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Roh v. Starbucks Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 2, 2018

Beebe Roh, Mother and next friend of Marcus Roh, minor, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Starbucks Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued September 13, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:13-CV-08865 - James B. Zagel, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Rovner, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.


         While Beebe and Lucas Roh were at Starbucks on Rush Street in Chicago, Illinois with their two sons Alexander and Marcus, a wood and metal stanchion fell onto Marcus Roh's finger. Marcus's injured finger had to be amputated that same day. Beebe sued Starbucks Corporation in state court on behalf of Marcus, claiming its negligence caused Marcus's injury. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Starbucks removed the case to federal court, where the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Starbucks. Beebe appeals, and we affirm, concluding, as did the district court, that any duty Starbucks may have owed Marcus was abrogated by his parents' presence with him in Starbucks at the time of the accident.


         The day Marcus injured his finger, the Roh family was visiting a recently opened Starbucks store in downtown Chicago at the busy corner of Oak and Rush Streets. In its other stores, Starbucks has used varying approaches to encourage line formation and control crowds in the store; these methods include lightweight metal floor baskets placed strategically throughout the store, coffee stands, and occasionally (depending on customer traffic) stanchions with a round base and retractable belts that can connect to adjacent stanchions (like those often seen at airports and crowded venues).

         This particular Starbucks, however, commissioned an individual named Paul D. Punke to create custom metal stanchions for placement within the store to direct the flow of customer traffic. Punke had previously worked for Potbelly Sandwich Shops, salvaging reclaimed furniture and artifacts for their metal stanchions, which were ordinarily made from salvaged posts from 1800's-era iron fences or stair posts. The Potbelly stanchions were connected by heavy chains and welded to a base attached to the floor so the weight of the chain did not tip the stanchion over.

         In contrast to the stanchions affixed to the floor that Punke had created for Potbelly's, the stanchions in the Oak and Rush Starbucks were freestanding. Although the testimony on the precise reason is disputed, the parties agree that Starbucks initially did not want to affix the stanchions to the floor - either because it intended to first establish traffic patterns or simply for aesthetic reasons and to retain flexibility to move them when necessary. Whatever the reason, instead of welding a base that could be affixed to the floor, Punke added a heavy concrete base to the stanchions that could be removed at a later time if Starbucks wanted to permanently affix them to the floor. The stanchions were then used with ropes to control the traffic in the new store, as shown in this picture from the record:

         (Image Omitted)

         (Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Dkt. 51, Exhibit E.)

         The Roh family visited the new Oak and Rush store on February 9, 2013, approximately two months after it opened. At that time, Marcus was three years old, and Alexander was five. Lucas and Beebe walked with the boys past the stanchions and ordered drinks. After receiving their coffee, the family went to the second floor to use the restrooms. When they returned to the main level and were exiting the store, Beebe and Lucas heard their son Marcus begin crying. Lucas, who had heard a loud noise immediately preceding Marcus's cries, saw that one of the stanchions had been knocked to the ground. He picked up a screaming Marcus and the entire family went immediately to their car parked out front and took Marcus to the Lurie Children's Hospital emergency room. Shortly thereafter, Marcus was taken by ambulance to the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital, where the Rohs thought doctors may be able to save Marcus's damaged finger.

         The finger, however, could not be saved. Marcus's left middle finger was surgically amputated. Marcus also injured his left index finger, which was treated with the insertion of a pin that was later removed.

         Although neither Beebe nor Lucas saw what caused the stanchion to fall and have never asked their sons what happened that day, the record establishes that the boys were playing on the rope and stanchions. Marcus remembers little in terms of specifics, but did answer in the affirmative when asked at his deposition whether he was "playing on a pole that day." His older brother Alexander testified that he thought they were playing on the poles because they were bored, and he thinks he was swinging on the ropes. Judd Luckey, a Starbucks barista working that day, recalled that the boys were "jungle gyming" on the stanchions, and that one of the boys climbed up onto the stanchion while ...

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