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Brown v. Progressive Waste Solutions of La, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 3, 2018

DEBORAH BROWN ET AL.
v.
PROGRESSIVE WASTE SOLUTIONS OF LA, INC

         SECTION: "H"(1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 23). For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Deborah Brown alleges that she was injured while moving a residential trashcan that Defendant Progressive Waste Solutions of LA, Inc. left blocking the back door to her business. She alleges that the connected lid of the trashcan was left open after the trashcan was emptied by Defendant. As she attempted to move the trashcan from in front of her business while holding it by the handle, she stepped on the connected lid and was pulled down on top of the trashcan. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant was negligent in (1) leaving the trashcan blocking the back door of their business and (2) leaving the lid of the trashcan open.[1]

         Defendant has moved for summary judgment alleging that Plaintiffs cannot succeed on their negligence claim because they cannot show that it owed a duty because the trashcan was open and obvious and did not present an unreasonable risk of harm. Oral argument was held on November 29, 2018. This Court will address each argument in turn.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."[2] A genuine issue of fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."[3]

         In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment, the Court views facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor.[4] "If the moving party meets the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence or designate specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial."[5] Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-movant "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case."[6] "In response to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the manner in which that evidence supports that party's claim, and such evidence must be sufficient to sustain a finding in favor of the non-movant on all issues as to which the non-movant would bear the burden of proof at trial."[7] "We do not... in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts."[8] Additionally, "[t]he mere argued existence of a factual dispute will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion."[9]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Louisiana employs the duty-risk analysis in negligence cases, under which plaintiffs bear the burden to prove that:

(1) the defendant had a duty to conform his conduct to a specific standard (the duty element); (2) the defendant's conduct failed to conform to the appropriate standard (the breach element); (3) the defendant's substandard conduct was a cause in fact of the plaintiffs injuries (the cause-in-fact element); (4) the defendant's substandard conduct was a legal cause of the plaintiffs injuries (the scope of liability or scope of protection element); and (5) the actual damages (the damages element).[10]

         Both Louisiana courts and federal courts applying Louisiana law routinely grant motions for summary judgment dismissing tort claims when plaintiffs cannot produce evidence of all five elements.[11] Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot produce evidence of the duty element.

         Plaintiffs argue that Defendant was negligent in failing to place the garbage bin in its original location after it was emptied and instead leaving it open and blocking the door of their business. Defendant argues that it had no duty to protect Plaintiffs from the obvious placement of their trashcan. "[A] defendant generally does not have a duty to protect against that which is obvious and apparent. In order for an alleged hazard to be considered obvious and apparent [the Louisiana Supreme Court] has consistently stated the hazard should be one that is open and obvious to everyone who may potentially encounter it."[12] "[I]f the facts and circumstances of a particular case show a dangerous condition should be open and obvious to all who encounter it, then the condition may not be unreasonably dangerous and the defendant may owe no duty to the plaintiff."[13] Here, it cannot seriously be argued that ...


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