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Tucker v. Target Corp. of Minnesota

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

February 27, 2019

ADRIENNE TUCKER
v.
TARGET CORPORATION OF MINNESOTA

          HORNSBY, MAGISTRATE Judge

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Target Corporation of Minnesota's (“Target”) Motion for Summary Judgment and/or Motion in Limine to Exclude Plaintiff's Spoliation of Evidence Claim. See Record Document 19. Plaintiff Adrienne Tucker (“Plaintiff”) opposes the motion. See Record Document 23. Target seeks dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons set forth below, Target's motion is hereby GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 9, 2016, Plaintiff reported a slip incident to Target through one of its employees from her automobile in the Target store parking lot. See Record Document 19-3 at 1. Plaintiff alleges that she slipped on a wet substance that was on the floor of Target's store after leaving the restroom. See id.; Record Document 23 at 6. Plaintiff also states that she did not see the substance before her slip and did not know how long it was present on the floor before her slip. See Record Document 23 at 12. Furthermore, she stated that she did not know how the substance came to be on the floor and that it did not have any tracks or “buggy marks” in it. See Record Document 19-3 at 1.

         Plaintiff testified in her deposition that although she did not know how long the liquid had been on the floor, she did know that from the time she exited Target's restroom until the time she slipped “some 20 to 30 seconds later, ” she saw no one spill any substance onto the floor. See Record Document 23 at 12. After the incident, Katon Bethay (“Bethay”), one of Target's store team leaders, spoke with Plaintiff from her car outside and completed an incident report, which Bethay testified he then dropped off to Target's asset protection department. See id. at 7; Record Document 19-2 at 4-5. An employee from that department later reviewed several hours of footage and pulled video of what was believed to be the described incident involving Plaintiff. See id. at 5. While the employee testified that the video pulled was the only footage she was able to find that resembled the incident, see id., Plaintiff states that she is not the woman seen in the video and alleges that Target has intentionally destroyed the footage of her incident, see Record Document 23 at 9.

         On October 13, 2016, Plaintiff sent a letter of representation to Target requesting preservation of video footage. See Record Document 19-3 at 2. It is undisputed that Target's video system only preserves video that was not copied for a period of 5 to 30 days, depending on the camera. See id. On April 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed a petition in the First Judicial District Court, Caddo Parish, Louisiana, which was subsequently removed to this Court. See Record Document 1-7 at 9.

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Spoliation of Evidence Claim

          The Court first addresses Target's motion in limine to exclude Plaintiff's spoliation of evidence claim in which she maintains that Target intentionally destroyed evidence of Plaintiff's slip by allegedly not preserving video of the incident from its cameras. See Record Document 1-7 at 7-8. Target's motion for summary judgment is addressed below in Section II.C., infra.

         A party asserting a spoliation of evidence claim must show: (1) a duty existed to preserve the evidence due to litigation or the reasonable expectation of litigation; (2) the evidence was destroyed (or concealed); (3) the destruction was intentional; (4) the destroyed evidence was relevant; and (5) the unavailability of the destroyed evidence resulted in prejudice. See In re Actos (Pioglitazone) Prods. Liability Litig., No. 11-2299, 2014 WL 2921653, at *23 (W.D. La. Jun. 23, 2014). Generally, a party's duty to preserve evidence arises when a party knew or should have known of the potential for future litigation. Dixon v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., No. 13-0179, 2014 WL 6087226, at *3 (M.D. La. Nov. 13, 2014) (“The future litigation must be probable, which has been held to mean more than a possibility.”); see also Putscher v. Smith's Food & Drug Centers, Inc., No. 13-1509, 2014 WL 2835315, at *7 (D. Nev. Jun. 20, 2014) (rejecting plaintiff's argument that store's “duty to preserve surveillance footage of the slip and fall arose when Smith's completed an incident report”).

         In this case, the Court finds that Plaintiff's spoliation of evidence claim must be dismissed for failing to meet the first element referenced above because she has not shown that Target was under any duty to preserve the alleged video of the incident. Further, Target did not receive notice from Plaintiff regarding the potential litigation until October 13, 2016, which was over 30 days from the incident. See Record Document 19-3 at 1-2. While Target attempted to retrieve the requested video, its video system did not preserve video for a period longer than 30 days. See id. at 2. Thus, even if Target had a duty to preserve that arose when Plaintiff sent it notice on October 13, its video system likely no longer stored Plaintiff's requested footage. Such facts do not warrant a finding by this Court that Target intentionally destroyed evidence of Plaintiff's slip. See Patrick v. Tractor Supply Co., No. 16-10755, 2017 WL 396301, at *6 (E.D. La. Jan. 30, 2017) (finding that “[d]efendant's failure to retain the footage was not the result of a directed action to delete the information but rather a failure to stop the automatic deletion process [and that] [s]uch action, at best, amounts to negligence and does not rise to the level of bad faith”). Because Plaintiff has not shown she can prove at trial the existence of an element essential to her claim, see In re Actos, 2014 WL 2921653, at *23, Plaintiff's spoliation of evidence claim must therefore fail as a matter of law.

         B. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Quality Infusion Care, Inc. v. Health Care Serv. Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir. 2010).[1] A genuine dispute of material fact exists if the record, taken as a whole, could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party. See Geoscan, Inc. of Texas v. Geotrace Techs., Inc., 226 F.3d 387, 390 (5th Cir. 2000). During this stage, courts must look to the substantive law ...


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