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Willis v. Cost Plus Inc.

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

March 16, 2018




         Before the Court in this personal injury suit brought pursuant to the Louisiana Merchant Liability Statute, La. R.S. 9:2800.6, is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment brought by Defendant Cost Plus, Inc. Record Document 19. Pursuant to its motion, Defendant seeks dismissal of Plaintiff s claims of negligent spoliation of evidence and intentional spoliation of evidence. Id. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Dolores Willis brings this suit for personal injuries allegedly incurred on March 5, 2016, while shopping at the Cost Plus World Market Store in Lafayette, Louisiana. According to Plaintiff, while she was shopping, "a merchandise display consisting of several room dividers suddenly fell in a domino effect, ultimately striking [Plaintiff], causing her to fall violently onto the concrete floor. . . ." Record Document 25 at ¶ 1. Plaintiff alleges she "sustained severe and debilitating injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, as a result of her head striking the concrete floor at Cost Plus." Record Document 23 at 2.

         The accident was investigated by Rachel Evans, General Manager of the Lafayette Cost Plus World Market store. Record Documents 25 at ¶ 2 and 19-2 at ¶ 3. On the day of the incident, Ms. Evans filled out a "Customer Incident Form." Record Documents 23 at 3-4 and 23-2 at 11. The form contains a section where either "Yes" or "No" is to be checked in response to the question, "Accident recorded on CCTV?" Id. at 11. Ms. Evans checked the "Yes" box on the Customer Incident Form. Id. On January 11, 2017, counsel for Plaintiff took the deposition of Defendant, wherein Ms. Evans testified on behalf of the corporation pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6). At the deposition, Ms. Evans testified she incorrectly checked the "Yes" box on the Customer Incident Form. Record Document 23-1 at 16-17. According to Ms. Evans' testimony, although she indicated on the Customer Incident Form that the accident was captured on the store's surveillance cameras, she later reviewed the video footage and realized the accident was not captured on video, "because there was no closed circuit TV in that direction." Id. at 17; see also Id. at 16; Record Document 19-3 at 15, 23, According to Ms. Evans, there are "no cameras that encompass the area where the incident occurred." Id. at 24.

         On May 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit with this Court.[1] In the Complaint, Plaintiff states as follows:

Immediately after the accident, defendant, Cost Plus, was notified of the incident and a request was made to preserve the surveillance video which depicts the accident. Defendant, Cost Plus, is under a continuing obligation to preserve all evidence in the matter since it was put on notice of a potential claim. Failure on the part of defendant, Cost Plus, to preserve said evidence constitutes an act of spoliation.

Record Document 1 at ¶ 15.

         Shortly after the 30(b)(6) deposition of Defendant, Plaintiff filed a "First Amending and Supplemental Complaint, " alleging in pertinent part as follows:

Complainants are entitled to an adverse inference of spoliation based on the fact that the surveillance videos cannot be produced. See Robertson v Frank's Super Value Foods, Inc., 08-592 (La.App. 5th Cir. 11309) 7 So.3d 669, 673, discussing Louisiana's recognition of "adverse presumption, " which allows the jury to be instructed to presume that the destroyed evidence contained information detrimental to the party that destroyed the evidence.
Complainants further seek any and all other remedies available under Louisiana law pertaining to defendants' negligent and/or intentional destruction/deletion of the surveillance.

         Record Document 11 at ¶¶ 6-7 (internal quotation marks omitted).[2] Defendant now seeks dismissal with prejudice of Plaintiff s claims of negligent and intentional spoliation. Record Document 19 at 2.

         II. Standard of Review

         "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 ...

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