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Patrick v. Tractor Supply Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 30, 2017


         SECTION "L" (5)

          ORDER & REASONS

         Before the Court are two motions: Defendant Tractor Supply Company's Motion for Summary Judgment, R.13, and Plaintiff's Motion seeking a default judgment, an order striking the pleadings, or an adverse inference due to spoliation of evidence. R.14. The Court has reviewed the parties' arguments and applicable law, and now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This personal injury action arises out of an alleged slip-and-fall incident that occurred on November 7, 2015. On May 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant in the 32nd Judicial District Court for the Parish of Terrebonne, State of Louisiana. R. Doc. 1-1. Plaintiff alleges that while visiting Defendant's store she tripped and fell over rope and/or cable wire in the aisles and walkways. R. Doc. 1-1 at 3. Plaintiff claims that she suffered injuries as a result of the fall which required “extensive medical treatment, including knee surgery.” R. Doc. 1-1 at 3. Plaintiff seeks past, present, and future damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, disability, lost income, and other yet undetermined damages. R. Doc. 1-1 at 4.

         On June 17, 2016, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal in this Court, alleging federal diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. R. Doc. 1 at 2. On that same date, Defendant filed an Answer denying all of the Plaintiff's allegations. R. Doc. 2. In its Answer, Defendant raised a number of affirmative defenses, including contributory negligence, comparative fault, and failure to mitigate damages. R. Doc. 2.

         II. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (R. 13)

         Defendant argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff cannot establish the essential elements of her case and there are no issues of material fact. R. 13 at 1. Defendant asserts that it is a merchant, and therefore liability in this case is governed by Louisiana premises liability law. R. 13 at 6. To recover under La. R. S. 9:2800, the Plaintiff must demonstrate (1) there was “an unreasonable and reasonably foreseeable rick of harm, ” (2) that Defendant “created or had actual or constructive notice of the condition, ” and (3) that Defendant “failed to exercise reasonable care.” R. 13 at 6-7. Defendant contends the undisputed evidence proves that it did not have actual or constructive notice of the allegedly hazardous condition, and therefore it is not liable under Louisiana law.

         According to Defendant, its store manager walked through the aisles when he closed the store the evening before the accident, and there were no ropes or cable wires on the floor at that time. R. 13 at 3. Additionally, the manager testified that prior to opening the store on November 7, 2015, he again walked through the store-including the area where Plaintiff eventually fell- and verified there was nothing on the ground. R. 13 at 3. After ensuring the aisles and walkways were clear, he opened the store at 8:00 a.m. R. 13 at 4. The manager testified that no one purchased any rope or cable wire between the time he opened the door and when Plaintiff fell at about 8:15 a.m. R. 13 at 4.

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff does not allege it had actual notice of the alleged tripping hazard, and therefore Plaintiff must prove it had constructive notice of the allegedly hazardous condition. R. 13 at 8. “To prove constructive notice, the claimant must show that the substance remained on the floor for such a period of time that the defendant merchant would have discovered its existence through the exercise of reasonable care.” R. 13 at 8 (citing White v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 699 So.2d 1081 (La. 1997)). To meet this burden, Plaintiff must demonstrate “the condition existed for some time before the fall.” R. 13 at 8. Defendant argues that the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that “when a premises is inspected prior to opening and a dangerous condition may have been created approximately 30 minutes thereafter . . . constructive notice cannot be imputed to the Defendant merchant.” R. 13 at 11 (citing Scott v. Dillard's, Inc., 14-755 (La.App. 5 Cir. 3/11/15), 169 So.3d 468, 473)). Thus, Defendant contends that under Louisiana law, Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate the Defendant had constructive notice of the allegedly hazardous condition, and Defendant is entitled to summary judgment. R. 13 at 11.

         a. Plaintiff's Opposition (R. 15)

         Plaintiff opposes the motion, and argues that the incident did not occur until either 8:25 a.m. or 8:45 a.m., which at least raises a factual question regarding whether Defendant had constructive notice of the hazardous condition. R. 15 at 1. According to Plaintiff, Defendant does not dispute the cable wire was strewn across the aisle at the time of the incident. R. 15 at 2. Further, Plaintiff argues the timeline of events outlined in Defendant's motion is unreasonable, and implies a “phantom shopper” entered the store and placed the cable wire on the floor of the aisle just before Plaintiff's accident. R. 15 at 2. Next, Plaintiff explains that initially there was video surveillance of the event, however, it was destroyed before Plaintiff had a chance to review the footage. Thus, Plaintiff contends without video evidence of the time of the accident, the timeline of the incident is still an issue of disputed fact, and Defendant's summary judgment must be denied. R. 15 at 4.

         b. Defendant's Reply (R. 29)

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's Opposition only raises two disputed facts: (1) the time the accident occurred, and (2) allegations that the Defendant intentionally destroyed surveillance footage. R. 29 at 1. Defendant avers that neither of these issues are actually genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment. R. 29 at 1-2. First, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff testified in her deposition that the incident occurred shortly after 8:10 a.m. R. 29 at 2-3. Defendant admits the store manager testified the accident may have occurred as late as 8:25 a.m., but argues even if that were the case, those additional fifteen minutes are insufficient to demonstrate the Defendant had constructive notice of the hazard under Louisiana law. R. 29 at 3.

         Second, Defendant contends that the video footage was irrelevant, and Plaintiff's allegation that Defendant intentionally destroyed the video does not create an issue of material fact that precludes summary judgment. R. 29 at 3-4. According to Defendant, the store manager reviewed the footage and confirmed it did not show cable on the floor, the area where the incident occurred, or depict the Plaintiff's fall. R. 29 at 4. Thus, Defendant argues the undisputed facts ...

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