WATSON-HILL v. Does 1-10 et al
ORDER GRANTING 10 Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED with prejudice. Ordered by US DISTRICT JUDGE MARC THOMAS TREADWELL on 1/12/2018. (tlh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
MURPHY OIL USA, INC., et al.,
CASE NO. 5:16-CV-496(MTT)
Deborah Watson-Hill, the Plaintiff, alleges claims against Murphy Oil USA, Inc.
and John Does 1-10 for injuries arising from a slip and fall at Murphy Oil’s premises.
Doc. 1-2. Murphy Oil now moves for summary judgment. Doc. 10. Because, as
discussed below, there is no evidence that Murphy Oil had superior knowledge of the
hazard that allegedly caused Watson-Hill’s fall, Murphy Oil’s motion (Doc. 10) is
GRANTED, and Watson-Hill’s claims are DISMISSED with prejudice.
The facts underlying this case are simple. On August 4, 2014, Watson-Hill
visited Murphy Oil’s gas station to purchase gasoline. Docs. 10-2 ¶ 1; 12-2 ¶ 1. Docs.
10-2 ¶ 1; 12-2 ¶ 1. As she was stepping onto the curb of the sidewalk outside the gas
station, Watson-Hill slipped and fell. Docs. 10-2 ¶ 4; 12-2 ¶ 4. At her deposition,
Watson-Hill testified that she did not see the substance that caused her to slip, but she
Unless stated otherwise, the following facts are taken from the parties’ statements of material facts and
also testified that an employee of the gas station, a “Ms. Driskell,” told her that she
slipped on oil. Docs. 10-2 ¶ 5; 12-2 at 2.
Watson-Hill brought suit against Murphy Oil in the State Court of Bibb County for
negligence under Georgia state law, and Murphy Oil removed to this Court, invoking
diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because the amount in controversy
exceeds $75,000 and the parties are completely diverse. Docs. 1 ¶¶ 6-10; 1-2 at 1, 17.
Murphy Oil now moves for summary judgment, arguing that, as a matter of law, the
undisputed facts “prove that Plaintiff cannot establish a breach of duty owed to her by
Defendant.” Doc. 10-1 at 3-4.
Summary Judgment Standard and Applicable Georgia Law
A court shall 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). In determining whether a genuine dispute of
material fact exists, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citation omitted). A material fact is any fact relevant or necessary
to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. And a factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non[-]moving party.” Id.
The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden to show that there is
no issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the
movant meets this burden, the burden shifts, and the non-movant must produce
evidence showing that an issue of material fact does exist. Id. at 324. The non-moving
party must “go beyond the pleadings” and identify “specific facts showing a genuine
issue for trial.” Id.; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party does not satisfy its
burden “if the rebuttal evidence ‘is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative’ of a
disputed fact.” Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315
(11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50). However, “[c]redibility
determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences
from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255
“Where an owner or occupier of land, by express or implied invitation, induces or
leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages
to such persons for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping
the premises and approaches safe.” O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1. In order to prevail on a claim
for negligence in a slip and fall case in Georgia, “an invitee must prove (1) that the
defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard; and (2) that the plaintiff
lacked knowledge of the hazard despite the exercise of ordinary care due to the actions
or conditions within the control of owner / occupier.” Robinson v. Kroger Co., 268 Ga.
735, 748, 493 S.E.2d 403, 414 (1997). An owner / occupier has “constructive
knowledge” of a hazard if a reasonable inspection of the premises would have shown
the hazard. Id. at 740, 493 S.E.2d at 408-09.
Analysis of Murphy Oil’s Motion
In its motion for summary judgment, Murphy Oil argues that Watson-Hill does not
know what caused her to slip and that the sidewalk curb, on which Watson-Hill may
have slipped, was “an open and obvious, static condition.” Doc. 10-1 at 5-7. WatsonHill responds that, while she did not originally see what she slipped on, a genuine issue
of material fact exists because Murphy Oil’s employee told Watson-Hill that she slipped
on oil, not on the curb. Doc. 12-1 at 5-6.
After reviewing the parties’ briefs and the transcript of Watson-Hill’s deposition,
the Court asked the parties to supplement their briefing to address “whether there is any
evidence that the Defendant knew or should have known of the presence of the oil that
the Plaintiff claims caused her to fall.” Doc. 14. The Court noted that the question “is a
very narrow issue and should not require more than two or three pages to address,” and
accordingly the Court “suggest[ed]” that the parties file their briefs by December 19 and
concluded, “[i]f you encounter a problem, let me know.” Id.
Murphy Oil supplemented its briefing on December 19, arguing that Watson-Hill
“cannot establish that [Murphy Oil] had actual or constructive knowledge of any
allegedly hazardous substance.” Doc. 15 at 4. The Court agrees. No evidence on the
record suggests that Murphy Oil had actual knowledge of the alleged hazard. As to
constructive knowledge, Murphy Oil has pointed out the absence of any evidence in the
record that a foreign substance was on the premises long enough to have been
discovered by a reasonable inspection. Watson-Hill cites no evidence and makes no
argument that a genuine dispute remains as to Murphy Oil’s knowledge of the
hazardous substance. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. Indeed, Watson-Hill failed
to address the issue altogether. The Court’s review of the record confirms there is no
evidence that Murphy Oil had actual or constructive knowledge of the substance that
allegedly caused Watson-Hill’s fall. Without evidence that Murphy Oil had actual or
constructive knowledge of a hazard, Watson-Hill’s claims fail as a matter of law,
regardless of whether Watson-Hill’s testimony that an employee told her she slipped in
oil creates an issue of material fact as to whether she actually did slip in oil.
For the reasons discussed above, Murphy Oil’s motion (Doc. 10) is GRANTED.
Watson-Hill’s claims are accordingly DISMISSED with prejudice.
SO ORDERED, this 12th day of January, 2018.
S/ Marc T. Treadwell
MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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