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Caillier v. The Tjx Companies, Inc.

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

March 6, 2018




         Plaintiff Dehon Caillier filed this premises-liability suit after she tripped and fell just outside Defendants' store. Defendants now seek summary judgment, but because material facts are disputed, the motion must be denied.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         On December 29, 2013, Caillier visited the Marshalls retail store in Jackson, Mississippi. Although she is not disabled, Caillier chose to use the store's handicap-access ramp and tripped over a saw-cut warning groove in the ramp's surface. Caillier fell into a sliding-glass door, which shattered and left her with cuts to her hands, arms, and face.

         Asserting a claim for premises liability, Caillier sued TJX Companies, Inc., d/b/a Marshalls, and Ridgewood Jackson MS, LLC, in the Circuit Court for the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Mississippi.[1] Defendants thereafter filed a Notice of Removal with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. Jurisdiction is proper.

         Following discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment, saying Caillier failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of a dangerous condition on the entrance ramp. Defs.' Mem. [57] at 5. Caillier responded, and the motion is now ripe for consideration.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) 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). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist, the court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted 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, 37 F.3d at 1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).

         III. Analysis

         There is no dispute that Caillier was a business invitee when she fell in front of Defendants' store. As such, Marshalls had a duty to “keep [its] premises in a reasonably safe condition.” Karpinsky v. Am. Nat'l Ins. Co., 109 So.3d 84, 89 (Miss. 2013) (en banc).

         Here, Caillier says the ramp was not reasonably safe because the grooves were too big, the slope was too steep, and the landing at the top of the ramp was too short. She offers expert testimony on all three issues and testimony that the alleged defects violated the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) Standards.

         Defendants focus their motion on the grooves, which were 3/8 of an inch wide and 1/4 of an inch deep. As they note, numerous cases applying Mississippi law have found that cracks in sidewalks, stairs, and other public areas do not normally constitute a hazardous condition. See, e.g., Knight v. Picayune Tire Servs., 78 So.3d 356, 359 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) (holding that sidewalks and other pathways “often . . . contain cracks and changes in elevation; and[, ] as such[, ] they do not become hazardous conditions simply because they contain minor imperfections or defects”) (citing City of Greenville v. Laury, 159 So. 121, 122 (Miss. 1935); City of Meridian v. Crook, 69 So. 182, 183-85 (Miss. 1915)). Courts have applied that rule to cracks that were substantially larger than the dimensions of the groove Caillier tripped over. See Parker v. Walmart Stores, Inc., 261 F. App'x. 724, 726-27 (5th Cir. 2008) (holding that crack 3.5 inches wide and 2 inches deep was not dangerous condition under Mississippi law).

         But as Caillier notes, these cases deal with naturally occurring imperfections, whereas Defendants allegedly constructed this ramp with the unreasonably dangerous conditions. Defendants never directly address this issue in reply, and the Court will need additional ...

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