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Edgefield v. Audubon Nature Institute, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

March 27, 2019

CARL EDGEFIELD
v.
AUDUBON NATURE INSTITUTE, INC., AUDUBON COMMISSION AND SCOTTSDALE INSURANCE COMPANY

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2005-13408, DIVISION "C" Honorable Sidney H. Cates, Judge

          Darryl J. Carimi CARIMI LAW FIRM COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, CARL EDGEFIELD

          John W. Ellinghausen Aaron M. Maples KINNEY, ELLINGHAUSEN & DESHAZO COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES, AUDUBON COMMISSION, AUDUBON NATURE INSTITUTE, INC., AND SCOTTSDALE INSURANCE COMPANY

          Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins

          Terri F. Love Judge.

         This appeal arose from a remand from the Louisiana Supreme Court. Plaintiff alleged that he sustained serious bodily injuries as a result of a slip and fall on grease while delivering seafood at defendants' restaurant premises. After almost twelve years of litigation, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment contending that the plaintiff had no evidence to support his claims other than his self-serving testimony. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment and dismissed his claims. Plaintiff filed a motion for new trial, averring that newly discovered evidence was not previously available. The trial court denied the motion for new trial.

         On appeal, we found that plaintiff only sought review of the denial of the motion for new trial, converted the appeal to a writ, and denied writs. The Louisiana Supreme Court found that we erred by not reviewing the motion for summary judgment and remanded the matter for consideration of the summary judgment on the merits.

         Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment because his testimony was sufficient to create genuine issues of material fact for trial.

         We find that plaintiff failed to demonstrate factual support to create genuine issues of material fact once the defendants met their burden on a summary judgment. Therefore, the trial court did not err by granting the motion for summary judgment. We also find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying plaintiff's motion for new trial, as the evidence was not "newly discovered." The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Carl Edgefield was employed by New Orleans Gulf Seafood ("NOGS") as a delivery man in December 2004, when he allegedly slipped and fell on grease while delivering seafood to the Audubon Golf Clubhouse ("Clubhouse"). As a result, Mr. Edgefield alleged that he sustained serious injuries to his back. Mr. Edgefield filed a Petition for Damages on December 22, 2005, against Audubon Nature Institute, Inc.; Audubon Commission; and Scottsdale Insurance Company (collectively hereinafter "Defendants").

         In 2009, the Louisiana Restaurant Association Self Insurer's Fund and NOGS filed a Petition of Intervention seeking subrogation for $80, 293.52 paid to Mr. Edgefield in workers' compensation benefits. In 2015, Mr. Edgefield hired new representation and his previous counsel also filed a Petition of Intervention. Subsequently, in 2016, Mr. Edgefield's new representation withdrew and filed a Motion for Summary Judgment for expenses.

         In 2017, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment contending that no genuine issues of material fact existed because Mr. Edgefield lacked factual support for his claim. The trial court conducted a hearing and granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, dismissing Mr. Edgefield's Petition with prejudice. Both Petitions for Intervention were also dismissed with prejudice. Eight days after the trial court's ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment, Mr. Edgefield filed a Motion for New Trial alleging that he possessed newly discovered evidence; namely, he found 1) one of the Audubon employees that allegedly helped him stand up after the fall, 2) the plans for the Clubhouse, and 3) an expert report. The trial court denied the Motion for New Trial. Mr. Edgefield's Petition for Devolutive Appeal followed.

         In Mr. Edgefield's first appeal, Edgefield v. Audubon Nature Inst., Inc., 17-1050 (La.App. 4 Cir. 9/12/18), ___ So.3d ___, 2018 WL 4403983, we found that Mr. Edgefield only appealed the Motion for New Trial. As the denial of a Motion for New Trial is a non-appealable, interlocutory judgment, we exercised our discretion and converted the appeal to an application for supervisory review. Id., 17-1050, p. 3, ___ So.3d at ___, 2018 WL 4403983, *1. Ultimately, we determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Mr. Edgefield's Motion for New Trial. Id., 17-1050, p. 7, ___ So.3d at ___, 2018 WL 4403983, *3. Mr. Edgefield sought review with the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted writs, vacated our previous opinion, and remanded the matter for consideration of the appeal on the merits, finding that Mr. Edgefield intended to appeal the trial court's granting of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Edgefield v. Audubon Nature Inst., Inc., 18-1782 (La. 1/18/19), ___ So.3d ___, 2019 WL 404297.

         On remand, Mr. Edgefield asserts that the trial court erred by granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment because 1) the trial court "ignored" Mr. Edgefield's testimony that the grease created an unreasonable risk of harm, 2) the trial court "ignored" Mr. Edgefield's testimony about his fall, 3) the trial court "ignored" Lucinda Greenwood's testimony about how the Clubhouse employees worked to keep the area around the grease trap clean, and 4) the trial court failed to consider the affidavit of a Clubhouse employee on the Motion for New Trial.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         A motion for summary judgment "is designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action, except those disallowed by Article 969." La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(2). "The procedure is favored and shall be construed to accomplish these ends." Id. "[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. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3). "The only documents that may be filed in support of or in opposition to the motion are pleadings, memoranda, affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, certified medical records, written stipulations, and admissions." La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(4).

         Ordinarily, "[t]he burden of proof rests with the mover." La. C.C.P. art. 966(D)(1). However, "if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the issue that is before the court on the motion for summary judgment, the mover's burden on the motion does not require him to negate all essential elements of the adverse party's claim, action, or defense." Id. Instead, he must "point out to the court the absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense." Id. The burden then shifts to "the adverse party to 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." Id.

         "In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, appellate courts review the evidence de novo." Hebert v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 99-0333, p. 3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 2/23/00), 757 So.2d 814, 815. The de novo process requires this Court to utilize "the same criteria that govern the trial court's consideration of whether summary judgment is appropriate, i.e., whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and whether the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Champagne v. Ward, 03-3211, p. 4 (La. 1/19/05), 893 So.2d 773, 776.

         The Louisiana Supreme Court stated "that a 'genuine issue' is a 'triable issue,' an issue in which reasonable persons could disagree." Id., 03-3211, p. 5, 893 So.2d at 777, quoting Jones v. Estate of Santiago, 03-1424, p. 6 (La. 4/14/04), 870 So.2d 1002, 1006. "In determining whether an issue is 'genuine,' courts cannot consider the merits, make credibility determinations, evaluate testimony or weigh evidence." Smith v. Our Lady of the Lake Hosp., Inc., 93-2512, p. 27 (La. 7/5/94), 639 So.2d 730, 751, quoting Simon v. Fasig-Tipton Co. of New York, 524 So.2d 788, 791 (La.App. 3rd Cir. 1988). Summary judgment is rarely "appropriate for determinations based on subjective facts of motive, intent, good faith, knowledge, or malice, this court acknowledged . . . that 'summary judgment may be granted on subjective intent issues when no issue of material fact exists concerning the pertinent intent.'" Jones, 03-1424, p. 6, 870 So.2d at 1006, quoting Smith, 93-2512, p. 28, 639 So.2d at 751.

         Likewise, the Louisiana Supreme Court summarized what constitutes a material fact as follows:

A fact is "material" when its existence or nonexistence may be essential to plaintiff's cause of action under the applicable theory of recovery. Penalber v. Blount, 550 So.2d 577, 583 (La.1989). "[F]acts are material if they potentially insure or preclude recovery, affect a litigant's ultimate success, or determine the outcome of the legal dispute." South Louisiana Bank v. Williams, 591 So.2d 375, 377 (La.App. 3d Cir.1991), writs denied, 596 So.2d 211 (La.1992). Simply put, a "material" fact is one that would matter on the trial on the merits. Any doubt as to a dispute regarding a material issue of fact must be resolved against granting the motion and in favor of a trial on the merits. Sassone v. Elder, 626 So.2d 345, 352 (La.1993); Industrial Sand and Abrasives, Inc. v. Louisville and Nashville Railroad Co., 427 So.2d 1152, 1153-54 (La.1983) (collecting cases); McCoy v. Physicians & ...

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