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Estate of Ratcliffe v. Pradera Realty Co.

January 2, 2008

ESTATE OF COURTNEY L. RATCLIFFE, NANCY RATCLIFFE, AND ALFRED RATCLIFFE,
v.
PRADERA REALTY COMPANY, ANASTASIOS TZEZAILIDIS, 287 10TH GLASS RESTAURANT, INC., TIMOTHY SHERRY, FERNANDO HENAO AND JOHN DOES I-V AND ABC COMPANIES VI-X, BEING FICTITIOUS ENTITIES AND/OR PERSONS, T/A OR D/B/A PRADERA REALTY COMPANY AND/OR 287 10TH GLASS RESTAURANT, INC. JOINTLY, SEVERALLY AND IN THE ALTERNATIVE, DEFENDANTS.
PRADERA REALTY COMPANY, CROSS-CLAIMANT,
v.
287 10TH GLASS RESTAURANT, INC., TIMOTHY SHERRY, FERNANDO HENAO AND JOHN DOES I-V AND ABC COMPANIES VI-X, BEING FICTITIOUS ENTITIES AND/OR PERSONS, T/A OR D/B/A 287 10TH GLASS RESTAURANT, INC. JOINTLY, SEVERALLY AND IN THE ALTERNATIVE, CROSS-DEFENDANTS.
287 10TH GLASS RESTAURANT, INC., TIMOTHY SHERRY, AND FERNANDO HENAO CROSS-CLAIMANTS,
v.
PRADERA REALTY COMPANY, ANASTASIOS TZEZAILIDIS, PLAINTIFFS, JOHN DOES I-V AND ABC COMPANIES VI-X, BEING FICTITIOUS ENTITIES AND/OR PERSONS, T/A OR D/B/A PRADERA REALTY, INC. JOINTLY, SEVERALLY AND IN THE ALTERNATIVE, CROSS-DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John F. Keenan, United States District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

BACKGROUND

Before the Court is the motion of Defendants Pradera Realty Company and Anastasios Tzezailidis (collectively, the "Pradera Defendants"), made pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for summary judgment to dismiss the claims of Plaintiffs Alfred Ratcliffe, Nancy Ratcliffe, and the Estate of Courtney Ratcliffe (collectively, "Plaintiffs") and the cross-claims of Defendants 287 10th Glass Restaurant, Inc., Fernando Henao, and Timothy Sherry (collectively, the "Glass Defendants"). For the following reasons, the Pradera Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

Factual Background

Plaintiffs' claims arise from the accidental death of Courtney Ratcliffe ("Ms. Ratcliffe"), a 23-year old college student, who in the early morning of November 1, 2003, sustained fatal head injuries after falling in the common stairway of the building in which she lived. Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed.

Defendant Pradera Realty, of which Defendant Tzezailidis is a principal, owns a five-story walk-up residential building at 317 10th Avenue, in New York City (the "Building").

(Defs. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1.*fn1 ) Ms. Ratcliffe resided in a fourth-floor apartment in the Building with three apartment-mates, Michael Borsellino ("Borsellino"), Mei Li Walker ("Walker"), and Reza Morvari ("Morvari"). (Id. ¶ 3.) On the night of October 31, 2003, after leaving a Halloween parade, Ms. Ratcliffe met Borsellino, Walker, and other friends at a bar named "Glass" that was located approximately two blocks from the Building.*fn2 Ms. Ratcliffe's other apartment-mate, Morvari, was working at Glass that night as a busboy. While at Glass, Ms. Ratcliffe consumed alcoholic beverages. Borsellino and Walker, along with two other friends, left Glass and returned to their apartment in the Building, while Ms. Ratcliffe remained at Glass. (Id. ¶¶ 4-7.)

Ms. Ratcliffe remained at Glass until approximately 3:45 a.m., when the bar closed. (Id. ¶ 8.)

Walker arrived home at the apartment sometime between 3:00 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. and called Ms. Ratcliffe's cellphone.

Ms. Ratcliffe subsequently returned Walker's call and informed Walker that she had returned to the Building, at 317 10th Avenue, and was on her way upstairs. (Id. ¶ 9-10.) Moments later, Walker heard a "very loud thump" in the common hallway. Walker and Borsellino emerged from their apartment and saw Ms. Ratcliffe laying on her back on the landing of the floor below, at the bottom of the common staircase, apparently unconscious. (Id. ¶¶ 11-13.) Ms. Ratcliffe was wearing stiletto heels of approximately 3 1/2 to 4 inches in height. Walker observed that one of the stilettos was off one foot and the other was partially on the other foot. Believing that Ms. Ratcliffe had passed out as a result of drinking alcohol, Walker and Borsallino carried Ms. Ratcliffe into the apartment and put her to bed. At approximately 5:30 a.m., before retiring, Walker checked on Ms. Ratcliffe and noted that her breathing appeared normal. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17.)

At approximately 11:00 a.m. the next morning, Ms. Ratcliffe's apartment-mates checked on her, discovered that her skin was cold to the touch, and called 911. (Id. ¶ 18.) Emergency Medical Services arrived and Ms. Ratcliffe subsequently was pronounced dead. (Id. ¶ 19.) From the time Ms. Ratcliffe was discovered laying on the landing until the time she was pronounced dead, she did not regain consciousness. (Id. ¶ 27.)

The cause of Ms. Ratcliffe's death was determined by the Medical Examiner to be "blunt impact of head with skull fractures and brain injury." (Id. ¶ 20.) At the time of her death, Ms. Ratcliffe had a blood alcohol content ("BAC") of .23, as taken from the vitreous humor of the eye, the location in the body that is likely to provide the most accurate measurement of BAC around the time of death. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)

Plaintiffs contend, in essence, that Ms. Ratcliffe's fall was attributable to the defectively loose handrail that runs between the third and fourth floors of the Building's common stairway. Prior to Ms. Ratcliffe's death, neither Alfred Ratcliffe nor Ms. Ratcliffe's apartment-mates had complained to their landlord or to any agent of the Building that the staircase handrail was loose. (Id. 29-30.) Defendant Tzezailidis testified that, to his knowledge, no tenant nor anyone else had ever complained to him or to his employees about the condition of the handrail. (Id. ¶ 29.)

Alfred Ratcliffe testified at his deposition that he "always insisted that the handrail was loose." (Def. Not. Mot. for Summary Judgment, Ex. O. ("Dep. Of Alfred Ratcliffe"), at 40.) He also believed that the Building's stairway was "very steep." (Id. at 12.) After his daughter's death, Mr. Ratcliffe went to the Building, examined the handrail between the third and fourth floors, and observed that the handrail's mounting bracket was bent and that the handrail was loosely bolted to the wall, so that it moved laterally away from the wall to approximately the width of his hand. (Id. at 41-44.) In addition, Borsellino and Morvari testified at their depositions that, after Ms. Ratcliffe's ...


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