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Trahan v. Wal-Mart Store Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

July 24, 2019





         Before the Court is a "Motion for Summary Judgment on Behalf of Wal-Mart" (Doc. #46) wherein defendant, Wal-Mart Louisiana, LLC[1] moves for summary judgment in its favor pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on the basis that there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial. For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment will be denied.


         On October 15, 2015, Plaintiff, Brandy Trahan slipped and fell in a puddle of water near a Reddy Ice cooler at the front of the Wal-Mart Store in DeRidder, Louisiana.[2] Reddy Ice owned the ice cooler that leaked and was responsible for its maintenance.[3] Fifteen Wal-Mart employees passed near the water on the floor within 15 minutes prior to Trahan's fall.[4] Wal-Mart knew the ice coolers leaked and the leaks spread beyond the confines of the safety mat.[5]

         Summary Judgment Standard

         A court should grant a motion for summary judgment when 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. The party moving for summary judgment is initially responsible for identifying portions of pleadings and discovery that show the lack of a genuine issue of material fact. Tubacex, Inc. v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995). The court must deny the motion for summary judgment if the movant fails to meet this burden. Id.

         If the movant makes this showing, however, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (quotations omitted). This requires more than mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings. Instead, the nonmovant must submit "significant probative evidence" in support of his claim. State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman, 896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th Cir. 1990). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted).

         A court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). The court is also required to view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Clift v. Clift, 210 F.3d 268, 270 (5th Cir. 2000). Under this standard, a genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable trier of fact could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Brumfleld v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008).


         Under Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), a federal court sitting in diversity jurisdiction applies the substantive law of the forum state. E.g., Cates v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 928 F.2d 679, 687 (5th Cir. 1991). In Louisiana, claims against merchants based on falls on the premises are governed by the Louisiana Merchant Liability Act ("LMLA"), Louisiana Revised Statute § 9:2800.6. To prevail, a plaintiff must prove the following (in addition to all other elements of his claim): (1) a condition on the premises presented an unreasonable risk of harm; (2) this harm was reasonably foreseeable; (3) the merchant either created or had actual or constructive notice of the condition; and (4) the merchant failed to exercise reasonable care. La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.6(B); White v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 699 So.2d 1081, 1084 (La. 1997).

         Wal-Mart argues that plaintiffs suit fails because she cannot satisfy the third element of the LMLA. "To survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must submit 'positive evidence' that a merchant created or had actual or constructive notice of the conditions that allegedly caused a plaintiffs damages." Perez v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, LLC, 2019 WL 1367526, at *2 (E.D. La. Mar. 26, 2019) (quoting Duncan v. Wal-Mart La., LLC, 863 F.3d 406, 410 (5th Cir. 2017)). To show "constructive notice" under the LMLA, the plaintiff must prove "that the condition existed for such a period of time that it would have been discovered if the merchant had exercised reasonable care." La. Rev. Stat. § 9:28OO.6(C)(1). An employee's presence near the condition "does not, alone, constitute constructive notice, unless it is shown that the employee knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, of the condition." Id. Accordingly, plaintiff bears "an onerous burden" in satisfying this element of his claim. Scott v. Dillard's, Inc., 169 So.3d 468, 472 (La. Ct. App. 5th Cir. 2015).

         Wal-Mart maintains that Mrs. Trahan has failed to submit evidence of either actual or constructive notice. Wal-Mart relies on the deposition of Mrs. Trahan and her husband who both testified that they did not know how long the water had been on the floor.[6] Wal-Mart also relies on the deposition testimony of Wal-Mart employees, Beverly Rainwater (Store Manager) and Flora Pelt (Customer Service Manager), who Wal-Mart asserts provided no information as to the source of the water[7] or how long it had been on the floor.[8] It is undisputed that the leaking Ready Ice cooler was the source of the water.[9] Wal-Mart also relies on screen shots of the area where Mrs. Trahan fell to support its allegation that there is no evidence that Wal-Mart knew that this Reddy Ice cooler was leaking or had leaked onto the floor prior to the accident.[10] Wal-Mart relies on the video surveillance, the screen shot, and Mrs. Trahan's deposition to suggest that the cooler could not have been leaking for more than two minutes at the time of the accident.[11] The video shows that two (2) minutes earlier, Mrs. Trahan walked in front of the cooler toward the ATM machine.[12]

         Mrs. Trahan maintains that Wal-Mart knew that the ice machines were not leak-proof, and that they occasionally broke causing water to leak on the floor.[13] Rainwater testified that when the coolers leaked, the water would collect on the area outside of the safety mat placed in front of the ice cooler.[14] Mrs. Trahan complains that with this knowledge, Wal-Mart took no action to fix the problem. Mrs. Trahan suggests that Wal-Mart could ...

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