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Chaney v. Starbucks Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 23, 2015

JOHN CHANEY, Plaintiff,
v.
STARBUCKS CORPORATION, Defendant

Page 381

For John Chaney, Plaintiff: Scott A. Wolinetz, Scott A. Wolinetz, P.C, New York, NY.

For Starbucks Corporation, Defendant: George Nelson Tompkins, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, New York, NY.

Page 382

OPINION & ORDER

PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, United States District Judge.

On August 9, 2013, plaintiff John Chaney went to a Starbucks cafe in the Bronx for lunch. Upon entry, he saw that a customer in the seating area had plugged a white electrical charger into an outlet. After buying lunch, Chaney sat down near that patron. When Chaney rose from his chair 20 minutes later, he stepped on the charger, causing him to fall and injure

Page 383

himself. Six months later, Chaney brought this negligence action against defendant Starbucks Corporation (" Starbucks" ), claiming that Starbucks had failed to safely maintain the seating area in its café .

Following discovery, Starbucks now moves for summary judgment. It argues that the material facts are undisputed and that, on those facts, it had no legal duty to Chaney with respect to the charger because the charger was open and obvious, and not inherently dangerous. The Court agrees and therefore grants Starbucks's motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

A. Factual Background[1]

The material facts of this case are not in dispute. On August 9, 2013, Chaney went to eat lunch at a Starbucks café located at 3503 Johnson Avenue in the Bronx, New York. Def. 56.1 ¶ 4. He worked nearby and visited this particular Starbucks location about two to three times per week. Id. ¶ ¶ 5-6.

As Chaney entered, he noticed that a customer in the seating area had plugged a white electrical charger[2] into the wall. Id. ¶ ¶ 16-17. The charger consisted of a cord attached to a small, white square, which lay flat upon the café 's orange tile floor. Id. ¶ 19.[3] Chaney did not mention the charger to the customer, nor did he report it to any Starbucks employee. Id. ¶ 18.[4]

Chaney walked past the seating area, proceeding to the counter, where he ordered lunch (an egg salad sandwich and an Americano beverage). Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 8-9. He brought his lunch over to a table to eat, and he testified that he did not have to step over the cord in the process of seating himself. Id. ¶ ¶ 11, 21. The cord remained by the wall, situated about 12 to 14 inches

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away from his table. Tompkins Decl., Ex. C (" Chaney Dep." ), at 40.

After about 20 minutes, Chaney finished eating and got up from his table. Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 12-13. As he made his way toward the exit, he stepped on the white square attached to the cord, causing him to lose his balance and fall. Id. ¶ 14. At his deposition, Chaney was unable to explain why, having earlier seen the white square, he had not stepped over it or otherwise avoided it. Id. ¶ 26. Chaney remained on the floor for about three minutes, after which another customer, Nicole Suozo, asked him if he was " okay." Chaney Dep. 44-48. Chaney responded that he was, and then went to the bathroom to " get [himself] together." Id. at 48.

Upon returning, Chaney approached the counter and told two baristas, including Camille Williams, about the incident. Id. They offered him a cup of coffee, which he declined. Id. at 48-52. After waiting about five to 10 minutes, he left. Id. at 52. He did not complete any paperwork or tell any Starbucks representative, apart from the two baristas, about the incident. Id. at 52-53. Chaney testified that he took a photo of the charger after the incident, which he stored on his computer. Id. at 95. However, this photo is not part of the record, and at argument, Chaney's counsel stated that he does not know whether it still exists. 6/9/15 Tr. 28-29.

Chaney then drove to Shire Realty, where he worked as a personal assistant. Chaney Dep. 11, 55. A co-worker took him to the emergency room at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent a precautionary MRI exam. Id. at 55-58. He was immediately discharged, but he returned to the emergency room three days later when he experienced more pain. Id. at 60-62. The doctor ...


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