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Sonier v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 16, 2018

LOUIS SONIER
v.
WINN-DIXIE MONTGOMERY, LLC

         SECTION A(2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JAY C. ZAINEY JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 53) filed by Defendant Winn-Dixie Montgomery, LLC (“Winn-Dixie”). Plaintiff Louis Sonier (“Sonier”) opposes this motion (Rec. Doc. 65) and Defendant has replied. (Rec. Doc. 80). The motion, set for submission on January 10, 2018, is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument.

         Also before the Court is a Motion to Adopt Winn-Dixie's Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to the ADA Claims (Rec. Doc. 55) filed by H & L Construction and Renovation, Inc. (“H & L”). The Court has previously GRANTED H & L's Motion to Adopt. (Rec. Doc. 87). Thus, H & L adopts Winn-Dixie's Motion for Summary Judgment and memorandum (Rec. Doc. 53) regarding the ADA allegations that Plaintiff also asserted against H & L.

         This matter is set to be tried to a jury beginning on March 12, 2018. Having considered the motion and memoranda of counsel, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Winn-Dixie's motion should be GRANTED for the reasons set forth below.

         I. Factual Background

         According to his complaint, on July 7, 2016, Plaintiff Louis Sonier visited the Winn-Dixie grocery store located at 5400 Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Rec. Doc. 1-1, p. 1, ¶ III). Because he is handicapped, Sonier required use of the store's motorized handicapped scooter. Once seated upon the scooter, Sonier proceeded to the men's restroom. Sonier alleges that he entered the men's restroom while still on the scooter and attempted to drive the scooter into the handicapped stall. However, Sonier's complaint contends the scooter would not fit through the stall's doorway, forcing him to stand up and walk into the stall without the assistance of the scooter. Thereafter, Sonier alleges to have lost his balance and fallen. This accident caused Sonier personal injuries and damages, specifically, a fractured left hip necessitating a hip replacement, a fractured left wrist, and permanent disability requiring care. Id. at p. 2, ¶ V. Sonier seeks damages for (1) past, present, and future medical expenses, including custodial care, (2) pain and suffering, (3) emotional stress and strain, (4) loss of enjoyment of life, and (5) permanent residual disability. Id. at ¶ VI.

         On the other hand, Winn-Dixie contends to have uncovered evidence that wholly undermines Sonier's allegations. To begin, Winn-Dixie notes that on October 8, 2015- approximately nine months before the alleged incident-BI-LO, LLC, a parent company of Winn-Dixie, entered into a contract with H & L Construction to renovate the restroom at Winn-Dixie's Tchoupitoulas location-i.e., the men's restroom at issue in the instant matter. (Rec. Doc. 53-1, p. 2). Winn-Dixie points out that one of the primary project goals was to make the restroom ADA compliant. Id. H & L completed the work in December of 2015-approximately eight months before Sonier's alleged accident. Winn-Dixie notes the work performed by H & L did not involve any structural changes to the restroom, but rather consisted of replacing existing partitions and some of the restroom fixtures. Id.

         In rebutting Sonier's account of the incident, Winn-Dixie highlights several statements Sonier made during a deposition conducted by Winn-Dixie on September 15, 2017. (Rec. Doc. 53-9, p. 1). Winn-Dixie first points out that Sonier admitted to visiting the Winn-Dixie store at issue approximately once a month for the last five or six years. Id. at p. 13. Moreover, Sonier admitted to using Winn-Dixie's motorized scooters each time he made a visit to Winn-Dixie's Tchoupitoulas store. Id. Contrary to the allegations provided in his complaint, Sonier admits to driving the scooter into the handicapped restroom. Id. at p. 16. In particular, Sonier provided the following notable answers to Winn-Dixie's questions during the deposition:

Q: Okay. Mr. Sonier, my question is: Did you drive the scooter through the door into the bathroom?
A: I just said yes.
Q: Okay. So the scooter was actually inside the bathroom?
A: Yeah. I never get out of the scooter or off of the scooter until I make an attempt to get on the commode.
Q: Can you-can you give me some understanding of where-how far away were you from the stall when you stopped the scooter?
A: I was in the stall.
Q: You were able to drive the scooter all the way to the stall?
A: Into the stall.
Q: Okay. So you got the scooter all the way into the stall?
A: Correct.
Q: Okay. Then what happened?
A: I attempted to get off of the scooter and that's when I fell.

Id.

         Winn-Dixie argues that Sonier's own statements show that the accident, in fact, had nothing to do with the restroom being handicap accessible. Additionally, Winn-Dixie's questioning of Sonier brought to light allegations contrary to those provided in Sonier's complaint. Specifically, Sonier maintains that he fell in the restroom stall, but rather than being caused by handicap accessibility problems, the fall was caused by a 2 x 4 left near the commode within the stall. Id. at p. 17. Sonier explained that while attempting to transfer himself from his scooter to the commode, he fell due to the 2 x 4 being in between him and the commode. Id. However, Sonier goes on to state that immediately after his fall a construction worker reached through the restroom wall to remove the alleged 2 x 4. (Rec. Doc. 53-9, pp. 16-18).

         In his opposition to Winn-Dixie's motion, Sonier submits his own signed affidavit, signed on December 27, 2017, which purports that his fall might have been caused by the wooden handle of a toilet plunger rather than the prior-alleged 2 x 4. (Rec. Doc. 65-8). Attached to the affidavit is a photograph of the restroom subject to this litigation. Id. at p. 2. The photograph shows a toilet plunger with a wooden handle lying on the restroom floor behind the commode. Id. Sonier states the following in his affidavit:

1) The attached photograph of the Winn-Dixie bathroom stall where I fell on July 7, 2016 accurately shows a toilet plunger on the floor which has a wooden handle.
2) I recall that on July 7, 2016, an item such as this made of wood obstructed my path and caused me to fall in the bathroom stall of Winn-Dixie.
3) Having only been provided with this photograph today, I was previously unable to recall exactly what the wooden item obstructing my path was due to the extreme pain ...

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