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Davis v. Variety Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

July 1, 2014

ALICE DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
VARIETY STORES, INC., et al., Defendants.

ORDER

DANA L. CHRISTENSEN, District Judge.

This slip-and-fall case is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [71]. Because there are genuine issues of material fact for trial, the motion is denied.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On November 24, 2009, Plaintiff Alice Davis was a customer at Bill's Dollar Store in Raymond, Mississippi, which was operated by Defendant Variety Stores, Inc. Davis maneuvered between two clothes racks that she says were placed close together, tripped, fell, and injured herself. Davis says that her foot hit something that caused her to trip, and the only thing in the vicinity that could have caused the fall was one of the clothes racks. Davis filed this lawsuit in Hinds County Circuit Court on February 29, 2012, asserting a negligence claim against Variety and John Doe Defendants. Variety removed the case to this Court, and at the close of discovery filed its motion for summary judgment. The matters raised have been fully briefed, and the Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction and is prepared to rule.

II. Standard

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324 (citation omitted). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).

III. Analysis

"Premises liability analysis under Mississippi law requires three determinations: (1) legal status of the injured person, (2) relevant duty of care, and (3) defendant's compliance with that duty." Wood v. RIH Acquisitions MS II, LLC, 556 F.3d 274, 275 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Massey v. Tingle, 867 So.2d 235, 239 (Miss. 2004)). There is no dispute that Davis was a business invitee at the time of her accident. "The premises encountered by a business invitee must be reasonably safe, and when they are not, the invitee is to be warned of perils that are not in plain view." Id.

Davis asserts that the placement of the clothes racks presented an unreasonably dangerous condition for which Variety may be held liable. Variety argues that Davis's claim fails for two reasons: (1) there is no evidence that a clothes rack caused Davis to trip and fall, and (2) clothes racks are not unreasonably dangerous as a matter of Mississippi law. Neither argument entitles Variety to summary judgment.

A. The Cause of the Fall

Davis testified that, just before her fall, she saw some racks of T-shirts that she wanted to look at:

A. So I goes over and saw the shirts, and so I maneuver between the racks. They were sort of close. I maneuvered through the racks, looked ...

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