Libby Silas v. Target Corporation
Per Curiam OPINION filed: REVERSED and REMANDED, decision not for publication. Danny J. Boggs; R. Guy Cole , Jr. and Jane Branstetter Stranch, Circuit Judges.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 14a0441n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Jun 17, 2014
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF
BEFORE: BOGGS, COLE, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.
Libby Silas appeals the district court’s decision to grant summary
judgment in favor of Target Corporation in this premises-liability action.
Silas slipped and fell while shopping at Target. After Silas filed a complaint in state
court, Target removed the case to the district court based on diversity of citizenship. Target filed
a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. This timely appeal followed.
Because we disagree with the district court’s conclusion that Silas had presented no admissible
evidence that Target was aware of the condition that led to Silas’s injury, we reverse the grant of
summary judgment and remand to the district court.
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(a). We review the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment de novo. Pagliara
v. Johnston Barton Proctor & Rose, LLP, 708 F.3d 813, 817 (6th Cir. 2013). We review the
Silas v. Target Corp.
district court’s evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. Harris v. J.B. Robinson Jewelers,
627 F.3d 235, 240 (6th Cir. 2010).
To establish negligence under Tennessee law, a plaintiff must prove the following
elements: “(1) a duty of care owed by defendant to plaintiff; (2) conduct falling below the
applicable standard of care that amounts to a breach of that duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) cause
in fact; and (5) proximate, or legal, cause.” McClung v. Delta Square Ltd. P’ship, 937 S.W.2d
891, 894 (Tenn. 1996). In addition, to hold an owner or operator of premises liable in negligence
for a dangerous or defective condition on its premises, the plaintiff must prove either (1) that the
owner or operator caused or created the condition or (2) that the owner or operator had actual or
constructive notice that the condition existed prior to the accident. Blair v. W. Town Mall,
130 S.W.3d 761, 764 (Tenn. 2004).
Target moved for summary judgment on the basis that Silas could not offer any evidence
showing that it had notice of the water on the floor that she claimed caused her fall. In response,
Silas submitted the affidavit of Timothy Jackson, who witnessed Silas’s fall, stating that a
woman arrived at the scene and “exclaimed with irritation: ‘Hey, I told them about that water on
the floor.’” In addition, Silas testified in her deposition that, while she was on the floor, she
“heard a [female] customer say, I told somebody about that spill 15 minutes ago. . . . God, I told
them about that water 15 minutes ago — that spill 15 minutes ago.” The district court and the
parties appear to have assumed that one woman made the statement or statements heard by
Jackson and Silas, though this fact is unclear.
Target objected to the unidentified woman’s statement as inadmissible hearsay. The
district court determined that the unidentified woman’s statement satisfied the requirements for
the “excited utterance” exception to the hearsay rule under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(2) but
Silas v. Target Corp.
found that Silas failed to establish the unidentified woman’s personal knowledge as required
under Federal Rule of Evidence 602.
Concluding that Silas failed to produce admissible
evidence of Target’s actual or constructive notice of the water on the floor, an essential element
of the prima facie case, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Target.
Federal Rule of Evidence 602 provides: “A witness may testify to a matter only if
evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of
the matter. Evidence to prove personal knowledge may consist of the witness’s own testimony.”
Fed. R. Evid. 602. In addition, the advisory committee note to Federal Rule of Evidence 803
states: “In a hearsay situation, the declarant is, of course, a witness, and neither this rule nor
Rule 804 dispenses with the requirement of firsthand knowledge. It may appear from his
statement or be inferable from circumstances.” Fed. R. Evid. 803 advisory committee’s note.
This court has cautioned that “[t]estimony should not be excluded for lack of personal
knowledge unless no reasonable juror could believe that the witness had the ability and
opportunity to perceive the event that he testifies about.” United States v. Hickey, 917 F.2d 901,
904 (6th Cir. 1990).
Here, the unidentified woman’s personal knowledge appears from her statement: “I told
them about that water on the floor,” or “I told somebody about that spill 15 minutes ago. . . .
God, I told them about that water 15 minutes ago — that spill 15 minutes ago.” (emphasis
added). The unidentified woman had firsthand knowledge of her own report of the water spill.
In granting summary judgment, the district court relied heavily on Gainer v. Wal-Mart
Stores E., L.P., 933 F. Supp. 2d 920 (E.D. Mich. 2013). That case, however, is distinguishable.
In Gainer, the plaintiff offered the statements of unidentified customers “exclaiming that
someone ‘had been out there mopping’ and was ‘just mopping the [mother f--king] floor.’” Id. at
Silas v. Target Corp.
926 (brackets in original).
The court concluded that these statements were inadmissible:
“Absent any additional evidence indicating that the unidentified declarants actually saw
Defendant’s employee mop the floor, Plaintiff has failed to carry [her] burden of demonstrating
the declarants’ personal knowledge.” Id. at 932. In this case, the unidentified woman did not
state that “someone” reported the water spill. The unidentified woman’s personal knowledge is
apparent from her statement: she herself reported the spill.
Target further argues that Silas has presented no admissible evidence regarding how long
the water was on the floor and whether Target had time to clean it up, if it was aware of the
water. But the statement overheard by Silas indicates that the water was present for about fifteen
minutes, and the statement overheard by Jackson suggests, at the least, that some period of time
had elapsed between the spill and Silas’s fall—at least long enough for a report to be made.
There is not “a complete absence of proof as to when and how” the spill occurred, Chambliss v.
Shoney’s Inc., 742 S.W.2d 271, 273 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1987), and the evidence that exists should
be evaluated by a trier of fact.
The district court abused its discretion in determining that the unidentified woman’s
statement was inadmissible for lack of personal knowledge. Because the unidentified woman’s
statement creates a factual issue as to Target’s notice of the water on the floor, we REVERSE the
district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Target and REMAND for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
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