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Johnson v. Blue Chip Casino, LLC

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 29, 2018

Maurice Johnson, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Blue Chip Casino, LLC, d/b/a Blue Chip Casino Hotel Spa, Appellee-Defendant

          Appeal from the LaPorte Superior Court The Honorable Jeffrey L. Thorne, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 46D03-1710-SC-2122

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Candace C. Williams Tolbert & Tolbert, LLC Gary, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Charles C. Hoppe, Jr. Roland Clark Knight Hoppe Kurnik & Knight, Ltd. Schererville, Indiana

          VAIDIK, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] While Maurice Johnson was a guest at Blue Chip Casino Hotel Spa in Michigan City, he woke up to discover bed-bug bites on his right arm. Johnson brought a small-claims action against Blue Chip Casino, LLC, and the court entered judgment in favor of Blue Chip. Johnson now appeals, arguing that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies to this case. Because Johnson has failed to prove that the presence of bed bugs in his hotel room more probably resulted from Blue Chip's negligence as opposed to another cause, we affirm the small-claims court's judgment in favor of Blue Chip.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Johnson and his wife checked into Room 1253 at Blue Chip on January 1, 2017. Because the room had two full beds (instead of a king bed as they had requested), Johnson and his wife slept in separate beds. When Johnson and his wife pulled down the sheets as they were going to bed, they did not see any bed bugs in their respective beds. But when Johnson woke up the next morning, he noticed bites on his arm and then saw one live bed bug on his pillow. He pulled down the sheets and saw two shell casings from dead bed bugs. Johnson's wife took photos. Ex. 1. Johnson called guest services, and a supervisor came to their room, put the live bed bug in a jar, and had Johnson's and his wife's belongings "hot boxed" to kill any other bed bugs. Tr. p. 19. After checking out of the hotel, Johnson went to the emergency room, where he was treated for bed-bug bites and given an anti-itch prescription.

         [¶3] In October 2017, Johnson filed a notice of claim in small-claims court in LaPorte County alleging that "[a]s a result of his stay, [he] received bed bug bites" and "incurred medical expenses and suffered emotional distress due to [Blue Chip's] negligence and breach of their duty of care." Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 9. At trial, Blue Chip's Safety Loss Prevention Manager, Rosella Luna, testified that because bed bugs are found in "hotels" and "a lot of other places," Blue Chip has policies and procedures for inspecting and treating hotel rooms for them. Tr. p. 44. Luna explained that new hires undergo training on how to look for bed bugs and that all housekeepers and supervisors undergo annual training as well. Luna said that Blue Chip's hotel rooms are cleaned and inspected daily (assuming they are rented out) and that the inspections include looking for evidence of bed bugs. Specifically, when housekeepers strip the beds, they look at the mattresses "to see if there is any evidence" of bed bugs. Id. at 42. Housekeepers also look for evidence of bed bugs in "the nooks and crannies" of the rooms, including furniture and bedding. Id. If a bed bug is found during a room inspection, that room as well as the surrounding rooms are taken out of service. A professional pest-control company then inspects the rooms and, if necessary, treats them. The treated rooms are held out of service until the pest-control company certifies that they're clean and safe to rent.

         [¶4] Luna also testified that about two months before Johnson's January 2017 stay, on November 4, 2016, Blue Chip received a complaint about bed bugs in the same room, Room 1253. At that time, Terminix "inspected and treated the room and held [it] out of service until . . . November 11, 201[6]." Id. at 35. Luna testified that she did not know if that guest brought the bed bugs into the hotel room, because "I can't tell you if people bring them in or not." Id. at 43. From November 11, 2016, until January 2, 2017, Blue Chip did not receive any other complaints about bed bugs in Room 1253 even though the room was rented during that time. Id. at 35.

         [¶5] Following trial, the small-claims court entered findings and judgment in favor of Blue Chip. The court acknowledged that Johnson seemed to argue that "the existence of a bed bug is Res Ipsa Loquitur on the part of an inn keeper"; however, it found no merit to this argument. Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 8.

         [¶6] Johnson now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶7] The small-claims court determined that Johnson failed to meet his burden of proof regarding his claim against Blue Chip. Because the small-claims court's decision was not in Johnson's favor, he is appealing from a negative judgment. On appeal, we will not reverse a negative judgment unless it is contrary to law. LTL Truck Serv., LLC v. Safeguard, Inc.,817 N.E.2d 664, 667 (Ind.Ct.App. 2004). To determine whether a judgment is contrary to law, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the appellee, together with all the reasonable inferences to be ...


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