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Peters v. Fred's Stores of Mississippi, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

March 20, 2018




         Sharon Peters originally filed her Complaint [2] in the Circuit Court of Prentiss County, Mississippi. Fred's Stores of Tennessee, Inc. removed the case to this Court premising jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship. Plaintiff Peters alleges that Defendant Fred's is liable for injuries she sustained after falling while shopping in the Defendant's store. Now before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [29] requesting dismissal of all of the Plaintiff's claims. The Plaintiff filed a Response [33] and the Defendant filed a Reply [35] making this issue ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

          On the evening of November 5, 2014, the Plaintiff entered the Fred's store on North 2nd Street in Booneville, Mississippi to do some shopping. According to the Plaintiff, the store was generally in disarray with stocking and reorganizing going on in various parts of the store. The Plaintiff walked to the back of the store, retrieved two items, and began walking back towards the front of the store where the checkout registers are located. On her way, the Plaintiff passed through the apparel section where she slipped and fell. The Plaintiff does not know what caused her fall, although she thinks she may have slipped on a piece of plastic. Store employee Lane Hunkapiller was nearby and heard the Plaintiff fall. Hunkapiller came over to check on the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff sat on the floor for a minute or two until she was able to get up. The Plaintiff alleges that during this time Hunkapiller picked a piece of plastic up from the floor, snapped it into two pieces, and placed it in his pocket. Hunkapiller denies picking anything up. The Plaintiff eventually finished her shopping and left the store.

         The Defendant now requests summary judgment in its favor on all of the Plaintiff's claims.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The moving party “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, 106 S.Ct. 2548. 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (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, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). 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); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. Mississippi substantive law applies in this diversity case. See Cox v. Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P., 755 F.3d 231, 233 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Wood v. RIH Acquisitions MS II, LLC, 556 F.3d 274, 275 (5th Cir. 2009)).

         Premises Liability

         The analysis of premises liability claims under Mississippi law requires a determination on three fronts: (1) legal status of the injured person, (2) relevant duty of care, and (3) defendant's compliance with that duty.” Wood, 556 F.3d at 275 (citing Massey v. Tingle, 867 So.2d 235, 239 (Miss. 2004)). In the instant case, the Plaintiff was a business invitee at the relevant times. “[A] business invitee [is] ‘a person who goes upon the premises of another in answer to the express or implied invitation of the owner or occupant for their mutual advantage.'” Kinstley v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 63 F.Supp.3d 658, 661 (S.D.Miss. 2014) (citing Turner v. Entergy Miss., Inc., 139 So.3d 115, 117 (Miss. Ct. App. 2014)).

         A premises owner owes invitees a duty of reasonable care, to “maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition, ” but a premises owner is “not an insurer of the safety of invitees.” Pigg v. Express Hotel Partners, LLC, 991 So.2d 1197, 1199 (Miss. 2008); Wood, 556 F.3d at 275. This includes duties to “warn of any dangerous conditions not readily apparent which the owner knew, or should have known, in the exercise of reasonable care, and the duty to conduct reasonable inspections to discover dangerous conditions existing on the premises.” Pigg, 991 So.2d at 1199- 1200 (quoting Gaines v. K-Mart Corp., 860 So.2d 1214, 1216 (Miss. 2003)). The breach of either duty supports a claim of negligence. Id. at 1200; Mayfield v. The Hairbender, 903 So.2d 733, 738 (Miss. 2005).

         In order to prove breach in a slip-and-fall case, a plaintiff must:

(1) show that some negligent act of the defendant caused her injury; or (2) show that the defendant had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition and failed to warn the plaintiff; or (3) show that the dangerous condition existed for a sufficient amount of time to impute constructive knowledge to the defendant, in that the defendant should have known of the dangerous condition.

Kinstley, 63 F.Supp.3d at 661 (quoting Anderson v. B.H. Acquisition, Inc., 771 So.2d 914, 918 (Miss. 2000)). In the end, a plaintiff “cannot succeed on a premises liability claim without showing either that the defendant created the dangerous condition or that the defendant possessed actual or constructive ...

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