United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
FURLANDARE SINGLETON, et al. PLAINTIFFS
ARKANSAS HOUSING AUTHORITIES PROPERTY & CASUALTY SELF-INSURED FUND, INC., et al. DEFENDANTS
OPINION AND ORDER
KRISTINE G. BAKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by separate
defendants Arkansas Housing Authorities Property &
Casualty Self-Insured Fund Inc., a/k/a/ Max Howell Place
Housing Projects, and Evanston Insurance Company
(collectively, “Housing Authority defendants”)
(Dkt. No. 56). Plaintiff Marilyn Beavers filed a response
to the Housing Authority defendants' motion for summary
judgment (Dkt. No. 188). Separate plaintiffs Furlandare
Singleton and Clyde Hatchet filed a motion to adopt and
incorporate by reference Ms. Beavers' response (Dkt. No.
194). The Court grants Mr. Singleton and Mr. Hatchet's
motion to adopt (Dkt. No. 194). See Fed. R. Civ. P.
10(c) (“A statement in a pleading may be adopted by
reference elsewhere in the same pleading or in any other
pleading or motion.”). The Housing Authority defendants
filed a reply to plaintiffs' response (Dkt. No. 199).
early morning hours of March 22, 2012, Ms. Beavers and her
children, Haylee Singleton, Dequan Singleton, Emily Beavers,
and Syndi Singleton, died after a fire in the kitchen of
their apartment in Jacksonville. These events are
unimaginably tragic. This Court has studied carefully and
thoroughly the filings and record evidence in this case. For
the following reasons, the Court grants the Housing Authority
defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 56).
The Court dismisses with prejudice all claims against the
Housing Authority defendants.
preliminary matter, the Court notes that Ms. Beavers'
requested a hearing on the Housing Authority defendants'
motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 188, ¶ 5). Through
informal communications, Ms. Beavers withdrew her request for
a hearing. Therefore, the Court denies as moot Ms.
Beavers' request for a hearing.
judgment is proper if the evidence, when viewed in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no
genuine issue of material fact and that the defendant is
entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence
could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either
party. Miner v. Local 373, 513 F.3d 854, 860 (8th
Cir. 2008). “The mere existence of a factual dispute is
insufficient alone to bar summary judgment; rather, the
dispute must be outcome determinative under the prevailing
law.” Holloway v. Pigman, 884 F.2d 365, 366
(8th Cir. 1989).
opposing a summary judgment motion may not rest merely upon
the allegations in their pleadings. Buford v.
Tremayne, 747 F.2d 445, 447 (8th Cir. 1984). The initial
burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477
U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to
establish that there is a genuine issue to be determined at
trial. Prudential Ins. Co. v. Hinkel, 121 F.3d 364,
366 (8th Cir. 1997).
nonmoving party “must respond by submitting evidentiary
materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial” and “must do more than
simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts.” Gannon Int'l, Ltd. v.
Blocker, 684 F.3d 785, 792 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing
Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042
(8th Cir. 2011) (en banc)). “The evidence of the
non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences
are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
following facts are taken from plaintiffs' response to
statement of undisputed material facts in support of Housing
Authority defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt.
No. 190). Ms. Beavers leased an apartment for herself and her
four children from the Jacksonville Housing Authority
(Id., at 2). The Jacksonville Housing Authority
ensured that a smoke detector was installed in Ms.
Beavers' apartment (Id.). Ms. Beavers and her
children Haylee Singleton, Dequan Singleton, Emily Beavers,
and Syndi Singleton died from smoke inhalation resulting from
a fire in Ms. Beavers' apartment on March 22, 2012 (Dkt.
Nos. 57, at 2; 189, at 3).
Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett bring negligence and
premises liability claims against the Housing Authority
defendants (Dkt. No. 27, ¶¶ 80-85, 96-101). They
also allege wrongful death and survival claims against the
Housing Authority defendants (Dkt. No. 27, ¶¶
86-95). Ms. Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett premise
their negligence and premises liability claims on the Housing
Authority defendants' alleged failure to ensure that
“properly working and accessible smoke alarms/detectors
were properly installed in the Decedents' apartment
unit” (Id., ¶¶ 82, 98). They contend
that, as a direct and proximate result of the Housing
Authority defendants' acts, Ms. Beavers, Dequan
Singleton, Syndi Singleton, Haylee Singleton, and Emily
Beavers suffered damages (Id., ¶¶ 83-85,
support of their motion for summary judgment, the Housing
Authority defendants argue that they fulfilled any relevant
duty owed to plaintiffs “by ensuring that a functional
smoke detector or alarm was installed in the Beavers'
apartment” and that no further duty was owed (Dkt. No.
56, at 1-2). The Housing Authority defendants note that
plaintiffs “concede that Ms. Beavers was awake and
aware of the fire as she attempted to put it out” and
that “whether the smoke alarm worked or failed to work
is irrelevant since it is undisputed that Ms. Beavers knew
about the fire and attempted to extinguish it.”
(Id., at 2). Further, the Housing Authority
defendants maintain that there is no record evidence from
which a reasonable jury could find that they “breached
any duty owed to decedents that proximately caused their
death by smoke inhalation.” (Id.). Proximate
cause is also required for plaintiffs to establish their
wrongful death and survival damages claims. Scott v.
Cent. Arkansas Nursing Centers, Inc., 278 S.W.3d 587,
595 (Ark. App. 2008) (“In a wrongful-death case, the
plaintiff must show that the defendant's negligence was
the proximate cause of the decedent's death.”).
response, plaintiffs contend that the Housing Authority
defendants oversimplify the analysis of what duties were owed
to plaintiffs (Dkt. No. 188, at 2). They contend that
significant questions of fact exist as to whether the Housing
Authority defendants breached those duties and that
significant questions of fact exist as to whether that breach
proximately caused decedents' injuries (Id.).
parties agree that the general rule and common law in
Arkansas imposes no legal obligation upon a landlord for a
tenant's injury on the premises unless a duty is imposed
by statute or agreement. Bartley v. Sweetser, 890
S.W.2d 250, 252 (Ark. 1994).
Arkansas Code Annotated § 18-16-110 codifies this
No landlord or agent or employee of a landlord shall be
liable to a tenant or a tenant's licensee or invitee for
death, personal injury, or property damage proximately caused
by any defect or disrepair on the premises absent the
(1) Agreement supported by consideration or assumption by
conduct of a duty to undertake an obligation to maintain or
repair the leased premises; and
(2) Failure to perform the agreement or assumed duty in a
statute is consistent with what Arkansas law requires for
plaintiffs to prevail on their claims against the Housing
Authority defendants. See Ark. Model Jury Inst.,
Civil 1105 (2017). Only an express agreement or assumption of
duty by conduct can remove a landlord from the general rule
of nonliability. Propst v. McNeill, 932 S.W.2d 766,
769 (Ark. 1996). Beyond these general principles, however,
the parties disagree on precisely what duty was or duties
issue of whether a duty exists is always a question of law,
not to be decided by a trier of fact.” Lacy v.
Flake & Kelley Management, Inc., 235 S.W.3d 894, 896
(Ark. 2006). Summary judgment is appropriate if no duty of
care is owed. Id.
Beavers and the Housing Authority defendants entered into a
written lease on January 4, 2007, which was in effect at the
time of the March 22, 2012, fire (Dkt. No. 56-1, Dwelling
Lease; Dkt. No. 56-1, Nix. Aff., ¶ 2). As relevant to
this dispute, the Housing Authority defendants agreed
“[t]o comply with requirements of applicable building
code, and HUD regulations materially affecting health and
safety.” (Id., Dwelling Lease, ¶
VI.A.2.). The Housing Authority defendants maintain that the
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
(“HUD”) regulations required “that at least
one working smoke detector be installed in the unit leased to
Marilyn Beavers.” (Dkt. No. 57, at 6-7 (citing 24
C.F.R. § 5.703(d)(4)). Under the lease, as relevant to
this dispute, Ms. Beavers agreed “[t]o provide
reasonable care (including changing batteries) and perform
interim testing of smoke detectors to [sic] they are in
working order.” (Dkt. No. 56-1, Dwelling Lease, ¶
Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett maintain additional
duties were owed by the Housing Authority defendants under
the following statutes: 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437
(Declaration of policy and public housing agency
organization), 1437a (Rental payments), 1437d (Contract
provisions and requirements; loans and annual contributions),
1437g (Public Housing Capital and Operating Funds); 42 U.S.C.
§ 3535(c) (Administrative provisions; Employment,
compensation, authority, and duties of personnel); 42 U.S.C.
§§ 4821-4846 (Lead-Based Paint Poisoning
Prevention); Ark. Code Ann. § 12-13-105 (State Fire
Marshal Enforcement Section); Ark. Code Ann. §§
25-15-201 to -214 (Arkansas Administrative Procedures Act)
(Dkt. No. 189, at 6). Aside from citing these statutes,
plaintiffs make no argument regarding them. If plaintiffs
intend to rely on these statutes for points to defeat the
Housing Authority defendants' motion for summary
judgment, plaintiffs fail to make a convincing argument to
this Court. Despite careful review of the cited sections, it
remains unclear to this Court what in the cited statutes
applies to the specific facts of this case or is pertinent to
rebut the Housing Authority defendants' arguments in
support of summary judgment.
specifically cite three additional duties they contend were
owed by the Housing Authority defendants: (1) the duty by the
“homeowner” to inspect the smoke detector monthly
(Dkt. No. 189, at 8-9 (citing the 2007 Arkansas Fire
Prevention Code, effective August 1, 2008 (“2007
AFPC”) 901.6)); (2) the duty to replace the smoke
detector at ten year intervals (Id.); and (3) the
duty to place a smoke detector in every sleeping room and in
the immediate vicinity outside of sleeping rooms (Dkt. No.
189, at 9 (2007 AFPC 907.2.10.1.2)).
initial matter, it is undisputed that the AFPC upon which
plaintiffs rely for these additional duties did not become
effective until August 1, 2008, more than a year after the
Housing Authority defendants and Ms. Beavers entered into the
lease agreement (Dkt. No. 188-4, Tate Aff. ¶ 10; Dkt.
No. 56-1, Dwelling Lease).
the last additional duty plaintiffs claim, Ms. Beavers, Mr.
Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett concede an attempt to raise
“an additional issue of fact” related to the
placement of the smoke detector (Dkt. No. 189, at 11-12). To
the extent plaintiffs contend this is an issue of fact, it is
one for the Court to determine because the Court resolves
what duties are owed. Plaintiffs make this concession because
the record evidence upon which they rely for this point, the
affidavit of plaintiffs' expert Roger Tate (Dkt. No.
188-4, Tate Aff., ¶ 10), admits the applicability of the
2007 AFPC is not clear where the apartment already had a
smoke detector installed when the AFPC went into effect, like
Ms. Beavers' apartment did (Id. (“The 2007
AFPC is clear in Section 907.3.1 that smoke alarms are to be
installed in existing Group R occupancies that do not already
have them and that such alarms are to be installed in
sleeping rooms outside of sleeping rooms . . . . [T]he
wording in regard to the situation in Unit 3A is less clear
since it did have a smoke alarm but not the multiple alarm
units expected by 2007 AFPC.”). Because plaintiffs'
own expert, Mr. Tate, is unclear whether this duty was owed
by the Housing Authority defendants and based on the
Court's review of the evidence, the Court concludes the
Housing Authority defendants did not owe this additional duty
related to location and placement of the smoke detector.
purposes of resolving this motion, the Court will assume
without deciding that the Housing Authority defendants owed
the duty they identify and the other two additional duties
plaintiffs specifically identify.
Housing Authority defendants maintain that, according to the
record evidence, they installed one hard-wired working smoke
detector in the one-level unit (Dkt. No. 56-1, Nix Aff.,
¶ 3; Dkt. No. 199, at 8). Further, the Housing Authority
defendants inspected the smoke detector on December 20, 2011,
and January 26, 2012, when completing work orders in Ms.
Beavers' unit and confirmed the smoke detector was in
working order (Dkt. No. 56-1, Nix Aff., ¶ 5). They
maintain that, after installing a working smoke detector, it
became Ms. Beavers' duty under the lease to ensure that
the smoke detector continued to work (Dkt. No. 57, at 9).
Housing Authority defendants dispute that they owed any
additional duties to plaintiffs. They contend that, even if
they were obligated by the three additional duties plaintiffs
seek to impose, those duties are irrelevant to the facts of
this case. Replacement of the smoke detector and monthly
checks of the smoke detector are only relevant, according to
the Housing Authority defendants, if the smoke detector did
not sound the night of the fire (Dkt. No. 199, at 11). The