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Lester v. Valero Refining-Meraux LLC

United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana

February 19, 2015

RUSSELL LESTER
v.
VALERO REFINING-MERAUX, LLC

SECTION: J(2)

ORDER AND REASONS

CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 21) filed by Defendant, Valero Refining-Meraux, LLC ("Valero"), as well as an Opposition (Rec. Doc. 29) by Plaintiffs, Russell Lester ("Lester") and Sharon Lester (collectively "Plaintiffs"), and Valero's Reply (Rec. Doc. 34). Having considered the motion, the parties’ submissions, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds, for the reasons expressed below, that the motion should be DENIED.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This matter arises from alleged injuries sustained by Lester while employed as a truck driver by CW Transport, LLC. Lester claims that on November 22, 2012 he was dispatched to pick up a load of propane at Valero's facility in Meraux, Louisiana. Lester spent approximately an hour in the loading area loading up his truck, and once the truck was fully loaded, Lester turned around and took several steps to disconnect the hose from the truck. While Lester was walking, he alleges that he tripped over a valve connected to the end of a loading hose that was lying on the ground. Lester claims that he sustained serious injuries to his left wrist and right knee, both of which necessitated surgeries.

Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against Valero in state court under a theory of negligence, asserting, amongst other things, that Valero was negligent in failing to provide a warning of a dangerous condition, failing to provide a safe premises for its patrons and business invitees, and negligently allowing an unsafe condition to exist on its premises. (Rec. Doc. 1-1, p. 2). Lester seeks a number of damages including damages for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Lester's wife, Sharon, also seeks damages for loss of consortium, companionship, society, and friendship, which she alleges to have suffered as a result of Lester's physical injuries. Valero subsequently removed the matter to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction.

Valero has filed the instant motion, requesting that the Court grant summary judgment in its favor and dismiss Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice.

PARTIES’ ARGUMENTS

Valero asserts that Plaintiffs' claims for negligence should be dismissed because the hoses lying on the ground over which Lester tripped constituted an "open and obvious" hazard. Under Louisiana law, Valero notes that as a landowner, it may not be held liable for any injury resulting from a hazard which was obvious and which Lester should have observed. Valero further submits that Lester was fully aware of the danger posed by the hoses, as Lester admits to noticing the hoses on several previous visits to the facility, noticing the hoses when he first arrived at the facility on the day of the incident, and even noticing the hoses as he was in the process of stepping over them. As such, Valero asserts that because Lester was fully aware of the obvious danger posed by the hoses, Valero had no duty to guard against such danger.

In response, Plaintiffs first clarify Valero's argument, noting that Lester tripped over a valve which was connected to the hose as opposed to the hose itself. Because of this, Plaintiffs dispute that the danger posed by the valve was "open and obvious" as Valero contends, since the valve was much smaller and the same color as the hose, and thus not easily seen. Plaintiffs also argue that the issue of whether the danger posed by the valve was open and obvious is a question that must be decided by the jury at trial, as opposed to the Court on summary judgment.

In its Reply, Valero asserts that the distinction of whether Lester tripped over a hose or a valve is immaterial, as the valve was visibly connected to the hose, and thus obviously posed the same danger as the hose. Additionally, Valero argues that summary judgment is appropriate on the issue of whether the valve posed an open and obvious danger, in light of recent Louisiana jurisprudence.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no material issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); See also Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, the Court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that “a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must come forward with evidence which would ‘entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.’” Int’l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally’s, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263-64 (5th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with sufficient evidence of its own, or “showing that the moving party’s ...


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