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Standifer v. Circle K Stores Inc.

United States District Court, Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division

May 21, 2015





This is premises liability diversity case. Plaintiff Helen Standifer (“Standifer”) tripped and fell over what she claims was an unreasonably dangerous wheel stop[1] in the parking lot of Defendant Circle K Stores, Inc.’s (“Circle K”) Ruston, Louisiana store. Pending before the Court is Circle K’s Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. No. 10]. Standifer filed an opposition memorandum [Doc. No. 13], to which Circle K replied. [Doc. No. 16].

For the following reasons, Circle K’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. Facts and Procedural History

At 12:27 p.m. on November 15, 2011, Standifer parked her vehicle directly in front of the entrance to the Circle K store. It was a sunny day. As she walked towards the entrance, she tripped over a concrete wheel stop in front of her car. The wheel stop was placed there to prevent vehicles from jumping the curb and striking the store’s entrance and a sales display of propane tanks, which was beside the entryway. See [Doc. No. 13-1, Exh. P1, Photo of Entrance, p. No. 13 of 23].

The parties submitted Circle K’s surveillance video of the fall. [Doc. No. 13-3, Exh. 3, Surveillance Video, at 12:27:50]. The video shows Standifer exit her vehicle and approach the entrance, drink in hand. She is looking straight ahead and does not check the ground as she progresses. The wheel stop protrudes slightly, although noticeably, from the outside edge of her front left tire. Standifer’s right foot clips the outside edge of the wheel stop, and she falls hard to the ground, face first. Standifer suffered a broken ankle and injured her arm, resulting in significant, albeit unspecified, medical expenses.

The wheel stop was unpainted concrete. Circle K’s parking lot, in contrast to the wheel stop’s gray tone, was black asphalt. See [Doc. No. 13-1, Exh. P1, Photo of Entrance, pg. No. 13 of 23]. It is undisputed that the bumper was well-maintained (i.e., it did not contain any rough edges or protruding rebar) and that it was firmly attached to the pavement.

Standifer alleges the bumper’s placement in the path to an entryway, in conjunction with Circle K’s failure to paint the bumper yellow, created an unreasonably dangerous condition. Echoing Standifer’s claims and referencing non-binding guidelines published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (“AASHTO”) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (“ATSM”), Standifer’s expert, Philip Beard (“Beard”), opines that the unpainted wheel stop, placed in the principal access point to the store, created a tripping hazard. [Doc. No. 13-1, Exh. A, Beard Report, p. 10].

On January 23, 2015, Circle K filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 10], arguing that a well-maintained wheel stop does not constitute an unreasonable risk of harm under Louisiana premises liability law. On February 15, 2015, Standifer filed a memorandum in opposition [Doc. No. 13]. Circle K replied. [Doc. No. 16].

II. Law and Analysis

A. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment “should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion by identifying portions of the record which highlight the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Topalian v. Ehrmann, 954 F.2d 1125, 1132 (5th Cir. 1992). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

If the moving party can meet the initial burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Norman v. Apache Corp., 19 F.3d 1017, 1023 (5th Cir. 1994). In evaluating the evidence tendered by the parties, the Court must accept the evidence of the nonmovant as credible and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, “a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence. Thus, Summary Judgment is appropriate if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for ...

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