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Landry v. Lowes Home Centers LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

November 22, 2017





         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Record Document 19) filed by Defendant Lowe's Home Centers, LLC (“Lowe's”), whereby Lowe's seeks dismissal with prejudice of Plaintiff Bryant Landry's (“Landry”) lawsuit, arguing Landry cannot meet the second and third elements of a prima facie case for injury caused by falling merchandise. See Record Document 19 at 1. Landry opposes the motion. See Record Document 21. Because the Court finds Landry has shown genuine issues of material fact exist with regard to the second and third elements, Lowe's motion is DENIED.


         On July 27, 2015, Landry and his co-workers, Johnny Louviere and Robert Lewis, went to a Lowe's store in New Iberia, Louisiana, to purchase materials for a shed they were to build for a customer. Landry alleges that while he was standing next to a shelved stack of two-by-four lumber and reviewing his shopping list, multiple pieces of the lumber fell off of the shelf and onto him, causing him to fall to the ground and incur injuries. See Record Document 21, p. 1. Landry contends neither he nor his companions touched the lumber before it fell. See id. He further contends no other customers or employees were on the aisle when the incident occurred. See Record Document 21 at 5; Record Document 21-2 at 9.

         On January 29, 2016, Landry sued Lowe's in state court, seeking to recover for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of earnings and earning capacity, and medical expenses. See Record Document 1-1 at 2-3. On May 5, 2016, Lowe's removed the lawsuit to this Court, based upon diversity of citizenship. See Record Document 1. Landry contends Lowe's negligence caused the incident, arguing the lumber was stacked in an unsafe manner, thereby presenting an unreasonable risk of harm. See Record Document 21 at 6, 8. Lowe's now seeks summary judgment in its favor, arguing Landry cannot meet the second and third elements of his prima facie claim, which require him to show another customer did not cause the merchandise to fall and the defendant's negligence was the cause of the accident. See Record Document 19 at 1.


         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “The court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Id. “A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Quality Infusion Care, Inc. v. Health Care Service Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir. 2010). As summarized by the Fifth Circuit:

When seeking summary judgment, the movant bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of an issue of material fact with respect to those issues on which the movant bears the burden of proof at trial. However, where the nonmovant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial.

Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck and Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir.1994) (internal citations omitted).

         When reviewing evidence in connection with a motion for summary judgment, “the court must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe, and should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmoving party as well as that evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached.” Roberts v. Cardinal Servs., 266 F.3d 368, 373 (5th Cir.2001); see also Feist v. Louisiana, Dept. of Justice, Office of the Atty. Gen., 730 F.3d 450, 452 (5th Cir. 2013)(court must view all facts and evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party). “Credibility determinations are not part of the summary judgment analysis.” Quorum Health Resources, L.L.C. v. Maverick County Hosp. Dist., 308 F.3d 451, 458 (5th Cir. 2002). Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who 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.” Patrick v. Ridge, 394 F.3d 311, 315 (5th Cir. 2004)(alterations in original) (quoting Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)).

         II. Applicable Law - Merchant Liability

         A merchant's duty to protect customers from injury caused by falling merchandise is set forth in Louisiana Revised Statute 9:2800.6(A).[1] See Carr v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 312 F.3d 667, 670 (5th Cir. 2002). The statute reads:

A merchant owes a duty to persons who use his premises to exercise reasonable care to keep his aisles, passageways, and floors in a reasonably safe condition. This duty includes a reasonable effort to keep the premises free of any hazardous conditions which reasonably might give rise to damage.

La. R.S. 9:2800.6(A). Louisiana courts have held the merchant's duty encompasses the responsibility on the part of store employees to place merchandise safely on shelves such that the merchandise will not fall, to safely replace merchandise that has been moved, and to check shelves periodically to ensure merchandise is in a safe position. See Smith v. Toys “R” Us, Inc., 98-2085 (La. 11/30/00), 754 So.2d 209, 215; see also Carr, 312 F.3d at 670.

         A plaintiff injured by falling merchandise must present, by direct or circumstantial evidence, a prima facie case that a premises hazard existed by demonstrating:

(1) he or she did not cause the merchandise to fall, (2) that another customer in the aisle at that moment did not cause the merchandise to fall, and (3) that the merchant's negligence was the cause of the accident: the customer must show that either a store employee or another customer placed the merchandise in an unsafe position on the shelf or otherwise caused the merchandise to be in such a precarious position that eventually, it does fall. Only when the customer has negated the first two possibilities and demonstrated the last will he or she have proved the existence of an “unreasonably dangerous” condition on the merchant's premises.

Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 00-445 (La. 11/28/00), 774 So.2d 84, 90 (emphasis in original). “Once a plaintiff proves a prima facie premise hazard, the defendant has the burden to exculpate itself from fault by showing that it used reasonable care to avoid such hazards by means such as periodic clean up and inspection procedures.” Id.

         III. Analysis

         A. A Factual Issue Exists with Regard to Whether Another CustomerCaused ...

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