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Castellon v. U.S. Bancorp

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Second Division

October 23, 2013

U.S. BANCORP, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County Ct. No. VC058752. Margaret Miller Bernal, Judge.

Law Offices of Lee C. Arter, Lee C. Arter and Ronald Z. Gomez for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Klinedinst PC, G. Dale Britton, Kevin J. Gramling, and Anthony B. Daye for Defendant and Respondent.


Plaintiff and appellant Yanira Garcia Ramirez Castellon (plaintiff) appeals the summary judgment entered in favor of defendant and respondent U.S. Bancorp (defendant), as trustee of the Luis Villalobos Settlement Trust (the Trust), in this action for negligence and premises liability for injuries sustained when plaintiff slipped and fell outside a residence owned by the Trust. We affirm the judgment.


In May 2009, plaintiff rented a room in a detached garage located on Broadway in Huntington Park, California (the property). Maria Luisa Villalobos, also known as Maria Luisa Hernandez (Hernandez), and her family lived in a house located on the property. The property was owned by the Trust, and defendant was the trustee of the Trust.

At approximately 10:00 p.m. on May 28, 2009, plaintiff was leaving the house through the kitchen door and fell on concrete steps located outside the kitchen door at the rear of the house. Plaintiff sued defendant in its personal capacity and as trustee of the Trust for negligence and premises liability, claiming the steps on which she fell constituted a dangerous condition.

Defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it was not personally liable for any of plaintiff’s injuries because there was no evidence that defendant intentionally or negligently acted in a manner that establishes fault. Defendant further argued that plaintiff’s causes of action for negligence or premises liability failed because she could not establish the elements of duty, breach of duty, and causation. Defendant’s motion was supported a separate statement of undisputed material facts stating the sole basis for plaintiffs’ claims against defendant was the absence of lighting at the stairs; plaintiff knew it was dark outside at the time of the accident; a properly functioning light was located outside the kitchen door at the top of the stairs; and plaintiff did not turn on the light because she could not find the light switch. Defendant’s separate statement also pointed out that Hernandez’s house had a front door through which plaintiff could have entered or exited. Defendant’s separate statement was supported by plaintiff’s deposition testimony and her discovery responses.

Plaintiff opposed the summary judgment motion, arguing that triable issues of fact existed as to whether the absence of lighting was the sole cause of her accident; whether defendant was negligent in performing a property inspection three weeks before the accident; and whether defendant was liable for the conduct of Hernandez, who was acting as an agent of the Trust. In support of her opposition, plaintiff submitted her own separate statement that included the following additional facts: Hernandez told plaintiff to turn on the light as plaintiff exited the house; plaintiff could not find the light switch and repeatedly asked for assistance in turning on the light, but Hernandez did not respond to these requests; plaintiff left the house in the dark and fell on the concrete steps outside. Plaintiff’s opposition was also supported by her deposition testimony; by a U.S. Bank National Association Real Property Inspection Form indicating that the property had been inspected on May 7, 2009, that the grounds were in “fair” condition, and the structures were in “average” condition; and by trust documents for the Trust showing that Hernandez had been appointed as an initial member of the Trust advisory committee, which had the power to recommend and advise the trustee concerning payments to be made to or for the benefit of the beneficiary during his lifetime.

The trial court granted defendant’s motion, and judgment was subsequently entered in defendant’s favor. This appeal followed.


I. Standard of review

Summary judgment is granted when a moving party establishes the right to entry of judgment as a matter of law. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) A defendant moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no merit to a cause of action by showing that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established or that there is a complete defense to that cause of action. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2); Cucuzza v. City of Santa Clara (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1031, 1037.) Once the defendant has made such a showing, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or as to a defense to the cause of action. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849.) If the plaintiff does not make such a showing, summary judgment in favor of the defendant is appropriate. In order to obtain a summary ...

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