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Morlin Asset Management LP. v. Murachanian

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

August 8, 2016

MORLIN ASSET MANAGEMENT LP et al., Cross-complainants and Appellants,
v.
EDWARD M. MURACHANIAN, Cross-defendant and Respondent.

         APPEAL from judgments and an order of the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles No. BC504083. Gregory Keosian and Donna Fields Goldstein, Judges.

          Horvitz & Levy, Mitchell C. Tilner, Stephen E. Norris; Kuluva, Armijo & Garcia and Sherry L. Grguric for Cross-complainants and Appellants.

          Williams Iagmin and Jon R. Williams for Cross-defendant and Respondent.

          GRIMES, J.

         SUMMARY

         This is an appeal from the grant of summary judgment on two cross-complaints for indemnity and apportionment of fault. Plaintiff Jose Luis Anguiano filed this lawsuit after he was injured when he slipped on the stairs in the common area of a commercial building. He was at the building to clean the carpets in the dental suite of a tenant in the building. Plaintiff sued the owners of the building and its managers, Morlin Asset Management LP and Morlin Management Corporation (the landlords), for negligence and premises liability. The landlords each filed virtually identical cross-complaints against Edward Murachanian (the tenant), a dentist who rents an office suite in the building. The tenant had hired plaintiff’s employer to clean the carpets in his second-floor suite.

         The tenant moved for summary judgment on the cross-complaints on the grounds that plaintiff claimed his injury was caused by a defect in the common areas of the building for which the landlords had the exclusive right of management and control, and the tenant’s lease provided he was only liable to indemnify the landlords for injuries incurred within his suite.

         The landlords opposed the motion, arguing there were material disputed facts, including whether plaintiff was at fault for spilling a bucket of soapy water in which he slipped and fell; whether the tenant was at fault for failing to fulfill his duty under the lease to notify the landlords that someone was coming to clean the carpet, thus depriving them of an opportunity to take steps to spare plaintiff from carrying heavy buckets of water up the stairway; and whether the stairway was defective. The landlords contended the determination of their rights to indemnity and apportionment of fault rested on how these disputed facts were resolved.

         The trial court granted the tenant’s motion for summary judgment, finding the lease obligated the tenant to indemnify the landlords only against claims for injuries occurring within the tenant’s office suite, not in the common areas.

         We affirm the judgments, as well as the court’s order awarding attorney fees to the tenant.

         FACTS

         Plaintiff was an employee of Arax Carpet Co. Cross-defendant tenant engaged Arax to clean the carpets in his dental suite. Arax sent plaintiff and another man to do the work on October 4, 2012.

         As he walked up a flight of stairs, plaintiff slipped, falling forward and suffering severe injuries. Plaintiff sued the landlords, claiming the stairs presented a dangerous condition because the treads and risers did not conform to the building code or industry standards in various respects.

         During discovery, these facts came to light:

         A medical report from Dr. Daniel Skenderian stated that, while carrying soapy water up a flight of stairs, plaintiff “had apparently spilled some water and slipped and fell face first, hitting his face and jaw.” Dr. Skenderian’s report stated that plaintiff “volunteered that there was soap in the water that made the spills on the stairs more slippery.” Dr. Skenderian later testified at his deposition that plaintiff corroborated the information in the medical records. Dr. Skenderian’s recollection of what plaintiff told him was that “he was carrying soapy water, water spilled, and he stepped in the spill and slipped.” A medical report and deposition testimony from Dr. Michelle Ward stated essentially the same thing: that plaintiff told her that he was carrying buckets of soapy water upstairs; the “bucket caught on the stair, water spilled and on his next step he slipped and fell forward.”

         When plaintiff was asked in discovery to state facts upon which he based any contention that his actions or omissions were not the sole cause of the incident, plaintiff responded with the same allegations he made in the complaint about the dangerous condition of the stairs, in violation of statute or industry standards, and said: “As he climbed [the] stairs carrying heavy buckets of water, Plaintiff made ...


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