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Mitchell v. Aaron's Rentals

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 12, 2017

NATHAN AND SHARON MITCHELL D/B/A SHAPES GYM
v.
AARON'S RENTALS, DUPLANTIS DESIGN GROUP, AND WAL-MART STORES, INC.

         On Appeal from the 23rd Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Ascension State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 98330, Div. C The Honorable Katherine Tess Stromberg, Judge Presiding

          Marvin Gros Donaldsonville, Louisiana Attorney for Appellants Plaintiffs - Nathan and Sharon Mitchell d/b/a Shapes Gym.

          Thomas J. Eppling Craig W. Brewer Sara P. Scurlock Metairie, Louisiana Attorneys for Appellee Defendant-Aaron's, Inc.

          Michael W. Rutledge James G. Albertine, III New Orleans, Louisiana Attorneys for Appellee Defendant- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

          BEFORE: PETTIGREW, McDONALD, AND CALLOWAY, [1] JJ.

          CALLOWAY, J.

         The plaintiffs-appellants, Nathan and Sharon Mitchell d/b/a Shapes Gym ("Mitchells"), appeal a summary judgment in favor of the defendants-appellees, Aaron's Rentals, Inc. ("Aaron's") and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("Wal-Mart"), dismissing their claims with prejudice. Based on the following, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Mitchells are the owners of Shapes Gym, a commercial property located on Louisiana Highway 3089 in Donaldsonville. Aaron's and Wal-Mart, operators of commercial retail businesses, are located next to Shapes Gym: the gym is adjacent to the Wal-Mart parking lot, and Aaron's is located directly behind the gym. Aaron's and Wal-Mart retained Duplantis Design Group ("Duplantis") to design a drainage system for their respective businesses.

         On December 8, 2009, Shapes Gym was inundated with approximately six inches of rain water. Thereafter, the Mitchells filed a petition for damages naming as defendants Aaron's, Wal-Mart, and Duplantis.[2] The Mitchells sought damages following the flooding of Shapes Gym, alleging the defendants negligently maintained their respective storm water drainage systems. The Mitchells further alleged that Duplantis negligently designed the defendants' drainage systems, and was therefore also responsible for the damages caused by the flooding of Shapes Gym.

         Motions for Summary Judgment Filed by Wal-Mart and Duplantis

         Wal-Mart and Duplantis filed a motion for summary judgment on July 10, 2013, arguing that the Mitchells did not possess evidence sufficient to meet their burden of proof at trial, specifically, that Duplantis breached the standard of care for its drainage design work for Wal-Mart that the Mitchells alleged caused rain water to inundate Shapes Gym in December 2009. On August 2, 2013, Aaron's filed a motion for summary judgment, adopting and incorporating Wal-Mart and Duplantis's motion for summary judgment, memorandum in support, statement of undisputed material facts, and the attachments thereto. The Mitchells opposed the motions on October 11, 2013. The defendants replied to the opposition filed by the Mitchells.[3]

         Following a hearing on October 21, 2013, the trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart, Duplantis, and Aaron's with respect to the Mitchells' negligent drainage design claims, on the basis that the Mitchells did not produce sufficient evidence to rebut the evidence produced by Duplantis. The trial court dismissed all of the Mitchell's claims against Duplantis, with prejudice. As to the Mitchells' negligent maintenance claims against Wal-Mart and Aaron's, the trial court denied summary judgment and continued the hearing to December 16, 2013, to give the Mitchells the opportunity to further support their negligent maintenance claim.

         On December 6, 2013, the Mitchells filed a supplemental opposition to Wal-Mart and Aaron's motions for summary judgment. Four days later, the Mitchells filed a second supplemental opposition to Wal-Mart and Aaron's motions for summary judgment, and attached the affidavit of a purported expert. The defendants replied to the supplemental oppositions filed by the Mitchells. Aaron's also filed a supplemental reply memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment.

         Wal-Mart subsequently filed a second motion for summary judgment on October 16, 2014, after deposing the Mitchells' expert. Wal-Mart argued the expert affidavit provided by the Mitchells in their second supplemental opposition and the deposition testimony of their expert did not create a genuine issue of material fact as to causation or a breach of the standard of care by Wal-Mart. Aaron's also filed a second motion for summary judgment on November 13, 2014, arguing the Mitchells had produced no evidence to support their claim that Aaron's failed to maintain its drainage features or that its drainage system caused the flooding of Shapes Gym. The Mitchells opposed Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment, attaching a second, revised affidavit of their expert.[4] Wal-Mart filed a reply memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment.

         A hearing on the defendants' motions for summary judgment was held on December 3, 2014; however, the trial court continued the hearing to January 21, 2015. On January 12, 2015, the trial court granted the Mitchells leave of court to file their fourth supplemental and amending petition for damages to include a claim for damages for the flooding of Shapes Gym that occurred on May 5, 2014 as the result of the alleged negligence of the defendants.[5] On January 21, 2015, the trial court continued the hearing on the motions for summary judgment without date. Thereafter, Wal-Mart and Aaron's filed motions to re-set the hearings on their motions for summary judgment. The trial court ultimately continued the motions to September 1, 2015.

         On September 1, 2015, the trial court addressed the pending motions for summary judgment. The parties agreed to waive further hearings and to submit on briefs. Thereafter, the Mitchells filed a supplemental opposition to the motions for summary judgment. Wal-Mart also filed a supplemental memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment.

         The trial court signed a judgment on December 8, 2015, granting summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart and Aaron's, and dismissing all of the Mitchells' claims against the defendants. The trial court also issued reasons for judgment. The Mitchells now appeal.

         DISCUSSION

         Standard of Review

         After adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment is properly granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions, together with affidavits, if any, admitted for purposes of the motion, show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. C.C.P. art. 966(B)(2) and (C)(1) (prior to amendment by 2015 La. Acts, No. 422, effective January 1, 2016).[6] The summary judgment procedure is expressly favored in the law and is designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of non-domestic civil actions. See La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(2).

         The mover bears the burden of proving that he is entitled to summary judgment. However, if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the subject matter of the motion, he need only demonstrate the absence of factual support for one or more essential elements of his opponent's claim, action, or defense. La. C.C.P. art. 966(C)(2) (prior to amendment by 2015 La. Acts, No. 422, effective January 1, 2016).[7] If the moving party points out that there is an absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense, then the nonmoving party must produce factual support sufficient to satisfy his evidentiary burden at trial. La. C.C.P. art. 966(C)(2) (prior to amendment by 2015 La. Acts, No. 422, effective January 1, 2016). If the nonmoving party fails to make this requisite showing, there is no genuine issue of material fact, and summary judgment should be granted. La. C.C.P. art. 966(C)(2) (prior to amendment by 2015 La. Acts, No. 422, effective January 1, 2016). If, however, the mover fails in his burden to show an absence of factual support for one or more of the elements of the adverse party's claim, the burden never shifts to the adverse party, and the mover is not entitled to summary judgment. LeBlanc v. Bouchereau Oil Co., Inc., 2008-2064 (La.App. 1 Cir. 5/8/09), 15 So.3d 152, 155, writ denied, 2009-1624 (La. 10/16/09), 19 So.3d 481.

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the trial court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. Hines v. Garrett, 2004-0806 (La. 6/25/04), 876 So.2d 764, 765 (per curiam). A fact is material if it potentially ensures or precludes recovery, affects a litigant's ultimate success, or determines the outcome of the legal dispute. A genuine issue is one as to which reasonable persons could disagree; if reasonable persons could reach only one conclusion, there is no need for trial on that issue and summary judgment is appropriate. Hines, 876 So.2d at 765-66. Factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence must be construed in favor of the party opposing the motion, and all doubt must be resolved in the opponent's favor. Willis v. Medders, 2000-2507 (La. 12/8/00), 775 So.2d 1049, 1050 (per curiam).

         In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, appellate courts review evidence de novo under the same criteria that govern the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. East Tangipahoa Development Company, LLC v. Bedico Junction, LLC, 2008-1262 (La.App. 1 Cir. 12/23/08), 5 So.3d 238, 243-44, writ denied, 2009-0166 (La. 3/27/09), 5 So.3d 146. Because it is the applicable substantive law that determines materiality, whether a particular fact in dispute is material can be seen only in light of the substantive law applicable to this case. Pumphrey v. Harris, 2012-0405 (La.App. 1 Cir. 11/2/12), 111 So.3d 86, 89.

         Causation and ...


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