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Sullivan v. Target Corporation

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 5, 2015

JOYCE SULLIVAN, as Administratrix of the Estate of JEFFREY SULLIVAN, Plaintiff,


JUDITH GAIL DEIN, Magistrate Judge.


This diversity action arises out of injuries allegedly sustained by the plaintiff, Jeffrey Sullivan, [1] on July 2, 2013, when he pushed open automatic swing exit doors at Target Corporation's store in Seekonk, Massachusetts, with the motorized scooter in which he was riding. The incident was captured by the defendant's security cameras. The undisputed facts establish that the doors were operating as intended, and had not opened automatically due to the presence of persons on the other side of the door who were standing within the safety zone designated by industry standards. When he realized that the doors were not opening automatically, Mr. Sullivan proceeded forward and pushed the door open with his scooter, basically using it as a battering ram. Mr. Sullivan was not hit by the door, but was allegedly injured when he twisted his knee out of the way to make sure that it was not going to get hit by the door when he pushed it open.

Mr. Sullivan has brought a two count amended complaint (Docket No. 1-3) alleging that Target was negligent in failing to maintain its property in a reasonable and safe manner (Count I, ¶ 7), and that it breached its contractual obligations, owed to Mr. Sullivan as a business invitee, to maintain its property in a reasonable and safe manner. (Count II, ¶ 12). This matter is presently before this court on "Defendant Target Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment" (Docket No. 15) by which Target is seeking judgment in its favor on all counts of the complaint. For the reasons detailed herein, this court recommends to the District Judge to whom this case is assigned that Target's motion for summary judgment be ALLOWED.


In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 548 F.3d 50, 56 (1st Cir. 2008). Applying this principle, the relevant facts are as follows.

The Accident

The plaintiff was a business invitee at the Target Store in Seekonk, Massachusetts on July 2, 2013. (See DF ¶ 4). The accident happened while he was exiting the store after he had completed his shopping. He was riding on a motorized scooter. The incident was captured on Target's security video, and Target has provided the court with a 40 minute surveillance video that captured this incident between time stamp 12:59:27 and 12:59:50. (DF ¶¶ 7-9; Def. Ex. F).

The front of the Target store contains two sets of doors, which open into a vestibule through which customers can enter and exit the store. On the left side (as one is facing the store from the outside of the building) there are manual doors, which can be pushed open to enter the vestibule and then exit the store, while on the right side there are automatic doors, which swing open into the vestibule toward the street. (PF at 2; DF ¶¶ 9-10). There is a metal rail divider inside the vestibule between the two sets of doors. (DF ¶ 18). At the time of the incident, a woman came through the manual door and held it open for a man, children, and others. (DF ¶¶ 10-11). In so doing, the woman walked around the metal divider and she and a child ended up in front of the automatic swing door through which the plaintiff was attempting to exit. (DF ¶ 20; Def. Ex. E at 21). The plaintiff noticed the woman and two children, but was not aware that their presence would prohibit the automatic doors from opening. (Def. Ex. E at 15-18). As detailed below, the presence of the woman and child in the "safety zone" prevented the automatic doors from opening, and the doors were designed that way in order to prevent them from hitting anyone who was present on the other side. There were no signs or other indication on the automatic doors warning that the doors would not open if there were people on the other side within the so-called safety zone. (PF at 4).

Mr. Sullivan was riding on a motorized scooter as he approached the automatic doors from inside the Target store. According to Mr. Sullivan, the doors did not open as he expected. (Def. Ex. E at 18) ("I was pushing the door with the scooter. The door would not open on its own."). He did not wait and try again, or ask for assistance. (Id. at 14). Instead, he continued to exit by pushing the doors open with his scooter. When he felt "the door sticking, not opening, ... [he] twisted [his] leg to make sure that the door wasn't going to hit it." (Id. at 20). The door never came into contact with his leg, but apparently the movement of his knee caused it to "pop" and resulted in a torn ligament. (Id. at 19).

As evidenced in the video, once the woman and child moved out of the way of the automatic doors, they opened normally. (DF ¶ 29). In fact, the video shows the automatic swing doors operating without incident for approximately twenty minutes before and for more than ten minutes after the incident. (Id. at ¶ 27). It is undisputed, and Target has videotape evidencing, that the doors operated normally for over six hours before the plaintiff's incident. (Id. ¶ 30).

The Design of the Door

Target has submitted an affidavit from John Foell, a Lead Project Architect and an Architectural Specification Writer for Target who, in this capacity, is familiar with the design and operation of automatic swing doors utilized by Target. (Def. Ex. H ¶¶ 2, 7). As Mr. Foell attested, the automatic swing doors at issue have a motion sensor on the activation side to detect approaching shoppers and prompt the doors to open. (Id. ¶ 12). These doors also have Exterior Threshold Safety Sensors located on the swing (vestibule) side of the doors that contain (1) a safety sensor that detects when a person or object is moving within the safety zone of the swing (vestibule) side of the doors and (2) a safety sensor that reads the ground for stationary objects in the safety zone of the swing (vestibule) side of the doors. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15). Either or both of these sensors will prevent the door from opening when something or someone is in the safety zone. (Id. ¶ 16). The minimum safety standard for this type of automatic swing door, contained in ANSI Standard A.156.10[3] entitled "Power Operated Pedestrian Door Standard, " states that the combination of these two Exterior Threshold Safety Sensors must detect people and/or objects that are within a safety zone that is a minimum of 41 inches from the face of the closed doors outward. (Id. ¶ 17). If a person leaves or moves in and out of the safety zone, there is a delayed reset of two seconds before the sensors will allow the doors to automatically open. (Id. ¶ 18).

Mr. Foell has opined, based on his review of the video, that the woman who exited the manual doors at time stamp 12:50:30 was within the safety zone of the automatic swing door's Exterior Threshold Safety Sensors as Sullivan approached the exit doors on his motorized scooter. (Id. ¶ 19). Mr. Foell has further attested that "[t]he woman's presence in the safety zone prevented the subject automatic swing doors from opening as long as she was standing in the safety zone" and that when "the woman using the manual doors had moved out of the safety zone... the automatic swing doors opened normally." (Id. ¶¶ 20-21). Based on his consideration of this evidence, Mr. Foell has concluded that "the automatic swing door and ...

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