERO ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, APPELLANTS,
v.
UNITED STATES ET AL., DEFENDANTS, APPELLEES.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Daniel R. Dominguez, U.S. District Judge]

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Selya, Circuit Judge.

Before Torruella, Selya and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

When a dangerous condition exists on commercial premises and causes injury to a business invitee, tort liability typically depends on whether the owner/occupier knew or reasonably should have known of the existence of the dangerous condition. In the case at hand, the district court concluded that the summary judgment record contained no significantly probative evidence of the defendant's knowledge (actual or constructive) of the dangerous condition and entered judgment accordingly. After careful consideration, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

For ease in exposition, we treat this case as one brought solely by Jose Nieves-Romero against the United States.*fn1 We start by rehearsing the facts and the travel of the case. Our task is simplified by the procedural posture in which this appeal arises.

When the United States moved for summary judgment, it accompanied its motion with a statement of material facts not in dispute. See D.P.R. Civ. R. 56(b). The plaintiff opposed the motion but did not proffer any counter-statement of material facts. See D.P.R. Civ. R. 56(c). Thus, the district court correctly deemed the government's statement of material facts admitted. See D.P.R. Civ. R. 56(e) (explaining that "[f]acts contained in a supporting or opposing statement of material facts . . . shall be deemed admitted unless properly controverted"); see also Ruiz Rivera v. Riley, 209 F.3d 24, 27-28 (1st Cir. 2000) (stating that when a local rule requires all parties to accompany their summary judgment papers with statements of material facts and the movant complies but the non-movant does not, the facts contained in the movant's statement must be accepted as true for summary judgment purposes); Ayala-Gerena v. Bristol Myers-Squibb Co., 95 F.3d 86, 95 (1st Cir. 1996) (same). We, too, draw the facts from that statement.

On July 28, 2009, the plaintiff, who uses a wheelchair, was on the premises of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in San Juan. While awaiting x-ray results, he repaired to a handicapped-accessible public restroom. As he attempted to transfer himself from his wheelchair onto the toilet, the toilet seat came loose and he fell to the floor. He sustained injuries as a result of the fall.

After filing an administrative claim, see 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a), the plaintiff sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680. He averred that the VA had negligently maintained the restroom and that the loose toilet seat provoked his fall.*fn2

On August 17, 2011, the United States moved for summary judgment. The plaintiff opposed the motion. Discovery closed on December 9, 2011. At that time, the government's fully briefed motion for summary judgment was pending unresolved.

Two days later, the plaintiff moved to reopen discovery. In support, his counsel described domestic difficulties that had hampered his access to case files kept in his home office (including the file in this case). The district court granted the request and extended the close of discovery to January 30, 2012.

On January 5, 2012, the district court granted summary judgment. The court determined that "there is simply no evidence in the record to support that [the VA] had knowledge of the dangerous condition, the loose toilet seat." The plaintiff moved for reconsideration, but to no avail. This timely appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

We subdivide our analysis into two segments, corresponding to the ...


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