Defendant Starwood Hotel’s motion for summary judgment was premature regarding a slip and fall that occurred at a Four Points By Sheraton hotel in Michigan which was owned by an unrelated Michigan corporation.

This case is plaintiff’s second attempt to find a defendant subject to jurisdiction in New York.  In this case, plaintiff sued Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (Starwood) for her trip and fall on a defective walkway at the Four Points by Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel in Michigan.  The Four Points Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel was owned by ZLC Inc., a Michigan corporation unrelated to defendant Starwood.

By way of background, plaintiff had previously sued ZLC, Inc. unsuccessfully in New York premising long-arm jurisdiction on plaintiff’s having made her hotel reservation from her New York residence via an interactive website maintained by Starwood for Sheraton hotels.   During her stay at the Sheraton hotel in Ann Arbor, plaintiff tripped over a walkway in the hotel lobby and fractured her knee.  Defendant owner ZLC was a Michigan corporation that used the trademark name “Sheraton” pursuant to a license agreement and had no other hotels and no bank accounts, real estate, or other contacts with New York.  The First Department dismissed plaintiff’s case against ZLC because ZLC’s participation in the interactive website was too remote to support long-arm or specific jurisdiction under CPLR 302(a)(1) and there was no tortious act committed outside New York that injured plaintiff within New York under CPLR 302(1)(3).  Stern v Four Points by Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel, 2015 NY Slip Op 08501 [133 AD3d 514] (1st Dep’t 2015)  http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2015/2015_08501.htm.

In plaintiff’s instant suit against Starwood, the First Department stated that ZLC operated the hotel using the “Four Points by Sheraton” name pursuant to a license agreement with nonparty The Sheraton Corporation, which was identified in the agreement as “an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary” of Starwood.

Starwood moved for summary judgment based on demonstrated proof that

  • Starwood did not own or control the hotel,
  • Under the terms of the license agreement with Sheraton, ZLC was an independent contractor and was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the hotel, and
  • Even if Starwood were a party to the license (or franchise) agreement, the mere existence of a franchise relationship provided no basis for imposing vicarious liability on Starwood for the negligence of non-party franchisee ZLC.

In opposition, plaintiff submitted evidence that Starwood’s reservations website holds the hotel out to the public as being a Starwood property and that plaintiff relied on the representations on Starwood’s website in choosing to book a room at the hotel.

The First Department held that this evidence of public representations and reliance may support a finding of apparent or ostensible agency that in turn may impose vicarious liability on Starwood. Although the license agreement required ZLC to disclose that it was an “independent legal entity operating under license” from Sheraton and to place “notices of independent ownership” on the premises, Starwood did not provide any evidence that ZLC complied with those requirements.  The First Department therefore affirmed denial of Starwood’s motion for summary judgment as being premature and granted plaintiff discovery under CPLR 3212(f) of matter exclusively within Starwood’s control about its possible agency relationship with the hotel, including its reservations system and advertising.

Stern v Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 2017 NY Slip Op 02882 (1st Dep’t 2017) http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_02882.htm.

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