Hall v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Filing 15

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 10 MOTION for Summary Judgment (Signed by Judge Sim Lake) Parties notified. (aboyd, 4)

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United States District Court Southern District of Texas IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS HOUSTON DIVISION DOROTHY HALL, Plaintiff, v. WAL-MART STORES, INC., Defendant. § § § § § § § § § ENTERED February 01, 2017 David J. Bradley, Clerk CIVIL ACTION NO. H-15-3523 MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Pending before the court is Defendant, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s ( "Wal-Mart") Motion for (Docket Entry No. 10). Summary Judgment ("Defendant's MSJ") For the reasons stated below, the motion will be granted. I. Factual and Procedural Background This case arises from an alleged encounter between plaintiff, Dorothy Hall, September 1, and an unnamed Wal-Mart employee . 1 2013; On or about Hall had her vehicle serviced at a Wal-Mart store located at 10505 W. Broadway St. in Pearland, Texas. That evening she began receiving text messages "of a sexual nature from an unknown number." 2 The next day Hall noticed that her vehicle 1 The facts presented are uncontested allegations from Plaintiff's Original Petition ("Plaintiff's Petition") (Exhibit A to Defendant's Notice of Removal of Action Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 ("Notice of Removal"), Docket Entry No. 1-2) or other undisputed evidence in the record unless otherwise noted. 2 Plaintiff's Petition, Exhibit A to Notice of Removal, Docket Entry No. 1-2, p. 3 ~ 9. was not functioning properly and scheduled an appointment to return to the Wal-Mart store on September 10, 2013. During her return visit, Hall spoke with the store manager, Raynell Durio, about the text messages. the texts September were 10 addressed. 3 Durio investigated the matter and discovered that sent Durio by a Wal-Mart notified Hall employee. that the On situation or about had been After the conversation with Durio, Hall became afraid that the employee might retaliate against her. As a result of the incident Hall suffered from depression and sought medical treatment. Hall filed suit against Wal-Mart on September 10, 2015, in the 80th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas, alleging that Wal-Mart was liable for negligent hiring, and retention of its employees and for training, failing alleged conduct from occurring on its premises. removed the action to this court. judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of supervising, to prevent the Wal-Mart timely Wal-Mart now moves for summary the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. II. Standard of Review Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant establishes that there is no genuine dispute about any material fact and the law entitles it to judgment. material facts are Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) "genuine" if 3 the evidence Disputes about is such that a The parties dispute whether Durio also told Hall that the employee had been fired. See Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Plaintiff's Response") , Docket Entry No. 13, p. 2. -2- reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment "must 'demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact,' but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant' s case. Little v. 11 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en bane) Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d (quoting Celotex v. Catrett, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553-2554 (1986)). If the moving party meets this burden, nonmovant Rule 56(c) requires the to go beyond the pleadings and show by admissible evidence that specific facts exist over which there is a genuine issue for trial. the evidence Id. In reviewing "the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, determinations or weigh the and it may not make credibility evidence. II Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 120 S. Ct. 2097, 2110 (2000). III. Wal-Mart moves for Analysis summary judgment, arguing that Hall's negligence claim is barred by limitations, that her claim fails as a matter of law, and that she has submitted no evidence of Wal-Mart's liability. 4 A. Claims Accruing Limitations Before September 101 20131 Are Barred by Hall's negligence claim is subject to Texas' two-year statute of limitations. 4 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem Code § 16.003. Defendant's MSJ, Docket Entry No. 10, pp. 3-5. -3- Wal-Mart argues that Hall's claim accrued on the date messages were received, September 1, 2013 before Hall filed in state court. 5 the alleged text more than two years Hall responds that the "discovery rule" applies to her claim and that her "knowledge of a right or claim against [Wal-Mart) did not become apparent until September 10, 2013, or later, due to her inability to discern the unknown perpetrator." 6 1. Applicable Law "A cause of action generally accrues, limitations begins to run, and the statute of when facts come into existence that authorize a claimant to seek a judicial remedy." Johnson Higgins & of Texas, Inc. v. Kenneco Energy, Inc., 962 S.W.2d 507, 514 (Tex. 1998) (citations omitted). "The discovery rule exception operates to defer accrual of a cause of action until the plaintiff knows or, by exercising reasonable diligence, should know of the facts giving rise to the claim." Wagner & Brown, 732, 734-35 (Tex. 2001) Inc. v. Altai, seeking Inc., to benefit Ltd. v. Horwood, 58 S.W.3d (citing Computer Associates International, 918 S.W.2d 453, 455 from the (Tex. 1996)). discovery rule obtaining findings to support its application." 213 S.W.3d 306, 312 (Tex. 2006) has the "A party burden of Barker v. Eckman, (citing Woods v. William M. Mercer, Inc., 769 S.W.2d 515, 518 (Tex. 1988)). The discovery rule is "a 5 Id. at 3. 6 Plaintiff's Response, Docket Entry No. 13, pp. 3, 5. -4- very limited exception to statutes of limitations" used only "when the nature of the plaintiff's injury is undiscoverable and objectively verifiable." 734 both inherently Wagner, 58 S.W.3d at (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) . "Once a claimant learns of a wrongful injury, the statute of limitations begins to run even if the claimant does not yet know 'the specific cause of the injury; the party responsible for it; the full extent of it; or the chances of avoiding it.'" Exxon Corp. v. Emerald Oil (Tex. & Gas Co., L.C., 348 S.W.3d 194, 207 2011) (citations omitted) . 2. Application of the Law to the Facts To the extent that Hall's claim arises out of the actions that occurred on September 1, 2013, they are barred by the statute of limitations. In response to Wal-Mart's arguments, Hall responds that she "could not have known of the wrongful act and resulting injury perpetrated by Defendant" source of the text messages. 7 because she did not know the Hall contends that her "knowledge of a right or claim against Defendant did not become apparent until September 10, 2013, or later, due to her inability to discern the unknown perpetrator." 8 Hall mischaracterizes the discovery rule. that her injury was 7 Id. at 4. 8 inherently undiscoverable, Id. at 5. -5- Far from alleging Hall explicitly alleges that she began receiving texts of a "sexual nature" on the evening of September 1, 2013. 9 Hall does not allege that she did not know of the text messages or their nature, only that she did not know who sent them. 10 But ignorance of the identity of the party responsible for an injury does not affect the running of the limitations period. Hall cites no authority, and the court can find none, for the proposition that the discovery rule applies due to Hall's lack of knowledge as to the details of the texts she received on September 1, 2013. B. Hall Cannot Actions Sustain a Negligence Claim Based on Durio's Hall argues in her Response that her negligence claim does not rest solely on Wal-Mart' s liability for employee who sent the text messages. 11 subsequent firing of the employee the misconduct of the She alleges that Durio's and accompanying warning "presented a frightening situation for Plaintiff, aware that her information was in the hands of a nefarious individual with a motive to seek retribution against Plaintiff. " 12 The resultant emotional and mental effects are the only injury alleged by Hall resulting from Durio's actions. For the reasons stated below, the 9 Plaintiff's Petition, Exhibit A to Notice of Removal, Docket Entry No. 1-2, p. 3 ~ 9. 10 Plaintiff's Response, Docket Entry No. 13, p. 4. 11 Id. -6- court concludes that Hall cannot sustain a negligence claim based only on Durio's actions on or after September 10, 2013. 1. Applicable Law "A negligence finding requires a duty, proximately caused by that breach." 246, 248 (Tex. 2012) Inc., 907 breach, Wansey v. and damages Hole, 379 S.W.3d (citing Doe v. Boys Clubs of Greater Dallas, S.W.2d 472, 477 (Tex. 1995)). Texas courts do not recognize an independent right to recover for negligently inflicted emotional distress. 1993). Boyles v. Kerr, 855 S.W.2d 593, 595-97 (Tex. Whether negligently inflicted anguish may be recoverable when the defendant violates some other duty to the plaintiff depends on both the nature of the duty breached and the proof offered by the plaintiff. 494 (Tex. 1997) City of Tyler v. Likes, 962 S.W.2d 489, (citing Boyles, 855 S.W.2d at 598). breaches of legal duties, even tortious ones, right to recover for resulting mental anguish." "For many the law affords no Id. Moreover, it has been established Texas law "for over a century that ' [a] person who is placed in peril by the negligence of another, but who escapes without injury, may not recover damages simply because he has been placed in a perilous position. subject of damages.'" Id. at 500 Nor is mere fright the (quoting Gulf, Santa Fe Railway Company v. Trott, 25 S.W. 419, 420 accord Restatement (Second) of Torts defendant's negligence causes a -7- § 436A (1965)). mental Colorado & (Tex. 1894); But "when the shock which produces a serious bodily injury, the defendant is liable for that injury provided it was foreseeable." symptoms Id. at 495-96. "[M]inor physical such as difficulty sleeping, are not serious bodily injuries that can form the basis for recovering mental anguish damages." 2. Hall Id. at 496. Application of the Law to the Facts alleges in her Petition that she "suffered bodily injuries" and that her injuries "have had serious effects" on her "health and well-being." 13 However, this non-specific allegation is contradicted by the summary judgment evidence. she did not see a doctor. 14 Hall admits that Hall's counseling records do not indicate that bodily injuries or other medical concerns were ever addressed in therapy. 15 sessions allegedly The fact that her therapy and counseling "mitigated the severity of physical manifestations by dealing with the underlying emotional injury" 16 does not alter the court's analysis. If Hall in fact suffered minor physical symptoms too insignificant to prompt discussion with 13 Plaintiff's Petition, Docket Entry No. 1-2, p. 6. 14 0ral and Videotaped Deposition of Dorothy Hall, Exhibit A to Defendant's MSJ, Docket Entry No. 10-1, p. 16:25 - p. 17:1 {"Q: You haven't been to a doctor? A: No, sir."). 15 See Progress Notes, Exhibit B to Defendant's MSJ, Docket Entry No. 10-2, pp. 3-7 (under heading titled "Issues Addressed" the box for "Health/Medical Concerns" is unchecked on every report). 16 Plaintiff's Response, Docket Entry No. 13, p. 5. -8- her therapist, much less a visit to a physician, those symptoms could not form the basis for recovering mental anguish damages. At any rate, Hall's nonspecific allegations fail to meet her summary judgment burden to respond to Wal-Mart' s motion by showing specific facts exist over which there is a genuine issue for trial. The only alleged consequence of Durio's actions on or after September 10, situation. 2013, is that Hall was placed in a frightening The evidence before the court indicates that Hall's only damages from that date forward were mental or emotional. Moreover, Hall does not argue that any duty allegedly breached by Wal-Mart or its employee, Durio, was one for affords a right to recover for mental anguish. which Texas law Even drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Hall and assuming that Durio's actions placed Hall in peril, the fact that Hall suffered no compensable damages leaves her without a viable claim. Summary judgment will therefore be granted in favor of Wal-Mart as to the portion of Hall's claim not barred by limitations. IV. Conclusions and Order Because the court concludes that plaintiff lacks a viable cause of action, the court does not reach defendant's arguments regarding evidence of liability. For the reasons explained above, the court concludes that there is no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find in favor of plaintiff. Defendant, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. 's Motion for Summary Judgment -9- (Docket Entry No. 10) is therefore GRANTED, 17 and this action will be dismissed with prejudice. SIGNED at Houston, Texas, on this 1st day of February, 2017. LAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 17 Because Hall has had ample opportunity to present evidence of her injuries and the court has given her the benefit of the doubt in liberally construing her claims, the court concurrently DENIES Hall's perfunctory request to amend (See Plaintiff's Response, Docket Entry No. 13, p. 7.). -10-

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