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Talbert v. Restoration Hardware, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

May 31, 2018


          On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 625, 917 Honorable William A. Morvant, Judge Presiding

          Charlotte McDaniel McGehee Baton Rouge, LA Attorneys for Plaintiff -Appellant, Alex Talbert

          Christopher L. Whittington Baton Rouge, LA Thomas J. Eppling Sara P. Scurlock Metairie, LA Attorneys for Defendant -Appellee, Ozark Motor Lines, Inc.


          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         In this personal injury case, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant dismissing plaintiffs claims as to them.


         On December 7, 2012, in conformance with a transportation services agreement with Restoration Hardware, Inc., Ozark Motor Lines, Inc. picked up an Ozark trailer from Restoration Hardware, in Maryland, that was preloaded and sealed by Restoration Hardware laborers. Ozark conducted a pre-trip inspection, and then transported the trailer to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ozark delivered the trailer to Exel Inc.'s distribution facility in Baton Rouge on December 11, 2012, to be unloaded by Exel. On that day, after the seal was broken by Exel, Mr. Alex Talbert, an employee of Exel, was unloading the trailer with his co-worker, Mr. Ryan August. Mr. Talbert was removing a large box containing a table located on the top of several other smaller boxes when the boxes below shifted causing several boxes to fall on him. After the incident, Mr. Talbert filed a petition for damages contending that the trailer had been improperly loaded or loaded with defective boxes causing boxes to fall on him, which caused him injury. In Mr. Talbert's petition, he named Restoration Hardware and Ozark as defendants. Eventually, Restoration Hardware was dismissed from the suit by Mr. Talbert.

         On October 23, 2015, Ozark filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court. On January 9, 2017, Ozark filed a second motion for summary judgment attaching additional documents to its motion. The matter came before the trial court on April 17, 2017, after which the trial court granted Ozark's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Mr. Talbert's claims. It is from this judgment that Mr. Talbert appeals, contending that the trial court erred in finding that Ozark's second motion for summary judgment was not precluded under issue preclusion and in finding that no issue of material fact remained.


         When reviewing summary judgments, appellate courts conduct a de novo review of the evidence, using the same criteria that govern the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. Boudreaux v. Vankerkhove, 2007-2555 (La.App. 1st Cir. 8/11/08), 993 So.2d 725, 729-30. After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. P. art. 966(A)(3). The summary judgment procedure is favored and is designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action. La. Code Civ. P. art. 966(A)(2).

         The burden of proof is on the mover. La. Code Civ. P. art. 966(D)(1). Nevertheless, if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the issue that is before the court on the motion, the mover's burden does not require that all essential elements of the adverse party's claim, action, or defense be negated. Rather, the mover must point out to the court that there is an absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense. Thereafter, the adverse party must produce factual support sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact or that the mover is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. P. art. 966(D)(1). Because it is the applicable substantive law that determines materiality, whether a particular fact in dispute is material can be seen only in light of the substantive law applicable to the case. The Shaw Group v. Kulick, 2004-0697 (La.App. 1st Cir. 4/8/05), 915 So.2d 796, 800, writ denied, 2005-1205 (La. 11/28/05), 916 So.2d 148.

         As Mr. Talbert is asserting a claim of negligence, he has the burden of proving the five elements of the duty-risk analysis: (1) the defendant had a duty to conform his or her conduct to a specific standard of care; (2) the defendant failed to conform his or her conduct to the appropriate standard of care; (3) the defendant's substandard conduct was a cause-in-fact of the plaintiffs injuries; (4) the defendant's substandard conduct was a legal cause of the plaintiffs injuries; and (5) actual damages. Bufkin v. Felipe's Louisiana, LLC, 2014-0288 (La. 10/15/14), 171 So.3d 851, 855. A negative answer to any of the elements of the duty/risk analysis prompts a no-liability determination. Joseph v. Dickerson, 99-1046 (La. 1/19/00) 754 So.2d 912, 916. Duty is a question of law. The inquiry is whether a plaintiff has any law-statutory, jurisprudential, or arising from general principles of fault- to support his or her claim. Bowman v. City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge, 2002-1376 (La.App. 1st Cir. 5/9/03), 849 So.2d 622, 627, writ denied, 2003-1579 (La. 10/3/03), 855 So.2d 315. In negligence cases, there is an almost universal duty on the part of a defendant to use reasonable care to avoid injury to another. Rando v. Anco Insulations Inc., 2008-1163 (La. 5/22/09), 16 So.3d 1065, 1086. When no factual dispute exists and no credibility determinations are required, the legal question of the existence of a duty is appropriately addressed by summary judgment. Boland v. West Feliciana Parish Police Jury, 2003-1297 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/25/04), 878 So.2d 808, 816, writ denied, 2004-2286 (La. 11/24/04), 888 So.2d 231.

         LAW ...

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