Barnes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
ORDER, GRANTING Defendant's 16 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Callie V. S. Granade on 4/16/2015. (copy to pltf) (mab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LETHA FAYE BARNES,
WAL-MART STORES, INC.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-0307-CG-B
This matter is before the Court on Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.’s (“Defendant”)
motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 16). The Court gave Letha Faye Barnes
(“Plaintiff”) ample time to respond to the motion (Docs. 17, 20, 21), but she did not
do so. After careful consideration and for the reasons set forth herein, Defendant’s
motion for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED.
On August 14, 2013, Plaintiff went shopping at the Wal-Mart store in Bay
Minette, Alabama. (Doc. 16, Exh. 1, p. 2). Plaintiff left the store after completing her
purchase, but then returned to the store to use the restroom. (Doc. 16, Exh. 1, p. 2).
After using the restroom, Plaintiff again walked through the store to leave. (Doc. 16,
Exh. 1, p. 2). On her way out, she slipped and fell on the floor. (Doc. 16, Exh. 1, p. 2).
Plaintiff did not see any water on the floor prior to her fall. (Doc. 16, Exh. 1, pp. 2 –
3). After she fell, Plaintiff claims she saw something that looked like water. (Doc.
16, p. 3). Plaintiff stated the water looked “clear with some foam on it, maybe.” (Doc.
16, Exh. 1, p. 3). Plaintiff’s daughter-in-law came in to the store shortly thereafter,
and also testified that she saw clear water on the floor. (Doc. 16, Exh. 4, p. 4).
Plaintiff did not see any Wal-Mart employees near the area prior to her fall. (Doc.
16, Exh. 1, p. 3).
Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit in state court on March 6, 2014 (Doc. 1, Exh. 2,
p. 1), and Defendant removed it to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction.
(Doc. 1). In her complaint, Plaintiff seeks judgment against Defendant for “past and
future medical expenses, past and future pain, suffering, impairment, mental
anguish, and past and future loss of wages and wage earning capacity.” (Doc. 1,
Exh. 2, p. 3). Defendant argues Plaintiff “did not state one single cause of action in
her Complaint,” but also notes Plaintiff alleged that Defendant “failed to correct or
warn of an unreasonably dangerous condition” in the store. (Doc. 16, Exh. 1, pp. 3 –
4). Defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis that the “record is void of
any evidence that Wal-Mart either created the spill or had actual notice of the spill
on the floor prior to Plaintiff’s fall.” (Doc. 16, Exh. 1, p. 5).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court may grant summary judgment “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). The substantive law applicable to the case
determines what is material. Lofton v. Sec’y of Dep’t of Children & Family Servs.,
358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004), cert. den., 534 U.S. 1081 (2005). If the
nonmoving party fails to make “a sufficient showing on an essential element of her
case with respect to which she has the burden of proof,” the moving party is entitled
to summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
In evaluating the movant’s arguments, the court must view all evidence and
resolve all doubts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Burton v. City of
Belle Glade, 178 F.3d 1175, 1187 (11th Cir. 1999). “If reasonable minds might differ
on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then [the court] should deny
summary judgment.” Hinesville Bank v. Pony Express Courier Corp., 868 F.2d
1532, 1535 (11th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). The basic issue before the court then
is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to
a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52 (1986). The mere existence of
any factual dispute will not automatically necessitate denial of a motion for
summary judgment; rather, only factual disputes that are material preclude entry
of summary judgment. Lofton, 358 F.3d at 809.
In this case, Defendant challenges the legal sufficiency of Plaintiff’s claims in
a comprehensive motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 16, Exhs. 1 – 5). Plaintiff did
not respond to the motion. “There is no burden upon the district court to distill
every potential argument that could be made based on the materials before it on
summary judgment. Rather, the onus is upon the parties to formulate arguments;
grounds alleged in the complaint but not relied upon in summary judgment are
deemed abandoned.” Solutia, Inc. v. McWane, Inc., 672 F.3d 1230, 1239 (11th Cir.
2012) (quoting Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 598 (11th Cir.
1995)). This principle, therefore, compels dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims.
The Court further concludes that Plaintiff appears to have correctly
abandoned her claims. To prove negligence under these circumstances, a plaintiff
must show that the foreign substance was on the floor a sufficient length of time to
impute constructive notice to the defendant, or that defendant had actual notice, or
that defendant was delinquent in not discovering and removing it. S.H. Kress & Co.
v. Thompson, 103 So. 2d 171, 174 (Ala. 1957); see also Cook v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 795 F. Supp. 2d 1269, 1273 (M.D. Ala. 2011) (discussing storekeeper liability
pursuant to Alabama law in slip and fall cases). “In the absence of such proof, the
plaintiff has not made out a prima facie case that the defendant was negligent in
the maintenance of its floors.” S.H. Kress & Co., 103 So. 2d at 174; accord Maddox
By & Through Maddox v. K-Mart Corp., 565 So. 2d 14, 16 (Ala. 1990) (storekeeper is
not an insurer of customer safety, and is liable for injury only if she negligently fails
to use reasonable care in maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition).
Here, the record does not contain evidence that Defendant either created the
spill or had notice of the spill on the floor prior to Plaintiff’s fall. Plaintiff testified
during her deposition that the she did not see the water before she fell, she did not
know where it came from, she did not know how long it was on the floor, and she did
not know if Defendant was aware of it. (Doc. 16, Exh. 3). Plaintiff also stated that
apart from her footprint, the water appeared clean, so there is not an inference that
it was on the floor for a long period of time. (Doc. 16, Exh. 3, p. 8). Because Plaintiff
did not respond to the motion for summary judgment or otherwise present any facts
showing Defendant had knowledge or should have had knowledge that water was
on the floor, Plaintiff has not made out a prima facie negligence case. As a result,
the record does not support finding Defendant failed to warn Plaintiff about the
water or neglected inspecting the store for dangerous conditions. The Court
concludes Defendant is not liable for Plaintiff’s unfortunate slip and fall.
In light of the foregoing, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED. (Doc. 16).
DONE and ORDERED this 16th day of April, 2015.
/s/ Callie V. S. Granade
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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