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Lebrija v. Desert Palace, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 26, 2014

Carlos Maneul Sierra and Laura Lebrija, Plaintiffs,
v.
Desert Palace, Inc. dba Caesars Palace; Jesus Montano; DOES I-IV and Roes I-V, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DOC. 53]

JENNIFER A. DORSEY, District Judge.

Caesars Palace hotel guests Carlos Manuel Sierra and Laura Lebrija were awakened abruptly by hotel staff who let themselves into their room on the purported belief that the couple had allowed the Jacuzzi tub in their room to overflow, causing water damage to the floors below. Sierra and Lebrija deny even using tub, claim that they sustained injuries in their unceremonious rousing, and sue Caesars and its housekeeping manager Jesus Montano on various tort and contract theories. Defendants move for summary judgment in the hotel's favor on all tort claims, and in Montano's favor on the punitive damages allegations, based on a "complete lack of evidence." Doc. 53 at 4. I find that the defendants have not met their summary-judgment burden on plaintiffs' emotional distress claims; even if they had, genuine issues of material fact preclude the entry of summary judgment on these claims. I conclude that plaintiffs have failed to identify evidence to support a negligence claim against Caesars, and I grant summary judgment on that claim. I strike the punitive damages prayer on the breach-of-contract claim but decline summary adjudication of the punitive damages allegations on any remaining claim. And I find that genuine issues of fact prevent summary judgment on plaintiffs' intrusion claim.

Background[1]

On June 4, 2011, plaintiffs Sierra and Lebrija were staying in the Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Doc. 50 at 3. They allege that while they slept, "without prior notice, knocking or invitation, " several Caesars employees-including housekeeping manager defendant Jesus Montano and two other Caesars employees-entered plaintiffs' hotel room, opened the curtains, stood at the foot of their bed, shouted at them, called them criminals, and threatened to have them arrested, jailed, and evicted for allegedly leaving the water on in the Jacuzzi tub in their room overnight. Id. at 3-4; Docs. 65-3; 65-4; 65-6 at 10. A call to the plaintiffs' casino host caused the alleged intruders to leave, but Montano later returned unnanounced with another Caesars employee who "threatened to evict the Plaintiffs from their hotel room and insulted them profusely." Doc. 50 at 3-4.

In deposition testimony, plaintiffs deny even using the Jacuzzi tub, see, e.g., Docs. 65-3 at 10; 65-4 at 1; 65-6 at 10, and they allege that in addition to the anxiety, shock, and humiliation of being ambushed in their hotel bedroom by employees who falsely accused them of damage to hotel property, Sierra injured his arm, and they both suffered "among other things, emotional distress, post traumatic stress disorder, dermatitis caused by stress, mental anguish, inability to sleep, irritabilty, anxiety, psychological injuries, and physical illnesses including bronchitis." Doc. 50 at 6. Plaintiffs plead claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, negligence, and intrusion. See id. at 3-12. They pray for special, compensatory, general, and punitive damages, attorney's fees, and costs. Id. at 12-13.

Discussion

Defendants move for partial summary judgment on all tort claims and the punitivedamages allegations against Caesars and on the punitive damages allegations against Montano, arguing that plaintiffs lack the evidence necessary to support these claims and allegations. Id. Plaintiffs oppose the motion, responding that defendants' brief is too undeveloped to shift the burden to plaintiffs and, at the very least, the depositions of plaintiffs and key defense witnesses show that disputed issues of material fact remain. Doc. 65. I find this motion suitable for disposition without oral argument.[2]

A. Summary Judgment Standards

"A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought."[3] The burdens on summary judgment are key. A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the Court of those portions of the pleadings and discovery that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.[4]

Parties moving for summary judgment must satisfy Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Subsection (c)(1) of that rule states, "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact."[5] When a defendant moves for summary judgment on a plaintiff's claims "on the ground that the nonmoving party has no evidence, " he or she "must affirmatively show the absence of evidence in the record."[6] "This may require the moving party to depose the nonmoving party's witnesses or to establish the inadequacy of documentary evidence."[7] "If there is literally no evidence in the record, the moving party may demonstrate this by reviewing for the court the admissions, interrogatories, and other exchanges between the parties that are in the record. Either way, however, the moving party must affirmatively demonstrate that there is no evidence in the record to support a judgment for the nonmoving party."[8] "If the moving party has not fully discharged this initial burden of production, its motion for summary judgment must be denied, and the Court need not consider whether the moving party has met its ultimate burden of persuasion."[9]

"If a moving party fails to carry its initial burden of production, the nonmoving party has no obligation to produce anything, even if the nonmoving party would have the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial."[10] In such a case, the nonmoving party may defeat the motion for summary judgment without producing anything.[11] On the other hand, when the moving party meets its initial burden on a summary judgment motion, the "burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish, beyond the pleadings, that there is a genuine issue for trial."[12] This means that the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts."[13] The nonmoving party may not rely on the mere allegations in the pleadings and instead "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."[14] "A genuine dispute arises if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."[15]

B. Movants' Statement of Disputed and Undisputed Material Facts Does Not Comply with LR 56-1.

Defendants submit a "statement of facts material to this motion, " as they are obligated to do under Nevada Local Rule 56-1. Doc. 53 at 4-5. They assert that their motion is based on a "complete lack of evidence to support essential elements of Plaintiffs' claims, " but they do not cite any evidence to support this contention. See id. Later in the argument section of their brief, they reference deposition excerpts from four witnesses as support for the proposition that plaintiffs' evidence falls short of proving their invasion claim. Doc. 53 at 11. With respect to their request for summary judgment on the punitive damages allegations against Montano, defendants' statement of facts represents, "the facts in that regard are set forth in that section of these Points and Authorities." Id. at 5. But the punitive-damages argument cites no evidence whatsoever-just allegations from the complaint. Id. at 17-18. From those allegations, defendants baldly argue, "Plaintiffs' evidence against Montano, even if accepted as absolutely true, does not establish fraud, malice, or oppression." Id. at 18-19 (emphasis added).

The Ninth Circuit cautions that parties who do not provide pinpoint citations to evidence supporting assertions made in a statement of disputed or undisputed facts risk exclusion of that evidence because the court is not required to "paw over files without the assistance from the parties" in order to evaluate their contentions.[16] To properly present a motion for summary judgment, a movant must comply with this district's local rule 56-1, which specifies that:

Motions for summary judgment and responses thereto shall include a concise statement setting forth each fact material to the disposition of the motion, which the party claims is or is not genuinely in issue, citing the particular portions of any pleading, affidavit, deposition, interrogatory, answer, admission, or other evidence upon which the party relies.[17]

Plaintiffs characterize defendants' factual statement and the motion it supports as little more than "an attempt... to require the Plaintiffs to produce evidence supporting their claims simply by saying that the Plaintiffs have no evidence" without demonstrating the absence of a material fact. Doc. 65 at 11. Although I could deny the motion based on this procedural deficiency alone, in the interest of justice-and while cautioning counsel that future ...


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