McCord v. The T.J. Maxx Companies, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: 1) Defendant TJ Maxx Companies, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment 9 is granted in full; 2) Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with prejudice; 3) A judgment shall be filed herewith. Signed by Judge David L. Bunning on 8/2/2017.(TJZ)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 17-29-DLB-CJS
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
THE T.J. MAXX COMPANIES, INC.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The Defendant, T.J. Maxx Companies, Inc. (“T.J. Maxx”), moves for summary
judgment against Plaintiff Joyce McCord, arguing that Plaintiff has nto stated a claim upon
which relief can be granted. (Doc. # 9). The Motion for Summary Judgment is fully briefed
(Docs. # 10 and 11) and ripe for review. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons that follow, T.J. Maxx’s Motion for
Summary Judgment is granted and Plaintiff’s claims are dismissed.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On April 17, 2016, Plaintiff Joyce McCord, who was eighty-five-years-old at the
time, was shopping at T.J. Maxx in Florence, Kentucky. While shopping at T.J. Maxx for
approximately an hour and a half, the Plaintiff decided to purchase dog food, and tried on
several articles of clothing she intended to purchase. (Doc. # 10-1 at 16:12-22). In her
first trip to the fitting room, the Plaintiff tried on a pair of pajamas. Id. The Plaintiff
continued to look around and found a blouse she was interested in purchasing. Id. at
16:19-22. As she reentered the fitting room, the Plaintiff slipped and fell. Id. at 16:24-25.
No T.J. Maxx employee, or other customers, saw Plaintiff fall. (Doc. # 9-1 at 69:1570:10; 73:3-25). However, shortly after the Plaintiff fell, Ashley Kidwell, an employee,
saw the Plaintiff laying on the ground, and Kelly Roush, the manager on duty, came into
the fitting room to assist the Plaintiff. Id. at 68:17-23; 73:22-25. Neither the Plaintiff nor
any T.J. Maxx employees observed any foreign substances on the floor before or after
the fall. Id. at 69:13-14. Nevertheless, the Plaintiff contends that she slipped, and
therefore, there must have been something on the floor. (Doc. # 10 at 6).
On May 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit against T.J. Maxx in Boone County Circuit
Court, asserting a claim for negligence. (Doc. # 1-2 at 2-3). Specifically, the Plaintiff
alleges that T.J. Maxx violated its duty to maintain safe premises for the use of their
business invitees, and that as a result, the Plaintiff sustained injuries. Id. at 2. On March
1, 2017, T.J. Maxx removed this action to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). (Doc. # 1). On April 20, 2017, T.J. Maxx filed the instant
Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking judgment as a matter of law and arguing that the
Plaintiff has failed to establish an essential element of her claim—the existence of a
foreign substance on the floor. (Doc. # 9).
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “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). A genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is
sufficient evidence … for a jury to return a verdict for” the non-moving party. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The “moving party bears the burden of
showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact.” Sigler v. Am. Honda Motor
Co., 532 F.3d 469, 483 (6th Cir. 2008). Once a party files a properly supported motion
for summary judgment, by either affirmatively negating an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim or establishing an affirmative defense, “the adverse party must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at
250. However, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving
party’s] position will be insufficient.” Id. at 252.
The Court must “accept Plaintiff’s evidence as true and draw all reasonable
inferences in [her] favor.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014)
(citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). The Court is not permitted to “make credibility
determinations” or “weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact
remains for trial.” Id. (citing Logan v. Denny’s, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001)).
“The ultimate question 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.’” Back v. Nestle USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). If there is a dispute over facts that might affect the
outcome of the case under governing law, the entry of summary judgment is precluded.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
As the party moving for summary judgment, T.J. Maxx must shoulder the burden
of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential
element of Plaintiff’s claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming T.J. Maxx satisfies its
burden, the Plaintiff “must—by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and
admissions on file—show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.” Laster, 746
F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).
The Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
To prevail on a negligence claim under Kentucky law, the Plaintiff must prove:
(1) that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, (2) breach of that duty, and (3)
that the breach was the legal causation of the consequent injury. Pathways, Inc. v.
Hammons, 113 S.W.3d 85, 88-89 (Ky. 2003); Wright v. House of Imports, Inc., 381
S.W.3d 209, 213 (Ky. 2012). The existence of a duty is a question of law for the court to
decide, breach and injury are questions of fact for the jury to determine. Pathways, 113
S.W.3d at 89.
In the premises-liability context, “a property owner, such as [T.J. Maxx], must
exercise reasonable care to protect invitees, such as Plaintiff, from hazardous conditions
that the property owner knew about or should have discovered and that the invitee could
not be expected to discover.” Denney v. Steak N Shake Operations, Inc., 559 F. App’x
485, 487 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Lanier v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 99 S.W.3d 431, 432-33
(Ky. 2003)). Therefore, the first element—the existence of a duty—has been established.
Whether T.J. Maxx breached that standard of care and whether that breach was the
cause of Plaintiff’s injuries are more difficult questions.
Kentucky has adopted a “burden-shifting approach to premises liability.” Lanier,
99 S.W.3d at 436 (overruling prior cases which placed entire burden of proof on the
injured customer). First, the customer-plaintiff must prove three elements:
(1) he or she had an encounter with a foreign substance or other dangerous
condition on the business premises; (2) the encounter was a substantial
factor in causing the accident and the customer’s injuries; and (3) by reason
of the presence of the substance or condition, the business premises were
not in a reasonably safe condition for the use of business invitees.
Martin v. Mekanhart Corp., 113 S.W.3d 95, 98 (Ky. 2003) (citing Lanier, 99 S.W.3d at
435-36). “Such proof creates a rebuttable presumption sufficient to avoid a summary
judgment or directed verdict.” Id. If the Plaintiff meets her burden, the burden of proof
shifts to T.J. Maxx, who must prove “the absence of negligence, i.e., the existence of
reasonable care.” Id. Although “a business is not an insurer of its patrons’ safety and is
not strictly liable for injuries suffered by a customer on its premises,” T.J. Maxx must show
that it exercised reasonable care in maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe
condition. Lanier, 99 S.W.3d at 436.
T.J. Maxx argues that Plaintiff has failed to meet her initial burden. (Doc. # 9).
Specifically, T.J. Maxx claims that the Plaintiff has not cleared the threshold hurdle—she
has not proven, or created a genuine dispute, as to whether she had an encounter with a
foreign substance or other dangerous condition on the business premises. Id. at 7. The
It is undisputed that the Plaintiff fell; however, to survive summary
judgment, the Plaintiff must create a genuine dispute as to why she fell. The Plaintiff has
failed to do so.
Therefore, Plaintiff’s “claim falls short of the ‘low bar’” required to
overcome summary judgment in a slip-and-fall case. Hazley v. Wal-Mart Stores E. LP,
No. 3:13-cv-960-JGH, 2014 WL 5366115, at *4 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 21, 2014).
Kentucky courts have held that a plaintiff can establish that she had an “encounter
with a foreign substance or other dangerous condition” by pointing to a discrete hazard
on the floor. See Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. v. Webb, 413 S.W.3d 891, 896 (Ky. 2013)
(plaintiff slipped on wet tile that appeared to be dry); Martin, 113 S.W.3d at 96-98 (plaintiff
slipped on oil); Lanier, 99 S.W.3d at 433 (plaintiff slipped on clear liquid). The Plaintiff
need not know “the exact nature and source of the substance” on the floor; however, the
Plaintiff must present evidence that there was a foreign substance on the floor. For
example, courts have held that a plaintiff’s sworn testimony that the entire floor in the
restaurant was slick and that he saw “others in the restaurant slipping on the floor satisfied
[the first] element of his prima facie case.” Denney, 559 F. App’x at 487-88. A plaintiff’s
sworn testimony that she saw a “brown, sticky, textured substance on the floor” and the
production of her shoe with a dark substance on it was also sufficient. Vaughn v. Target
Corp., No. 3:13-cv-521-JGH, 2014 WL 4999194, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 7, 2014). So too is
a plaintiff’s sworn testimony that she slipped on “an oily substance.” CBL & Assocs.
Management, Inc. v. Chatfield, No. 2015-CA-826-MR, 2017 WL 1548199 (Ky. Cy. App.
Apr. 28, 2017).
Although the “Plaintiff’s burden at this stage of a slip-and-fall case is not substantial
where Plaintiff has presented sworn testimony to establish its prima facie case,” the
Plaintiff must present some evidence, beyond mere speculation. Vaughn v. Target Corp.,
No. 3:13-cv-521-JGH, 2014 WL 4999194, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 7, 2014) (citing Denney,
559 F. App’x at 486). Thus, where a plaintiff offers only her own testimony that she
slipped and an unsupported hypothesis as to why, courts have granted summary
judgment in the defendant’s favor. See, e.g., Jones v. Abner, 335 S.W.3d 471 (Ky. Ct.
App. 2011) (plaintiff’s “speculative hypothesis that a ‘slick residue’ was left in the bathtub
after it was cleaned” was insufficient to survive summary judgment); Edwards v. Capitol
Cinemas, Inc., No. 2003-CA-246-MR, 2003 WL 23008792, at *1 (Ky. Ct. App. Dec. 24,
2003) (holding plaintiff’s allegation “that the pavement where she slipped was terrazzo,
and that the theatre may in the past have placed a rug along the terrazzo portion” did “not
meet the [plaintiff’s] prima facie burden of proof”); Roberts v. Jewish Hosp., Inc., No. 2012CA-1182-MR, 2013 WL 5048294, at *1 (Ky. Ct. App. Sep. 13, 2013) (plaintiff, who was
“uncertain what had caused her to fall” but “confident she had not tripped over [her own]
feet,” failed to survive summary judgment because she did not establish the floor was
“imperfect, defective or dangerous”); Hazley, 2014 WL 5366115, at *3 (holding that
“[w]hen the plaintiff relies solely on her own testimony to overcome summary judgment
an allegation that her injury “may have been” caused by an unidentified defect in an
unspecified location on the defendant’s property is insufficient”); Smith v. Steak N Shake,
No. 3:14-cv-642-TBR, 2016 WL 4180002, at *3 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 5, 2016) (granting
summary judgment where plaintiff “offer[ed] only a speculative hypothesis that some
substance from the ‘greasy and sticky’ spot under the table adhered to her shoes” and
“caused her to fall”).
Here, the Plaintiff has not established that she encountered a foreign substance or
dangerous condition on T.J. Maxx’s premises. Although she has consistently claimed
that something slick on the dressing-room floor caused her to slip and fall, the Plaintiff
has failed to prove that there was a foreign substance on the floor. (Doc. # 10-1 at 10:78, 16:24-25, 23:10-11, 39:17). She has been unable to provide any witnesses, videos, or
pictures that confirm the existence of a foreign substance on the floor. Id. at 23:6-10. In
fact, even the Plaintiff is unable to testify that there was a foreign substance or dangerous
condition on T.J. Maxx’s floor. Id. at 21:21-23. Instead, she simply suggests that she
slipped, and therefore, there must have been “something that made [her] slip.” (Docs. #
10 at 5; 10-1 at 23:10-11).
But “the mere fact of a slip is not sufficient to prove the existence of a dangerous
condition.” 1 Edwards, 2003 WL 23008792, at *1. The Court will “not presume [T.J. Maxx]
was negligent merely because [the Plaintiff] fell and suffered an injury.” Roberts, 2013
WL 5048294, at *2. Plaintiff’s there-must-have-been-something-on-the-floor “argument
amounts to nothing more than pure conjecture because she provides nothing of
substance to support her position.” Jones, 335 S.W.3d at 475. “‘[S]peculation and
supposition’ are not enough to survive a motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 476.
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s “speculative hypothesis” that “there must have been something on
the floor” is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact, leaving summary
judgment for T.J. Maxx as the only appropriate course.2 Id.; see also Hazley, 2014 WL
The Court notes that slip-and-fall cases are not the type that lend themselves to a res ipsa
loquitor argument. Res ipsa loquitor “is an evidentiary doctrine which allows a jury to infer
negligence on the part of the defendant.” Sadr v. Hager Beauty Sch., Inc., 723 S.W.2d 886, 887
(Ky. Ct. App. 1987). “If the inference is forceful enough it can create a rebuttable presumption of
negligence.” Id. “Reliance upon the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor is predicated upon a showing
that (1) the defendant had full control of the instrumentality which caused the injury; (2) the
accident could not have happened if those having control had not been negligent; and (3) the
plaintiff’s injury resulted from the accident.” Id. However, the “fact that some mystery
accompanies an accident does not justify the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor.” Cox
v. Wilson, 267 S.W.2d 84, 84 (Ky. 1954). Thus, a “lack of knowledge as to the cause of the
accident does not call for the application of the doctrine.” Id. “The separate circumstances of
each case must be considered and from them it must be first decided whether according to
common knowledge and experience of mankind, this accident could not have happened if there
had not been negligence.” Id.
Slip-and-falls are not the sort of accidents that cannot happen absent the negligence of
another. People, young and old, frequently trip over their own feet. Therefore, there is no
justification for applying the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor in this case.
Plaintiff also attempts to survive summary judgment by arguing that the store manager,
Ms. Roush, cannot disprove the existence of a foreign substance on the floor. (Doc. # 10 at 7-8)
(“Ms. Roush’s testimony … does not conclusively establish that there was not a foreign substance
on the fitting room floor prior to Ms. McCord’s fall.”). However, this argument confuses Lanier’s
burden-shifting framework. The Plaintiff is the one who must prove the existence of a foreign
substance on T.J. Maxx’s floor; T.J. Maxx is not required to prove a negative.
Accordingly, for the reasons stated herein,
IT IS ORDERED as follows:
Defendant The T.J. Maxx Companies, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. # 9) is granted in full;
Plaintiff’s Complaint (Doc. # 1-2) is dismissed with prejudice; and
A judgment shall be filed contemporaneously herewith.
This 2nd day of August, 2017.
K:\DATA\Opinions\Covington\2017\17-29 McCord MOO FINAL.docx
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