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Estate of Guidry v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC

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

January 8, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Lowe's Home Centers, L.L.C.'s Motion for Summary Judgment [115] and its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [117]. These Motions are fully briefed. After review of the Motions, the related pleadings, the record, and relevant legal authority, the Court finds that Defendant Lowe's Home Centers, L.L.C.'s Motion for Summary Judgment [115] as to liability should be denied, its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [117] as to punitive damages should be granted, and Plaintiffs Estate of Andrew Guidry, by and through Its Executrix Paula Guidry, and Paula Guidry, Individually's punitive damages claims should be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts and procedural history

         On or about March 9, 2016, Andrew Guidry (“Guidry”), now deceased, slipped and fell while walking in the receiving and delivery department at a store in Waveland, Mississippi, owned and operated by Defendant Lowe's Home Centers, L.L.C. (“Defendant” or “Lowe's”). Compl. [1-2] at 3; Roberson Dep. [124-8] at 11. At the time, Guidry was an employee of The Empire Company, a vendor for that particular Lowe's store. Empire supplied molding to Lowe's. Sigsworth Dep. [124-5] at 11-12; Incident Report [124-4] at 1. Guidry routinely visited Lowe's to inspect Empire's supply of molding for any damaged goods, remove any split or broken molding, and take it to Lowe's Return Merchandise Clerk, Tammy Sigsworth (“Sigsworth”), in the receiving department in order to fill out a return authorization for the damaged goods.[1] Sigsworth Dep. [124-5] at 5, 11-12.

         Plaintiffs Estate of Andrew Guidry, by and through Its Executrix Paula Guidry, and Paula Guidry, Individually (“Plaintiffs”), allege that Guidry's slip and fall occurred because he stepped on a piece of plastic that had been negligently left on the floor after a Lowe's employee unpacked a shipping box. Compl. [1-2] at 3-5. Other than Guidry, no individual has been identified who actually saw what caused Guidry to fall. Lowe's Receiving/Delivery Manager, Brigitte Wiley (“Wiley”), testified at her deposition that she heard “something” that caused her to look up and then saw Guidry on the floor. Wiley Dep. [124-9] at 2, 6. As Wiley approached Guidry she called Lowe's Assistant Manager, Rick Molsbee (“Molsbee”), to notify him of the fall, while one of Lowe's delivery drivers, Kevin Guillaume, assisted Guidry to his feet and collected the papers Guidry had dropped. Id. at 6-7; Incident Report [124-4] at 3. Wiley asked Guidry what had happened, and he stated that he had fallen on a piece of plastic. Id. at 7. When Molsbee arrived at the scene, he filled out an Incident Report [124-4], and took a picture of the plastic piece on the floor identified by Guidry.[2] Molsbee Dep. [124-6] at 14-16; Incident Report [124-4] at 1-2. As a result of the fall, Guidry allegedly suffered serious and permanent injuries to his shoulders, right side ribs, left ankle, neck, and back. Id. at 6. Plaintiffs claim that Guidry underwent surgery for his back injuries and passed away from complications related to the surgery. Id.

         On September 11, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint [1-2] in the Circuit Court of Hancock County, Mississippi, asserting a cause of action for negligence against Lowe's. Id. at 2. Plaintiffs allege that Lowe's breached its duties: (1) to use ordinary care to have the premises in a reasonably safe condition; (2) to warn Guidry of debris on the floor which created a dangerous and unsafe condition; (3) to exercise reasonable care to protect Guidry from the danger of a reasonably foreseeable injury due to its failure to inspect; and (4) to use reasonable care to provide a place of business that was free from dangerous conditions which caused an unreasonable risk to Guidry. Id. at 5. The Complaint also invokes the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, id. at 7, and seeks general and special compensatory damages, damages for loss of consortium, costs, and punitive damages. Id. at 6-7.

         Lowe's removed the case to this Court on October 16, 2017, on grounds of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Notice of Removal [1] at 1-4. Lowe's has now filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [115] as to Plaintiffs' liability claims, and a separate Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [117] seeking dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages.


         A. Summary judgment standard

         “Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Cox v. Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P., 755 F.3d 231, 233 (5th Cir. 2014); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court “view[s] the evidence and draw[s] reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Hemphill v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 805 F.3d 535, 538 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Cox, 755 F.3d at 233); Maddox v. Townsend & Sons, Inc., 639 F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir. 2011).

         Before it can determine that there is no genuine issue for trial, a court must be satisfied that “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). If the movant carries this burden, “the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc); see also Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990) (the nonmovant must set forth specific facts to contradict the specific facts set forth by the movant, general averments are not sufficient).

         To rebut a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must show, with “significant probative evidence, ” that there exists a genuine issue of material fact. Hamilton v. Segue Software, Inc., 232 F.3d 473, 477 (5th Cir. 2000). “A genuine dispute of material fact means that evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Royal v. CCC&R Tres Arboles, LLC, 736 F.3d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 2013) (quotation omitted). An actual controversy exists “when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Salazar-Limon v. Houston, 826 F.3d 272, 277 (5th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted).

         B. Premises liability under Mississippi law

         Because this is a case arising under diversity jurisdiction, the Court must apply Mississippi substantive law. Cox, 755 F.3d at 233; see also Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). “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.” Cox, 755 F.3d at 233 (quoting Wood v. RIH Acquisitions MS II, LLC, 556 F.3d 274, 275 (5th Cir. 2009)).

         The parties appear to agree, and it appears beyond dispute based upon the record, that Guidry's legal status at the time of his fall was that of a business invitee.[3] “While a premises owner is not an insurer of the safety of invitees, the premises owner does have a duty of reasonable care, to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition.” Id. (quoting Pigg v. Express Hotel Partners, LLC, 991 So.2d 1197, 1199 (Miss. 2008)).

         A landowner's duty to invitees includes a “duty to keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition, ” and a duty to “warn of any dangerous conditions not readily apparent [of] 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.” The breach of either duty supports a claim of negligence. Id. (quoting Pigg, 991 So.2d at 1199-1200). “Mere proof ‘of the occurrence of a fall on a floor within [the] business premises is insufficient to show negligence on the part of the proprietor.'” Bonner v. Imperial Palace of Mississippi, LLC, 117 So.3d 678, 682 (Miss. Ct. App. 2013) (quoting Stanley v. Boyd Tunica, Inc., 29 So.3d 95, 97 (Miss. Ct. App. 2010)).

         C. Lowe's Motion for ...

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