Randall v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant's motion for summary judgment [Doc. #23] is denied. Signed by District Judge Carol E. Jackson on 10/10/2014. (JMC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
WAL-MART STORES, INC.,
Case No. 1:13-CV-59 (CEJ)
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiff has responded in opposition, and the issues are fully briefed.
On June 4, 2011 plaintiff Mable Randall entered a Wal-Mart store in Kennett,
Missouri owned by defendant Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (improperly identified as
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.) to return plastic bags to defendant’s recycling bin.
has two main entrances that open into vestibules, a general merchandise entrance
and a grocery entrance, each with two sets of motion-activated doors.
management has the ability to limit the motion activation to operate from only one
direction for purposes of theft prevention and traffic control.1
At each entrance, one
set of doors allows customers to enter or exit a vestibule area, while another set of
doors leads into or out of the store interior.
When facing an entrance from the
Steven Foster, the store manager, testified in deposition that the doors marked “enter”
are generally set to only allow entry motion activation and the doors marked “exit” are
generally set to only allow exit motion activation. According to the deposition of assistant
manager Debbie Miller, however, the doors are typically motion-activated in both directions.
Neither party has presented evidence as to how the doors were activated on the date of the
outside, the word “enter” appears above the doors on the left, and the word “exit”
appears above the doors on the right.
On the date of the incident, plaintiff used the left set of doors to enter the
vestibule area of the general merchandise entrance.
The vestibule contained a
recycling bin, a “Red Box” for movie rentals, a rack for displaying bicycles, and a
The recycling bin was located directly to the right of the doors
through which plaintiff entered.
The bicycle rack was placed directly beside the
recycling bins in the middle of the vestibule.
The watermelon bin was adjacent to the
bicycle rack, and against the second set of doors for entering or exiting the store
This alignment appeared to create two parallel walkways in the vestibule.
The wheeled rack was designed to hold six bicycles.
Two bicycles were hanging from
hooks on the top of one end of the rack, while the four hooks on the opposite end were
The rack was approximately seven or eight feet long, four feet wide, and six
Two metal bars ran across the bottom of the rack at a height approximately
eight inches from the floor.
The bicycle rack contained sign advertisements on each
end at eye-level displaying “$42.99.”
Upon entering the vestibule, plaintiff turned right to place some plastic bags in
the recycling bins.
She then momentarily turned around in what appears to be an
attempt to exit the doors through which she had entered. She next turned back
around and attempted to cross the middle of the vestibule to exit through the right set
of doors without entering the store’s interior. In doing so, she attempted to walk
under the empty hooks on the bicycle rack, but she tripped on the lower bars on the
bottom of the rack and fell face-first to the ground.
Plaintiff initially filed suit in the Circuit Court of Dunklin County, Missouri.
Defendant removed the action, asserting jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship.
Plaintiff claims that defendant was negligent in its placement of the bicycle rack.
seeks an award of damages for injuries she allegedly sustained.
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary
judgment shall be entered if the moving party shows “that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view the facts in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all
reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts.
Farrow, 826 F.2d 732, 734 (8th Cir. 1987).
AgriStor Leasing v.
The moving party bears the burden of
showing both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and its entitlement to
judgment as a matter of law.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252
(1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87
If the moving party meets its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on
the allegations of its pleadings, but must set forth specific facts, by affidavit or other
evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists.
Gannon Intern., Ltd.
v. Blocker, 684 F.3d 785, 792 (8th Cir. 2012); Gibson v. American Greetings Corp.,
670 F.3d 844, 853 (8th Cir. 2012).
“Where the record taken as a whole could not
lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue
Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Matsushita Elec.
Industrial Co.., 475 U.S. at 587).
In addition to the parties’ memoranda, the record consists of deposition
transcripts, video footage from surveillance cameras in the store, and still images
printed from the video, all of which the parties attached as exhibits to their pleadings.
These materials are appropriate for the Court to consider in ruling on this motion.
City of St. Joseph, Mo. v. Southwestern Bell Telephone, 439 F.3d 468, 475 (8th Cir.
In a negligence action under Missouri law, a plaintiff must establish that (1) the
defendant owed her a duty of care, (2) defendant breached that duty, and (3)
defendant’s breach proximately caused her injury.
Co-op. Inc., 26 S.W.3d 151, 155 (Mo. banc 2000).
Lopez v. Three Rivers Elec.
The applicable standard of care is
a question of law for the courts, while whether a defendant’s conduct fell below that
standard of care is a question of fact for a jury. Hellman v. Droege’s Super Market,
Inc., 943 S.W.2d 655, 658 (Mo. Ct. App. 1997).
When a plaintiff sues a property
owner for injuries incurred from an alleged unreasonably dangerous condition on that
property, the applicable standard of care is defined by the relationship between the
property owner and the plaintiff.
Harris v. Niehaus, 857 S.W.2d 222, 225 (Mo. banc
As conceded by defendant for the purposes of its instant motion, the plaintiff
was an invitee at the time of the incident.
An invitee is “a person who is invited to
enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business
dealings with the possessor of the land.”
Spaulding v. Conopco, Inc., 740 F.3d 1187,
1191 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 225).
With regard to invitees under Missouri law, a property owner must “(1) exercise
reasonable care; (2) disclose to the invitee all dangerous conditions which are known
to the possessor and are likely not to be discovered by the invitee; and (3) see that
the premises are safe for the reception of a visitor, or at least ascertain the condition
of the land, to give such warning that the invitee may decide intelligently whether or
not to accept the invitation, or may protect himself against the danger if he does
Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226.
In return, property owners can expect invitees to exercise due care. Huxoll v.
McAlister’s Body & Frame, Inc., 129 S.W.3d 33, 35 (Mo. Ct. App. 2004).
mandates that invitees take available precautions to protect themselves from open
and obvious dangers.” Id.
A dangerous condition is “open and obvious” if the
invitee should reasonably be expected to discover it and realize the danger. Harris,
857 S.W.2d at 226.
The “open and obvious” exception to liability does not apply,
however, “where a landowner should foresee that invitees, even if using reasonable
care, would not appreciate the danger associated with the risk or would be unable to
protect themselves from it.”
Huxoll, 129 S.W.3d at 35.
Therefore, “even if an
invitee can reasonably be expected to discover a danger, a breach of duty can occur
if the owner or possessor of land should anticipate the harm despite its obviousness or
the invitee’s knowledge.” Smith v. The Callway Bank, 359 S.W.3d 545, 548 (Mo. Ct.
Defendant asserts that any danger posed by the bicycle rack in this incident
was an open and obvious condition, and that the risk of harm to plaintiff only existed
because she failed to exercise due care in the face of that danger.
In support of this
assertion, defendant points to the sizeable dimensions of the rack, the rack’s central
location in the vestibule next to the recycling bin, the price signs attached to both
ends at eye-level, and the two bicycles hanging from the top of the rack at one end.
Defendant further asserts that whether a condition is open and obvious is a question
of law to be decided by the court.
Plaintiff contends that the danger created by the bicycle rack was not open and
obvious, and that whether the condition was open and obvious is a question of fact for
a jury to determine under principals of comparative negligence.
Plaintiff notes that
the bicycle rack was located in the highest traffic area of the store in an atypical
location, the price signs located at eye level on the rack were designed to attract the
attention of customers entering the store, and the bars on the bottom of the rack were
only eight inches from the ground.
In determining whether a dangerous condition is open and obvious, courts
engage in “an extremely fact intensive analysis.”
Underwood v. Target Corp., No.
1:12-CV-00035 (LMB), 2013 WL 6801260, *3 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 23, 2013) (applying
In some cases, the facts may be “so one-sided that the trial court can
say, as a matter of law, that a dangerous condition was so open and obvious that the
plaintiff knew or should have known of the danger and assumed the risk.”
v. Hardee’s Food Sys., Inc., 92 F.3d 702, 710 (8th Cir. 1996).
See also Underwood,
2013 WL 6801260 at *3 (collecting recent cases where Missouri courts have found
dangerous conditions to be so open and obvious that liability is precluded as a matter
However, under Missouri law, the question of open and obviousness is
usually a question of fact for the jury to determine since “it essentially asks whether
that individual was contributorily negligent.” Scheerer, 92 F.3d at 709-10.
Underwood., 2013 WL 6801260 at *3 (collecting recent cases where Missouri courts
have refused to find that a given condition is open and obvious as a matter of law and
permitted the case to go to the jury).
After reviewing the deposition transcripts, video and photographs of the
incident, the Court finds the evidence is not so one-sided to find the danger created by
the condition open and obvious as a matter of law.
The facts here are more
analogous to the cases where Missouri courts have declined to make sure a
determination and submitted the question instead to the jury.
While the bicycle rack
was a large physical structure, a jury could find plaintiff reasonably thought she safely
could walk through the large space under the empty hooks on the rack without
realizing the danger posed by the metal bars close to the ground.
Even if plaintiff had
or should have realized the danger posed by attempting to walk under the rack, a jury
could find that defendant should have reasonably anticipated that customers would
attempt to exit the store by cutting across the vestibule and walking through the open
space under the empty hooks on the rack.
Furthermore, in accordance with the findings of Missouri courts, the presence
of multiple distractions supports the conclusion that the dangerous condition was not
open and obvious as a matter of law.
See, e.g., Bartel v. Central Markets, Inc., 896
S.W.2d 746, 748 (Mo. Ct. App. 1995) (“[W]e cannot say as a matter of law that the
[uneven sidewalk] was so open and obvious that defendants could reasonably rely on
its invitees to see and appreciate the risk of danger as they exited the store with arms
full of groceries or pushing grocery carts ahead of them.”); see also Bruner v. City of
St. Louis, 857 S.W.2d 329, 333 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993) (finding the jury could consider
whether defendant had “reason to expect that plaintiff’s attention would be diverted
by the airport environment” in determining whether a moving walkway at the airport
was a dangerous condition).
Here, the location of the bicycle rack in a high-traffic
area, the signs advertising prices at eye-level, and the display of other merchandise in
the vestibule are all potential distractions a jury could consider in determining
whether the condition was open and obvious or whether the defendant should have
realized that customers may be too distracted to take precautionary measures.
Drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff as non-movant, the Court
cannot find, as a matter of law, that the danger created by the placement of the
bicycle rack was an open and obvious condition.
Nor can the Court factually
determine whether the defendant should have anticipated that an invitee such as
plaintiff, even if exercising due care, would not appreciate the danger associated with
attempting to cross the vestibule under the bicycle rack or would be unable to protect
herself from potential harm caused by the rack’s placement.
These are proper
questions for a jury.
For the reasons discussed above,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant’s motion for summary judgment
[Doc. #23] is denied.
CAROL E. JACKSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 10th day of October, 2014.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?