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Banta v. Wal-Mart Stores, East, LP

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

April 6, 2018




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Jeanette R. Banta slipped and fell in a puddle of water next to a flower display case while shopping in a store owned by Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, East, LP (Wal-Mart). She injured her back and shoulder in the fall and brings this negligence action under Tennessee law seeking compensatory damages in the amount of $100, 000. This Court has jurisdiction on the basis of diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Wal-Mart moves for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiff cannot come forward with evidence that it caused or had actual or constructive notice of the puddle which caused her to slip [Doc. 23]. For the reasons stated herein, the Court agrees and will GRANT Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment and enter judgment in favor of Wal-Mart.

         II. Facts

         When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts of the case in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. On October 5, 2015, Plaintiff entered the Wal-Mart store and retrieved a buggy [Plaintiff's aff. ¶ 2-3, Doc. 32-1]. As she walked past a flower display case, she slipped and fell in a puddle of liquid on the floor soaking her pants [Plaintiff's dep. Doc. 37-1, Page ID # 164-65; Plaintiff's aff. ¶ 6, Doc. 32-1]. She did not see any signs warning that the floor was wet [Plaintiff's aff. ¶ 11, Doc. 32-1]. Two customers helped her stand up from the floor and one notified “the doorman” [Plaintiff's dep. Doc. 37-1, Page ID # 164; Plaintiff's aff. ¶ 7, Doc. 32-1]. The doorman did not call for help [Plaintiff's aff. ¶ 9, Doc. 32-1]. Plaintiff waited until the following day to report the fall to store management because she did not realize she was injured until the evening of October 5, 2015 [Plaintiff's dep., Doc. 28-1, Page ID # 109; Plaintiff's aff. ¶ 10, Doc. 32-1]. She did not know the origin of the liquid which caused her to slip, nor did she know how long the liquid had been on the floor [Plaintiff's dep., Doc. 37-1, Page ID # 164-65].

         In addition to briefing the issues, Wal-Mart submitted four separate “video clips” in support of its motion for summary judgment. At the April 3, 2018 hearing, the parties agreed that video clip 3, which is 3 minutes and 33 seconds in length, was the video depicting events relevant to this case. This video clip depicts an overhead view of a portion of the store looking down the aisle in front of the cashier stations. The specific area where Plaintiff fell is located behind a display case, which obfuscates any view of the floor where Plaintiff slipped. Thirteen seconds into the video, the front of a buggy, which Plaintiff asserts is her buggy, appears at the end of the aisle where Plaintiff fell. Only the front of the buggy is visible, while a view of the rest of the buggy, as well as Plaintiff, is obscured by the display case. The video appears to reflect that two people stop and turn their attention toward the display case. The parties are in agreement that this point in the video clip probably represents the moment when Plaintiff fell and other people came to help her. However, Plaintiff's fall cannot be seen on the video because it is blocked by the display case.

         III. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) provides that summary judgment will be rendered if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The burden is on the moving party to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the Court must view the facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Morris v. Crete Carrier Corp., 105 F.3d 279, 280-81 (6th Cir. 1997); 60 Ivy Street Corp. v. Alexander, 822 F.2d 1432, 1435 (6th Cir. 1987). The moving party may satisfy its burden by presenting affirmative evidence that negates an element of the nonmoving party's claim or by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-35 (1985); Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003). There are “no express or implied requirements in Rule 56 that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim;” it is enough for the movant to “point[ ] out” an absence of evidence on an essential element of the non-movant's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-25; see also Harvey v. Campbell Cnty, Tenn., 453 Fed.Appx. 557, 560 (May 10, 2011).

         Once the moving party has fulfilled his initial burden under Rule 56, the nonmoving party is not entitled to a trial merely on the basis of allegations. The nonmoving party is required to “go beyond the pleadings and by his own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324-25; see also 60 Ivy Street, 822 F.2d at 1435. The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Collyer v. Darling, 98 F.3d 211, 220 (6th Cir. 1996).

         The judge's function at the point of summary judgment is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question, and not to weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); 60 Ivy Street, 822 F.2d at 1435-36.

         B. Discussion

         Plaintiff brings a claim for negligence against Wal-Mart alleging Wal-Mart was negligent in allowing liquid to puddle in front of the flower display case, in failing to inspect the area in a timely manner, and in failing to warn Plaintiff about the existence of liquid on the floor.

         In a diversity jurisdiction case such as this one, the Court must apply the substantive law of the forum state. Kepley v. Lanz, 715 F.3d 969, 972 (6th Cir. 2012); Pennington v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 553 F.3d 447, 450 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). In doing so, the court must “follow the decisions of the state's highest court when that court has addressed the relevant issue.” Kepley, 715 F.3d at 972 (quoting Savedoff v. ...

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