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Lopez v. WAWA, Inc.

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

April 21, 2016

JANET LOPEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
WAWA, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

David J. Novak United States Magistrate Judge

This matter comes before the Court by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 11) in which Defendant moves for summary judgment on Plaintiffs negligence claim.

Janet Lopez ("Plaintiff) argues that Wawa, Inc. ("Wawa" or "Defendant") created an unsafe condition in its parking lot that caused her to fall and sustain injuries. Defendant argues that the condition complained of presented no danger, created no duty on its part to warn of an unsafe condition and that Plaintiffs own negligence contributed to her fall, precluding any liability on Defendant's part as a matter of law. Having reviewed the pleadings filed by the parties, and concluding that oral argument on the motion would not materially aid in the decision-making process, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11) for the reasons that follow.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant negligently designed and installed an unsafe curb and painted it with a paint unsafe for pedestrian areas, breaching its duty of care to its customers and causing her to fall. Defendant has now moved for summary judgment. When opposing a properly asserted motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party bears the burden of offering evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). In doing so, both the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court's Local Rules impose the added burden of identifying such evidence with particularity. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); E.D. Va. Loc. R. 56(B); Campbell v. Verizon Va., Inc., 812 F.Supp.2d 748, 759 n.5 (E.D. Va. 2011) (interpreting 2011 amendments to Rule 56(c)). Defendants have complied with the mandates of Rule 56 by providing a list of undisputed facts. (Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Br.") (ECF No. 12) at 1-3.)

In opposing Defendant's motion, Plaintiff did not cite with particularity to those portions of the record that would support the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.[1] Plaintiff has submitted a mountain of evidence with her responses to Defendant's motion; however, Plaintiff does not point to any particular pieces within this mountain that create a genuine dispute of material fact. Instead, her responses largely contain argument and almost entirely rely upon the pleadings. Nevertheless, the Court endeavors to construe those facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the non-moving party, including consideration of those facts that she appears to dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Viewing the evidence through such a lens, the following constitutes the undisputed and material facts for purposes of resolving Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

This case arises from Plaintiffs fall in the parking lot of a Wawa store located at 10060 Jefferson Davis Highway, Fredericksburg, VA. (Pl.'s Decl. in Supp. of Opp. to Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Br.") (ECF No. 18-1) at 3.)[2] The fall occurred at approximately 1:30 p.m. on April 8, 2013, a dry and sunny day. (Dep. of Janet Lopez, January 29, 2016 ("Pl.'s Dep.") (ECF No. 12-1) 31:9-17.) Plaintiff had visited this Wawa daily since it opened in 2006. (Pl.'s Dep. 33:7-16.) On this particular day, she parked next to a landscaped area bounded by a yellow curb. (Pl.'s Dep. 34:9-16.) She got out of her car and walked to the gas pumps to speak with a business associate, walking either around or across the landscaped area. (Pl.'s Dep. 37:1-24.) Walking to the gas pumps, she noticed the yellow curb. (Pl.'s Dep. 38:14-21.) Returning to her car, Plaintiff appreciated the slope to the curb and attempted to avoid stepping on it. (Pl.'s Dep. 46:5-23.) Plaintiff fell, but did not trip, when stepping off the curb. (Pl.'s Dep. 44:11-13, 45:21-22.)

The raised landscaped areas, including where Plaintiff fell, appeared on the drawing that the engineer and architect of record prepared for this Wawa store. (Aff. of Charlie Crim, P.E. ("Crim Aff.") ¶ 7.) The finished site complies with the plans submitted to Spotsylvania County, as verified by the County. (Crim Aff. ¶ 8.) Bright yellow traffic paint delineates the curb where Plaintiff fell. (Crim Aff. ¶ 10.)

On April 7, 2015, Plaintiff filed this action in Spotsylvania County Circuit Court, and Defendant timely removed the case to this Court. (Def.'s Notice of Removal (ECF No. 1).) On February 24, 2016, Defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff had failed to make a showing that she slipped on an unsafe condition, and that her contributory negligence precludes her recovery as a matter of law. (Def.'s Br. at 4-6.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court "shall grant summary judgment if 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 Court must determine "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, 477 U.S. at 251-52. In making this determination, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 255.

When considering whether to enter summary judgment, the Court cannot weigh the evidence to enter a judgment, but simply must determine if 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 opposing party bears the burden of showing that a genuine dispute exists. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87. The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; summary judgment instead requires the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. Indeed, the Court must grant summary judgment if the non-moving party "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).

To defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-moving 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 Sheriff's Office, 409 F.Supp.2d 696, 704 (E.D. Va. 2006) (citations omitted). A "material fact" consists of one that might affect the outcome of a party's case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48; JKC Holding Co. LLC v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). The substantive law determines the materiality of a fact, and "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera, 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir. 2001). A "genuine" ...


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