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Sproles v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

January 20, 2017

CHARLES B. SPROLES
v.
MURPHY OIL USA, INC., AND LIBERTY MUTUAL FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 13) filed by Defendants Murphy Oil USA, Inc. ("Murphy"), and Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company. Defendants seek summary judgment on the claims asserted by Plaintiff Charles B. Sproles, which relate to the injuries Plaintiff allegedly incurred as a result of his slipping and falling at a gas station owned by Murphy. Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to the Motion, (see Doc. 20), and Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiffs memorandum in opposition, (see Doc. 22). The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441. Oral argument is not necessary. For the reasons explained herein, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 13) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On July 5, 2014, Plaintiff stopped at a gas station owned by Defendant Murphy in Vidalia, Louisiana. When Plaintiff arrived at the gas station, he stopped his truck behind the truck of another customer ("customer in the flannel shirt"), who was using the pump to fill both of his truck's fuel tanks. When the customer in the flannel shirt began to Fill his truck's second fuel tank, fuel began to spill from the tailgate of his truck. The customer utilizing the opposite side of the pump, Cursandra Robinson ("Robinson"), heard what sounded like "water pouring" and smelled the odor of gasoline, [2] which alerted her to the spill. Robinson then urged the customer in the flannel shirt to enter the gas station's store and to inform an employee about the spill.[3]

         Video surveillance shows that the customer in the flannel shirt entered the store at approximately 12:44:27 p.m. He stood for approximately eight seconds on the left side of the counter where the cashier - Caylin Riley ("Riley") - was helping another customer. The customer in the flannel shirt thereafter walked to the back of the check-out line and appears to have exchanged words with the customer in the rear of the line before exiting the store at 12:44:57 p.m.[4] Riley, who was the only employee on duty at the time, claims that the customer in the flannel shirt did not inform her of the spill.[5]

         The customer in the flannel shirt then returned to his truck and pulled away from the pump at 12:46:16 p.m. Plaintiff then pulled his truck up to the pump eight seconds later at 12:46:24 p.m.[6] Upon stepping out of his truck, Plaintiff fell to the ground at 12:46:50 p.m.[7]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows 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 party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record [-] including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, [and] interrogatory answers" - or by averring that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the presence of a genuine dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         "[W]hen a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quotation marks and footnote omitted). "This burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment, the Court "view[s] facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in her favor." Coleman v. Houston Indep. Sch. DisL, 113 F.3d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1997).

         In sum, summary judgment is appropriate if, "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, [the non-movant] fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law because (1) the fuel spill did not present an "unreasonable risk of harm" and (2) Defendants did not have "actual or constructive notice" of the spill, both of which Plaintiff must prove in order to prevail under Louisiana Revised Statutes section 9:2800.6. (Doc. 13-2 at p. 8). For the reasons discussed herein, the Court finds that summary judgment is not appropriate.

         A. UNREASONABLE RISK OF HARM

         "In a negligence claim brought against a merchant by a person lawfully on the merchant's premises for damages as a result of an injury . . . the claimant shall have the burden of proving . . . [t]he condition presented an unreasonable risk of harm to the claimant and that risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable." La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.6. "Under Louisiana law, a defendant generally does not have a duty to protect against an open and obvious hazard." Broussard v. State ex rel. Office of State Bldgs., 2012-1238, p. 10 (La. 4/5/13); 113 So.3d 175, 184. "In order for an alleged hazard to be considered obvious and apparent, " the Louisiana Supreme Court "has consistently stated that the hazard should be one that is open and obvious to everyone who may potentially encounter it." Bufkin v. Felipe's La., LLC, 2014-0288, p. 7 (La. 10/15/14); 171 So.3d 851, 856. The Louisiana Supreme Court has described the question of "whether a defect presents an unreasonable risk of harm '[as] a disputed issue of mixed fact and law or policy that is peculiarly a question for the jury or trier of the facts.'" Reed v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 97-1174, p. 4 (La. 3/4/98); 708 So.2d 362, 364 (quoting Tillman v. Johnson,612 So.2d 70 (La. 1993) (per curiam)). "Thus, whether a defect presents an ...


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