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Howard v. Spradlin

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

October 26, 2018



          BRIEFS AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANTS: Eldred E. Adams, Jr. Louisa, Kentucky.

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: John V. Porter Joseph T. Whitaker Paintsville, Kentucky.

          ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEE: Clayton Daniel Scott Paintsville, Kentucky.



          THOMPSON, JUDGE.

         This is an appeal from a summary judgment of the Lawrence Circuit Court by a building owner whose commercial property was destroyed when a truck parked on the property ignited and caught the eaves of the building on fire. The issues presented are whether the truck's owner was a trespasser and whether he can be liable for negligence when the fire was set by an unknown third-party.

         Dan Howard and Sherolyn Howard are the owners of property in Lowmansville, Kentucky. At the time of the fire, the property was leased by Bob and Diane Castle who operated a grocery store on the property known as Family Food.

         In the late evening of December 26, 2015, after the store closed, Leslie Matthew Spradlin parked his truck in the store parking lot. He left with a friend leaving a firearm, two ammo clips and a tool box in the truck.

         Sometime during the night, Spradlin's truck caught fire. The actual cause of the fire has not been determined, although to be clear, there is no suggestion that Spradlin set the fire to either the truck or the store building. The Howards' claim is that a third-party broke into Spradlin's truck, stole the firearms, ammo clips and tool box and then burned the truck to cover the crime. The eaves of the grocery store caught fire and the building was entirely destroyed.

         In his deposition testimony, Spradlin explained that his wife had worked at the grocery store and Bob Castle was a friend. He parked in the store lot after hours many times and believed Bob would not object to him parking in the lot on the evening of the fire. However, he did not have express permission of the Howards or Castles to park in the store's lot on that night.

         During discovery, the Howards admitted that there were not any "no trespassing signs" or "no parking" signs on the property at the time Spradlin parked his truck. They further admitted that they never advised Spradlin or anyone not to park on the property after hours.

         On June 29, 2016, the Castles, in separate affidavits dated June 29, 2016, stated as follows:

That affiant further states that there were no "no parking" signs on the premises and no other signs which would keep persons from parking on the premises any time.
That affiant never objected to persons parking on the premises as long as they didn't interfere with the daily operations of the business.
The affiant states that persons often parked there after closing hours and affiant never objected to same and felt that the openness of the lot was good for business.
The affiant states that there were no locked gates, fences or any other signs or other notices which would keep persons from parking on the lot and affiant did not consider any person, including Matthew Spradlin, to be trespassers on the lot after closing hours and that individuals frequently parked on the premises after closing hours and were never considered to be trespassers[.]

         On August 18, 2017, the Castles again signed separate affidavits. They repeated that there were not any "no parking" signs in the parking lot when Spradlin parked his truck and that, although Spradlin did not obtain permission to park his truck on the lot the night of the fire, "people did park there all the time."

         Based on the above recited undisputed facts, the circuit court granted summary judgment to Spradlin. We review its summary judgment under a well-established standard. Under Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 56.03, we must ask whether the circuit court correctly found that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Because summary judgment involves only legal questions and the existence of any disputed material issues of fact, "an appellate court need not defer to the trial court's decision and will review the issue de novo." Lewis v. B & R Corp.,56 S.W.3d 432, 436 (Ky.App. 2001). The party opposing summary judgment must present "at least some affirmative evidence showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial." Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Service Center, ...

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