United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
matter is before the Court on defendant Aaron's
Inc.'s motion for summary judgment . For the reasons
set forth below, the Court finds the motion should be
September 22, 2017, two Aaron's employees, Dustin
Stribling and Kevin Russell, delivered a nine-piece bedroom
furniture suite to Love's home. Cassandra Love Depo,
Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B [22-2] at 18. When they
arrived, Love showed them the location of the bedroom .
Id. at 19-20. Stribling began unloading boxes from
the truck, and Russell began carrying the boxes to the
bedroom. Dustin Stribling Depo. Pl's Affidavit, Ex. 2,
[25-1] at 14. Russell then began to remove the furniture from
its cardboard packaging. Love Depo. at 23. While doing so, he
apparently took apart one cardboard box and laid it flat on
the floor near the entrance to the bedroom. Shortly after,
Love entered the bedroom to direct Russell on how to orient
the furniture. Id. at 19-20. As she turned to leave
the room, she tripped on the cardboard box, fell, and broke
her arm. Id. at 20.
then brought this lawsuit against Aaron's asserting both
negligence and premises liability causes of action in state
court. Aaron's timely removed. After the close of
discovery, Aaron's brought the present motion for summary
judgment on both causes of action. Love responded and
conceded that her premises liability action fails a matter of
law, but she contests Aaron's motion on the negligence
claim. Pl's Resp., Doc 24 at 7. Therefore, the Court will
grant Aaron's motion relative to the premises liability
claim, and the Court will consider Aaron's motion
relative to the negligence claim.
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the
discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any
affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting
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 sufficient
showing 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." Id. at 322, 106
party moving for summary judgment bears the initial
responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its
motion and identifying those portions of the record it
believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of
material fact. See Id. "An issue of fact is
material only if 'its resolution could affect the outcome
of the action'." Manning v. Chevron Chem. Co.,
LLC, 332 F.3d 874, 877 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Wyatt v. Hunt Plywood Co., 297 F.3d 405, 408 (5th
burden then shifts to the nonmovant to "go beyond the
pleadings and by ... affidavits, or by the depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct.
2548 (internal quotation marks omitted.); Littlefield v.
Forney Indep. Sch Dist, 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir.
2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61
F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995). The Court "resolve[s]
factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, but
only where there is an actual controversy, that is, when both
parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts."
Antoine v. First Student, Inc., 713 F.3d 824, 830
(5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co.,
Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005)). "[T]he
nonmoving party 'cannot defeat summary judgment with
conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a
scintilla of evidence.'" Hathaway v.
Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Turner v. Baylor Richardson Medical Center, 476 F.3d
337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007)).
asserts that Aaron's, through Russell, was negligent.
Because this action is in this Court pursuant to its
diversity jurisdiction, the Court applies state substantive
law. Bayle v. Allstate Ins. Co., 615 F.3d 350, 355
(5th Cir. 2010). Under Mississippi law, in order to establish
a claim for negligence, Love must show 1) the existence of a
duty, 2) breach of that duty, 3) causation, and 4) damages.
Crosthwait v. S. Health Corp. of Houston, 94 So.3d
1126, 1129 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011), aff'd, 94
So.3d 1070 (Miss. 2012).
argues that it did not owe a duty to Love. Whether a duty
exists is a question of law. Enter. Leasing Co. S. Cent.
v. Bardin, 8 So.3d 866, 868 (Miss. 2009). "Under
Mississippi law, '[a] contract creates a reasonable duty
of care in fulfilling one's contractual
obligations.'" Poppelreiter v. GMAC Mortg.,
LLC, No. 1:11CV008-A-S, 2011 WL 2690165, at *3 (N.D.
Miss. July 11, 201 l)(quoting River Prod. Co., Inc. v.
Baker Hughes Prod. Tools, Inc., 98 F.3d 857, 859 (5th
Cir.1996) (citing McKinnon v. Batte, 485 So.2d 295,
298 (Miss. 1986))). Aaron's does not dispute that it had
a contract with Love to deliver and assemble her furniture.
Further, "[a] defendant who creates a hazardous
condition has a duty to make safe or warn of that condition;
ownership is immaterial." Patterson v. T. L. Wallace
Const., Inc., 133 So.3d 325, 331 (Miss. 2013). Thus,
Aaron's owed a duty to Love.
Love fails to present evidence that Aaron's breached its
duties by creating a dangerous condition and failing to warn
or make that condition safe. There is no evidence that the
cardboard box by itself is a hazardous condition. Under
Mississippi law, small tripping hazards are not
"unusually dangerous." See Patten v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., No. 1:09-CV-257-SA-JAD, 2010 WL 3937957,
at *2 & n. 2 (N.D. Miss. Oct. 5, 2010)(applying
Mississippi law)(collecting cases where courts have found
small hazards are not hazardous conditions). The fact that
Love tripped over the flat cardboard box is insufficient, by
itself, to establish that the box was unreasonably dangerous.
Id. at *2 * n. 1.
lightning combined with a tripping hazard, can, in some
cases, constitute a dangerous condition. See Woten v. Am.
Nat. Ins. Co., 424 Fed.Appx. 368, 370 (5th Cir. 2011)
(applying Mississippi law). In her response, Love asserts
that the room was not well-lit. There is no record evidence,
however, that inadequate lighting contributed to her fall.
Love points to the testimony of Stribling-who was not in the
room when the fall occurred-who stated that he believed the
lighting in the room was not sufficient. Stribling Depo. at
25. However, Love never testified that the room was poorly
lit, and in fact, she admitted that box was visible. Love
Depo. at 40. She further admitted that it was her
inat-tentiveness, and not the lightning, that kept her from
seeing the box. Id. Finally, during discovery, Love
attempted to recreate the condition of the room as it was
when she fell and provided photographs documenting that
condition. Photographs, Def. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. C; Love
Depo at 31, 35-36 (testifying that the photos accurately
depicted the room at the time of the fall). No. reasonable
jury could observe these photos and conclude that the room
was so dimly lit that the flat box on the floor was not
there is no evidence of a hazardous condition. Because there
is no evidence that Aaron's, through its employees,
breached its duty of care by creating a hazardous condition,
or failing to warn Love of it, or to make it safe, Love
cannot establish an essential element of her ...