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Murrill v. Choice Hotels International, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Northern Division

April 17, 2019

TAMARA R. MURRILL, Plaintiff,
v.
CHOICE HOTELS INTERNATIONAL, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (DE 21). Plaintiff responded in opposition and defendant replied. In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff, who formerly worked at an EconoLodge hotel located in Elizabeth City, North Carolina (the “EconoLodge” or the “hotel”), commenced this action against defendant, allegedly a franchisor of the EconoLodge, asserting claims of negligence arising from an assault upon plaintiff by a hotel guest. In amended complaint filed July 17, 2018, plaintiff asserts claims of negligence due to failure to provide a safe and secure premises and work environment, and failure to provide proper training. Plaintiff seeks award of compensatory and punitive damages, as well as costs upon jury trial.

         Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss on October 16, 2018, seeking dismissal of all claims with prejudice.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

         The facts alleged in the complaint[1] may be summarized as follows. Plaintiff began working at the EconoLodge at the end of 2015, when she was 17 years of age. Defendant, a Delaware corporation with principal office in Maryland, was at all times relevant herein a franchisor of the EconoLodge.

         Plaintiff was employed to run the front desk and perform other menial tasks at the hotel. At the time of her employment plaintiff was a senior in high school, with limited work experience. Plaintiff applied for the position by calling the hotel and asking if they had any open positions. Plaintiff “believed she was being employed by ‘EconoLodge,' a national hotel chain, which is owned and controlled by” defendant. (Compl. ¶ 7).

         Upon employment, plaintiff received minimal training, including training to use a software system for payment and reservations, which was controlled, owned, and created by defendant. Defendant also provides software for further training to employees of the EconoLodge regarding day-to-day employment activities. Plaintiff was tasked with working a 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, and she primarily worked her shift alone, without any other staff, including security officers, present at the hotel property.

         Plaintiff was informed during her training that upon complaint of any guest or request for service that in the course of her duties plaintiff was to attempt to fulfill said request. Her manager directed her that this included going to a guest's room unaccompanied. Defendant's training policies did not prohibit this conduct.

         Plaintiff received minimal training regarding entering guest rooms and what if any precautions should be taken. She was not specifically trained to decline to enter a room where the door was open and a guest did not appear to be present. In the past five years leading up to the assault on plaintiff, there were at least 200 reported crimes, including 30 assaults (sexual or otherwise), 22 drug related incidents, and at least 13 occurrences where employees of this EconoLodge in Elizabeth City were themselves harassed or assaulted while on the job.

         During the days leading up to the assault on plaintiff, fellow employees had referenced odd behavior from a guest of the hotel, Aeron Nicholas Etheridge (“Etheridge”). This was documented in a log maintained by employees. Etheridge had been staying at the hotel off and on since his release from jail in November of 2015.

         On the evening of the assault on plaintiff, January 11, 2016, plaintiff was working the front desk with no other staff present. Etheridge contacted plaintiff at the front desk on two occasions that evening, the first regarding an issue with the television and the second with a request for towels and soap. As required by her training, plaintiff went to Etheridge's room in each instance. The second time she approached the room the door was open and Etheridge did not upon inspection appear to be in the room.

         Upon entering Etheridge's room to deliver the items, Etheridge, who had been hiding, assaulted plaintiff by attacking her, tying her up, and raping her, over the course of approximately one hour, until he released her. At no time during the assault did an employee or other staff member know the whereabouts of plaintiff as she was working alone without any security presence. Plaintiff ...


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