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Young v. Wawa Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 30, 2015

KELLY YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
WAWA INCORPORATED, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DAVID J. NOVAK, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court by consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13). In resolving this case, the Court must determine whether a store negligently caused an invitee's injuries by breaching its duty in failing to warn the invitee of the danger posed by debris on the store's premises. Because the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to establish that Defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the alleged defect, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 13).

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Kelly Young ("Plaintiff) brings this negligence action against WaWa, Inc. ("Defendant"), alleging negligence related to Plaintiff's fall in the parking lot of Defendant's store on June 15, 2012. (Compl. (ECF No. 1-1) ¶¶ 6, 11-14.) The parties do not dispute the material facts of this case.[1]

On June 15, 2012, Plaintiff slipped and fell in Defendant's parking lot. (Br. in Supp. of Pl.'s Resp. to the Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Br.") (ECF No. 19) at 1; Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Br.") (ECF No. 14) at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that she slipped and fell on debris that had been present for a lengthy period of time and that Defendant knew or should have known about the danger posed by such debris. (Pl.'s Br. at 1-2.)

At the time of the incident, one of Defendant's on-duty employees, Tony Branch ("Branch"), prepared an incident report. (Aff. of Tony Branch ("Branch Aff.") (ECF No. 14-1) ¶¶ 2-3.) Plaintiff reported to Branch that Plaintiff slipped on a lemon wedge. (Branch Aff. ¶3.) At the time of the incident, Branch had no personal knowledge of a lemon wedge in the parking lot. (Branch Aff. ¶3.) In preparing the incident report, Branch spoke to other employees on duty at that time. (Branch Aff. ¶3.) To Branch's knowledge, no other employee knew anything about a lemon wedge in the parking lot at the time of the incident. (Branch Aff. ¶3.)

The manager of Defendant's store, Lynda Nazzaro ("Nazzaro"), was on duty that day as well. (Aff. of Lynda Nazzaro ("Nazzaro Aff.") (ECF No. 14-2) ¶¶ 1-2.) Nazzaro also had no knowledge of any lemon wedge in the parking lot at the time of the incident. (Nazzaro Aff. ¶3.) In investigating the incident, Nazzaro asked other employees regarding their knowledge of the presence of any lemon wedge in the parking lot. (Nazzaro Aff. ¶3.) Based on her conversations with those other employees, as far as Nazzaro knew, no other employee was aware of any lemon wedge in the parking lot before Plaintiff fell. (Nazzaro Aff. ¶3.) Further, at the time of the incident, Defendant neither sold full lemons or lemon wedges, nor offered lemon wedges as condiments for food or beverages. (Nazzaro Aff. ¶4.)

Defendant now moves for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiffs claim fails as a matter of law, because no evidence exists that suggests that Defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition - specifically, a lemon wedge - that allegedly caused Plaintiffs fall. (Def.'s Br. at 3-6.) Plaintiff, relying on her Complaint, counters that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Defendant knew or should have known about the dangerous condition such that this Court should deny Defendant's Motion. (Pl.'s Br. at 1-2.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The relevant inquiry at the summary judgment stage analyzes "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 471 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 255. The Court cannot weigh the evidence; it must simply determine whether a genuine issue exists for trial. Greater Bait. Or. for Pregnancy Concerns v. Baltimore, 721 F.3d 264, 283 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249).

Once the movant properly makes and supports a motion for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the opposing party to show that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the standard requires "that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A genuine issue of material fact arises only when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, sufficiently allows a reasonable jury to return a verdict in that party's favor. Id.

To defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must rely on more than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building of one inference upon another, the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence, or the appearance of some metaphysical doubt concerning a material fact." Lewis v. City of Va. Beach Sheriffs Office, 409 F.Supp.2d 696, 704 (E.D. Va. 2006) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court must enter summary judgment against a party who, "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, ... 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). "In such a situation, there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, ' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 322-23.

III. DISCUSSION

The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff fell in the parking lot of Defendant's store on the date in question. They do dispute, however, whether Plaintiff has established a prima facie case for negligence. Specifically, the parties disagree as to whether ...


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