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Maynard v. Sears, Roebuck and Co.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

January 10, 2014

LARRY MAYNARD, Plaintiff
v.
SEARS, ROEBUCK AND COMPANY, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ROBERT G. DOUMAR, District Judge.

Larry Maynard ("Plaintiff) alleges that he tripped and fell on a plastic mat in the aisle of a Sears store in the city of Chesapeake, Virginia on January 23, 2011, sustaining serious injuries. Plaintiff further alleges that the mat constituted a hazardous condition and was due to Sears, Roebuck and Company's ("Defendant") negligence. Defendant, however, argues that there is no evidence that it had notice of any danger associated with the mat and therefore cannot be liable for any injuries Plaintiff may have sustained as a result of the accident. The matter is currently before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 7. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On January 23, 2011, Plaintiff was shopping in a Sears store in Chesapeake, Virginia. While looking for air purifiers, he turned to walk down an aisle approximately three feet wide between shelving units, but tripped on a clear or gray "sport court" plastic mat on the gray linoleum floor. Plaintiff had walked past the corner of this aisle moments earlier, but stated that he did not see the mat then "because I was looking up in the air at the shelves." Maynard Dep. 47:23-24, ECF No. 8-2. Plaintiff also stated that he did not see the mat at the time he tripped on it because he was "looking at the next shelf." Id. at 48:18-19. Plaintiff was wearing rubber-soled shoes at the time.

Sport court mats are modular, plastic mats that snap together; the store used them on its floors and placed boxes and merchandise on them. The mat in question was approximately 30 inches wide and 12 inches long, and pictures provided of similar sport court mats show that they are of little thickness. Mem. in Supp. 2, ECF No. 8. The mat was clear or gray and did not have any border around it. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that the mat was clear, but the store's general manager stated in his own deposition that the store only used gray sport court mats. The record also establishes that there was merchandise on the mat. Hines Dep. 16:23-24, ECF No. 9-1.

A Sears sales associate, Ronald Hines, came to Plaintiffs assistance immediately after the accident. Hines reported the incident to a Ms. Kendrick in the store's loss prevention department, who took a photo of the area where it occurred and wrote a note on the picture that the mat had been removed by the time she took the photo. Plaintiff was told by a store employee that the mat "wasn't supposed to have been there." Maynard Dep. 60:7, ECF No. 8-2. The aisle where the accident happened was between the mattress and vacuum department and the lawn and garden department; the former department did not use sport court mats, while the latter did.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of the City of Norfolk on January 22, 2012. ECF No. 1-1. Defendant removed the case from state court on May 30, 2013, ECF No. 1, and on the same day filed a copy of its Answer to the original Complaint, ECF No. 3.

On November 5, 2013, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 7. Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the same on November 15, 2013. ECF No. 9. The matter having been fully briefed, it is now ripe for decision.

III. DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT IS GRANTED

A. Standard of Review

Defendant moves for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In consideration of a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. EEOC v. Navy Fed. Credit Union , 424 F.3d 397, 405 (4th Cir. 2005). Summary judgment will, however, "be granted unless a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party' on the evidence presented." Kelley v. United Parcel Service. Inc., No. 12-2343, 2013 WL 2480211, at *1 (4th Cir. June 11, 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "Conclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice, nor does a mere scintilla of evidence in support of [the nonmoving party's] case." Id . (quoting Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co. , 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002)).

Courts sitting in diversity must apply the forum state's substantive law. Salve Regina Coll. v. Russell , 499 U.S. 225, 226 (1991) (citing Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins , 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). Under Virginia law, a store is not an insurer of its invitees' safety. Franconia Assocs. v. Clark , 463 S.E.2d 670, 672 (Va.1995). However, it must exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe for customers. Tate v. Rice , 227 Va. 341, 345, 315 S.E.2d 385, 388 (1984).

When a customer slips or trips and falls due to an object on a store floor, the Supreme Court of Virginia has acknowledged that the generally applicable rules are "well settled." Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Parker , 240 Va. 180, 182, (1990). The store's duty to exercise ordinary care toward its customers includes removing, in a reasonable time, dangerous floor conditions "which it may have placed there or which it knew, or should have known, that other persons had placed there, " or at least warning customers about such hazards. Id . (quoting Colonial Stores v. Pulley , 203 Va. 535, 537 (1962)). A plaintiff has the "burden to prove that [the defendant] had either actual or constructive notice" of hazards on its floors before the defendant will be held liable for injuries they cause customers. Id. at 184. Actual notice requires "the plaintiff to prove that ...


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