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Glenn v. Family Dollar Stores of Louisiana, Inc.

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

October 22, 2018




         Before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Family Dollar Stores of Louisiana, Inc. (“Family Dollar”). [doc. # 14]. The motion is opposed. [doc. # 16]. For reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On July 11, 2016, Plaintiff Teresa Glenn accompanied her friend into a Family Dollar store in West Monroe, Louisiana, to purchase a gallon of milk. As they were walking down an aisle, Glenn's right knee bumped into a red sales rack, causing her to lose her balance and fall to the ground. Glenn did not slip on any substance on the floor, and there was nothing obstructing Glenn's view of the rack.[1]

         On July 11, 2017, Glenn filed a Petition for Damages in the Fourth Judicial District Court, Parish of Ouachita, State of Louisiana, against Family Dollar, to recover damages for the injuries she suffered as a result of her fall. (Petition, [doc. # 1-4]). Glenn claims her accident and resulting injuries were caused by Family Dollar's negligence because the position of the rack created either a hazardous condition or an unreasonably unsafe condition that the defendant knew or should have known about. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6). On January 11, 2018, Family Dollar removed this case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (See Notice of Removal, [doc. # 1]).

         On August 28, 2018, Family Dollar filed the instant motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, to dismiss Glenn's claim in its entirety. [doc. # 14]. The motion contends that Glenn cannot demonstrate that the sales rack over which she allegedly tripped created an unreasonable risk of harm, a necessary element in her negligence claim. (Id.). Glenn filed an opposition to the motion on September 17, 2018. [doc. # 16]. Family Dollar filed a reply on September 24, 2018. [doc. # 18].[2] The matter is now ripe.

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact-finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247). Once the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party “must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” McCarty v. Hillstone Rest. Grp., Inc., 864 F.3d 354, 357 (5th Cir. 2017) (citations and quotations omitted). This burden cannot be satisfied “by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.” Id.

         When considering the evidence in a motion for summary judgment, the court construes “all facts and inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Deshotel v. Wal-Mart Louisiana, L.L.C., 850 F.3d 742, 745 (5th Cir. 2017); see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (“The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.”). The court will resolve factual disputes in favor of the nonmoving party, “but only where there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” McCarty, 864 F.3d at 358. The court will not assume without proof that the nonmoving party could prove the necessary facts. Id. In such a situation, there is no genuine issue as to a material fact and the moving party is “entitled to a judgment as a matter of law” because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.


         I. Applicable Law

         “Under the Erie doctrine, federal courts sitting in diversity apply state substantive law and federal procedural law.” Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427 (1996). The parties have analyzed their claims under Louisiana law, implicitly agreeing that Louisiana substantive law controls. See In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 206 (5th Cir. 2007) (deferring to the parties' agreement that Louisiana substantive law controlled); see also Brown v. Wal-Mart Louisiana LLC, No. CIV.A. 10-1402, 2012 WL 3109785, at *4-5 (W.D. La. July 27, 2012) (applying Louisiana substantive law to claims related to a slip and fall). To determine Louisiana law, federal courts look to the final decisions of the Louisiana Supreme Court. In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d at 206.

         Louisiana's merchant liability statute, La. R.S. 9:2800.6, sets forth the duty and burden of proof in a negligence case against a merchant. Thompson v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, Inc., 2015-0477 (La. 10/14/15), 181 So.3d 656, 662. In this case, La. R.S. 9:2800.6 governs because Family Dollar meets the definition of a merchant under the statute, [3] and Glenn's negligence claim centers on her fall due to conditions existing on Family Dollar's premises. Roberts v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 2005-1178 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/5/06), 926 So.2d 121, 123 (“Since La. R.S. 9:2800.6 deals specifically with ‘a negligence claim brought against a merchant for damages as a result of an injury sustained ...

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