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Singleton v. Jackson

April 25, 1997

KARLEEN SINGLETON, APPELLANT,
v.
ZOE JACKSON AND JOHN DOE JACKSON, WIFE AND HUSBAND, RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from Superior Court of Clark County. Docket No: 95-2-00895-3. Date filed: 11/27/95. Judge signing: Hon. James D. Ladley.

Authored by Karen G. Seinfeld. Concurring: Elaine M. Houghton, J. Robin Hunt.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seinfeld

SEINFELD, J. -- Karleen Singleton, a Jehovah's Witness, slipped and fell on the front porch of a house owned by Zoe Jackson. Singleton brought a premises liability action against Jackson, alleging that she had breached the duty of care owed to a licensee. The superior court dismissed the action on summary judgment, holding that Singleton was a trespasser and that Jackson had not breached the corresponding duty of care. We disagree, concluding that Jackson was a licensee. Nonetheless, we find no breach of duty by Jackson. Accordingly, we affirm.

In the fall of 1993, Singleton approached a house owned by Jackson, intending to engage in religious solicitation. The house appeared to Singleton to be a residence, but Jackson did not then live there full-time.

Rather, Jackson's son and daughter-in-law, Hugh and Patricia Colson, used one bedroom of the house as an office for their business.

The approach to the front of the house led up three steps to a wooden deck. From the top of the steps, the front door was to the left, while immediately ahead was a sliding glass door to a bedroom used by the Colsons as an office. Strips of asphalt shingle roofing material had been stapled to the deck creating pathways to both doors, and a mat was laid in front of the sliding glass door.

As Singleton and her companion went up the steps, they saw Patricia Colson through the sliding glass door to the bedroom office. Colson met them at the sliding door, explained that the house was used for business, and stated that she did not wish to speak with them. As Singleton turned from the door to leave, she stepped off the shingle pathway on to the deck's bare wood and slipped and fell, injuring herself.

A week later, Singleton returned to the house and took a closer look at the deck's surface. At first, she thought that the bare part of the deck was simply "weathered." Upon touching the surface, however, she realized that this wood was "slimy," as though covered with "algae."

In support of her motion to dismiss Singleton's lawsuit, Jackson argued in the alternative that (1) Singleton was a trespasser and there had been no breach of the corresponding duty of care, and (2) that Jackson did not breach the standard of care owed to a licensee. The summary judgment court relied upon only the first alternative in dismissing the complaint.

On appeal, Singleton argues that the superior court erred when it applied the standard of care owed a trespasser. She also argues that the trial court's Conclusion that she was a trespasser conflicts with state and federal constitutional guaranties protecting the right to free exercise of religion.

Discussion

Standard of Review

When reviewing an order for summary judgment, this court conducts the same inquiry as the trial court. Sherman v. State, 128 Wash. 2d 164, 183, 905 P.2d 355 (1995). We will affirm a summary judgment if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. CR 56(c); Sherman, 128 Wash. 2d at 183. All facts and reasonable inferences are considered in the light most ...


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