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Washington v. Wal-Mart Louisiana LLC

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

May 17, 2018


          HORNSBY JUDGE.



         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment in a case arising out of an alleged slip-and-fall inside a Wal-Mart store. [Record Documents 29 and 31]. Wal-Mart Louisiana LLC ("Wal-Mart") seeks summary judgment on all issues. [Record Document 29]. Stacey Washington ('"Washington") moves for judgment on the issue of liability, arguing that the Court should draw an adverse inference from Wal-Mart's deletion of a surveillance video that may have shown the location where Washington allegedly fell. [Record Document 31]. Because Washington has not raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding Wal-Mart's alleged bad faith, she is not entitled to the requested inference. Without that inference, she has not established a factual dispute as to Wal-Mart's constructive notice of the clear liquid in which she allegedly fell. For this reason, Wal-Mart's motion [Record Document 29] is GRANTED, and Washington's motion is DENIED [Record Document 31].

         I. Background

         Washington alleges that she slipped and fell in the Wal-Mart store on Mansfield Road in Shreveport, Louisiana as she was leaving after paying for her purchases. [Record Document 1-5 at 1-2]. Although she did not see the alleged substance in which she slipped prior to falling, she concluded that she must have slipped in a clear liquid because her dress was wet after she was helped off the floor. [Record Document 29-3 at 3, 5, 8-9]. She has also testified that she did not see anyone spill anything on the floor while she was checking out of the store and that cashiers could, when turning to bag items, see the spot on the floor where the liquid was allegedly located. [Record Documents 29-3 at 10-11, 13 and 34-2 at 3].

         After returning home, she called the store and told a manager that she "had fallen when [she] was getting ready to leave the store, " injuring her hand, knees, and ankle. [Record Document 31-7 at 17]. Washington has since clarified that she told the manager that she fell "in the front end of the store near the cash registers that afternoon." [Record Document 31-2 at 2]. The manager asked her to come into the store to make a statement and identify precisely where she fell, which she did not do because "my attorney told me he would handle all of that." [Record Documents 31-7 at 17 and 31-6 at 32-33]. A few days later, Washington's counsel mailed a letter to the store, which stated in its entirety:

Please be advised that I have been retained by Ms. Stacey Washington to represent her in connection with a slip and fall injury that occurred at your facility on April 24, 2015.
Please immediately forward me the name of your premise's liability insurer and the policy number.
Please direct all correspondence and communication with my client to my office.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

         [Record Document 29-6 at 70].[1] All security camera footage from the day of the accident was subsequently destroyed pursuant to Wal-Mart's policy to record over surveillance footage on a regular schedule unless specific footage has been marked for retention. [Record Documents 29-4 at 2, 31-1 at 4, and 36 at 9].

         After Plaintiff filed her suit, Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment, which this Court denied as premature because discovery had not been completed. [Record Documents 6 and 13]. The discovery deadline has now passed. Both parties have filed oppositions, Wal-Mart has replied, and Washington's deadline to reply has passed, making the motions ripe for adjudication. [Record Documents 34-37].

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs a court to "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."[2] Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, admissions, depositions, and affidavits on file indicate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When the burden at trial will rest on the non-moving party, the moving party need not produce evidence to negate the elements of the non-moving party's case; rather, it need only point out the absence of supporting evidence. See Id. at 322-23. However, "if the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, ... he must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor." Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986).

         If the movant satisfies its initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmovant must demonstrate that there is, in fact, a genuine issue for trial by going "beyond the pleadings" and "designating] specific facts" for support. Utile v. Liquid Air Corp.,37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). "This burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " by conclusory or unsubstantiated allegations, or by a mere "scintilla of evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). However, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 255 (1985) (citing Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co.,398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). While not weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, courts should grant summary judgment where the ...

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