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Niel v. Purina Mills, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 11, 2019

MICHAEL NIEL
v.
PURINA MILLS, LLC ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the Court in this premises-liability case is Defendant Purina Animal Nutrition, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16) against Plaintiff Michael Niel. For the reasons that follow, the Motion (Doc. 16) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This dispute arises from Michael Niels fall from a portable ladder on Purina's property. The relevant facts are few and undisputed.

         Niel worked as a truck driver. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 1; 19-1 at ¶ 1). He drove trailers containing "dry bulk commodities" like wheat. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 3; 19-1 at ¶ 2). The trailers had two compartments called hoppers; Niel typically loaded them at the shipper's facility and then unloaded them at the recipient's facility. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶¶4&7;19-lat¶l).

         Niel fell on September 12, 2016. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 2; 19-1 at ¶ 22). That day, he was unloading wheat middlings at a Purina facility. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 6; 19-1 at ¶ 2). When Niel arrived at the facility, Purina employees told him to bring his trailer to the "receiving area." (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 14; 19-1 at ¶ 4). So Niel positioned one of the hoppers above a hole in the floor that "catches" the middlings. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 15; 19-1 at ¶ 5). Niel then opened the door on the underside of the first hopper, expecting the middlings to "roll out" into the hole. (Doc. 16-4 at p. 27).

         But this batch did not unload easily. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 18; 19-1 at ¶ 10). After several hours' work, Niel had unloaded less than one percent of the middlings in the first hopper. (Id.). Purina's receiver-operator, Fred Allen, noticed that Niel was struggling; Allen offered Niel a portable ladder and air wand to help dislodge the middlings. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 19; 19-1 at ¶ 11). Niel used the portable ladder and air wand on the first hopper without issue, unloading its contents in three to four hours. (Docs. 16-1 at ¶ 25; 19-1 at ¶¶ 16-18).

         After Niel unloaded the first hopper, he turned to the second. (Id.). He climbed to the ladder's work platform (the top step) and began using the air wand to unload the midddlings. (Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 19). Some of the middlings "flew up" into Niel's face, causing him to take a step back. (Id. at ¶ 20). The ladder then "wiggled," and Niel fell off of it. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22). No. one witnessed the fall. (Doc. 16-1 at ¶ 24).

         Niel sued Purina for general negligence under Civil Code Article 2315 and custodial negligence under Civil Code Article 2317.1. (Doc. 1-2 at pp. 4-7). He alleges that Purina's portable ladder and facility, generally, presented unreasonably dangerous conditions causing his fall.[1] (Id.).

         Now, Purina moves for summary judgment on the ground that Niel cannot show causation or that its floor or ladder presented an unreasonably dangerous condition. (Doc. 16). Niel opposes. (Doc. 19). He faults Purina for destroying the ladder-and thus depriving him of important evidence-and asserts that the unlevel floor in the Purina facility created an unreasonably dangerous condition that caused his fall. (Id.).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court will grant summary judgment if Purina shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In deciding if Purina has made that showing, the Court views facts and draws reasonable inferences in Niel's favor. See Midwest Feeders, Inc. v. Bank of Franklin, 886 F.3d 507, 513 (5th Cir. 2018).

         III. CHOICE OF LAW

         The Court's jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship, so the Court applies Louisiana substantive law. See Boyett v. Redland Ins. Co.,741 F.3d 604, 607 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins,304 U.S. 64 (1938)). Because Louisiana's choice-of-law rules are substantive, the Court applies them here. See Weber v. PACTXPP Tech., AG,811 F.3d 758, 770 ...


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