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Caldwell v. Wal Mart Stores Inc.

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

March 19, 2018

Wal-Mart Stores Inc



         Before the Court is a Motion For Summary Judgment filed by defendants, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”) [Rec. Doc. 11], Plaintiff Eloise Caldwell's Opposition [Rec. Doc. 19] and Wal-Mart's Reply brief [Rec. Doc. 220]. For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, Eloise Caldwell, was walking in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Abbeville, Louisiana on February 5, 2016. As she headed toward the entrance to the store, Plaintiff was walking between several cars when she tripped and fell in a pothole located in a parking space on Row 9. Plaintiff alleges she injured her knee and leg. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Wal-Mart[1] in the Fifteenth Judicial Court, Vermilion Parish, Louisiana alleging Wal-Mart was negligent under the provisions of Louisiana Civil Code Articles 2315, 2317 and 2322. Id. The case was removed to this Court on July 13, 2017. R. 1.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs that summary judgment is proper if the record discloses no genuine issue as to any material fact such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. No genuine issue of fact exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine issue of fact exists only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion. See id. Therefore, “[i]f the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, ” summary judgment is appropriate. Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Summary judgment is also proper if the party opposing the motion fails to establish an essential element of her case. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In this regard, the non-moving party must do more than simply deny the allegations raised by the moving party. See Donaghey v. Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co., 974 F.2d 646, 649 (5th Cir.1992). Rather, he must come forward with competent evidence, such as affidavits or depositions, to buttress his claims. Id. Hearsay evidence and unsworn documents do not qualify as competent opposing evidence. Martin v. John W. Stone Oil Distrib., Inc., 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir.1987). Finally, in evaluating the summary judgment motion, the Court must read the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         III. Analysis

         A. Applicable Law

         “In Louisiana, ‘every act ... of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.' La. Civ. Code art. 2315(A). Under Louisiana's ‘standard negligence analysis'-the ‘duty-risk analysis'-a plaintiff must prove five elements: first, that the defendant had a duty to conform his conduct to a specific standard (duty); second, that the defendant's conduct failed to conform to the appropriate standard (breach); third, that the defendant's substandard conduct was a cause in fact of the plaintiff's injuries (cause in fact); fourth, that the defendant's substandard conduct was a legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries (legal cause); and fifth, that the plaintiff suffered actual damages (damages).

         For ‘merchants' like Wal-Mart, however, § 9:2800.6 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes alters this analysis slightly. Merchants ‘owe [ ] a duty ... to exercise reasonable care to keep [their] aisles, passageways, and floors in a reasonably safe condition, ' which ‘includes a reasonable effort to keep the premises free of any hazardous conditions which reasonably might give rise to damage.' La. Stat. § 9:2800.6(A). When someone sues a merchant for damages ‘as a result of an injury ... or loss sustained because of a fall due to a condition existing in or on [the] premise, ' the plaintiff must prove ‘in addition to all other elements of [the] cause of action':

(1) The condition presented an unreasonable risk of harm to the claimant and that risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable;
(2) The merchant either created or had actual or constructive notice of the condition which caused the damage, prior to the occurrence; and
(3) The merchant failed to exercise reasonable care. In determining reasonable care, the absence of a written or verbal uniform cleanup or safety procedure is insufficient, ...

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