Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Montes v. YMCA (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 3, 2022)

You can see from the very outset of today's opinion why the Court of Appeal was eager to make sure that the defendant successfully obtained summary judgment in this case:

"Abel Montes, Jr., fell to his death from the steep, sloped roof of a residential building where he lived. The building was owned by Young Men’s Christian Association of Glendale, California (YMCA or defendant). Mr. Montes had been drinking and had eaten a marijuana brownie earlier, was feeling high, and had been acting erratically before the fall. The parties agree there was an 'open and obvious risk' from the roof sloped at a steep angle and covered with brittle, broken, slippery and unstable Spanish tiles. They also agree there was no need for Mr. Montes to be on the roof. Under these circumstances, defendant owed no duty of care to Mr. Montes, and his parents cannot prevail on their wrongful death claims based on premises liability and negligence. We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for defendant."

Indeed, when you read the additional facts that were set forth later in the opinion, it becomes even more understandable why the panel didn't want to impose liability in settings like this one. Because you can see why someone might think that it was totally Mr. Monte's own fault that he fell off the roof: Since it wasn't just a random encounter on the roof, but basically a New Year's Eve revelry by Mr. Montes that clearly went horribly, horribly wrong:

"Mr. Montes was a 23-year-old resident of defendant’s apartment building in Glendale. He attended a birthday party on New Year’s Eve 2015, where he was seen drinking beer and some champagne. A coworker drove Mr. Montes home from the party, and he arrived in the lobby of the building at about 2:00 a.m. He told the desk clerk, Eric Perrodin, that he had eaten a brownie, was not feeling well, and was “high.” He declined the desk clerk’s offer to call 911 and said he would go to his room.

At about 4:00 a.m., Mr. Montes returned to the lobby and began behaving erratically, getting on his knees to pray, rolling around against the wall, knocking down plants, and falling to the floor, knocking down a window curtain. Then he told Mr. Perrodin that he was going back to his room.

At about 6:00 a.m., Mr. Perrodin looked outside and discovered Mr. Montes lying on the hood of his (Mr. Perrodin’s) car. He was still alive. Mr. Perrodin called 911. At 7:06 a.m., Mr. Montes was pronounced dead."

Yeah. You should not go onto the roof of a building when you're incredibly, incredibly high and rolling on the floor and the like.

That said, I gotta say, I was struck by one critical fact in the opinion. Sure, the roof was slippery and incredibly slanted and didn't have guard rails. Big deal. It's a roof, after all. That doesn't make it (at all) incredibly dangerous to me, or impose a duty.

But the opinion mentions that the stairway in the building went directly to the roof, and -- here's the biggie -- didn't even have a lock on it. So, predictably, people occasionally went up to the roof to party there, and the building owners (essentially) knew full well that they did. Hence the bottles and graffiti and cigarette butts up there, plus the persistent "rumors" that "stuff" went on up there.

I mean, come on. Put a lock on the darn door at least, no? It's a roof, after all. Otherwise -- shocker, I know -- someone might well fall off the roof. (As Mr. Montes indeed did.)

I get it: one could easily come to the conclusion that it's the guy's own fault for going up to the roof, a place that he presumably knew he wasn't supposed to be and that was obviously dangerous.

But the Court of Appeal says that there's categorically no duty whatsoever for a landowner in this setting. Even though I think everyone with common sense would say: "Uh, dude, you really gotta put a lock on that door to the roof, no?)

Apparently not.