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Dennis v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

February 21, 2017

PATRICIA DENNIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         In this premises liability action, Patricia Dennis seeks to recover for personal injuries she sustained after falling inside a Walmart store owned and operated by the defendant, Wal-Mart Stores East, LP ("Wal-Mart"). The case is presently before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the court will grant the defendant's motion.

         Background

         The following facts from the summary judgment record are either undisputed or presented in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013).

         Around noon on August 11, 2014, Dennis went to the Walmart store in Pearisburg, Virginia to return a camera that she had purchased the previous week. It had been raining "very hard all morning." Dennis Dep. at 3 8. The rain ended just before Dennis parked her car near the entrance to the store. Id.

         Wearing "decorated flip-flops, " Dennis made her way to the entrance. Id. at 39-40. She was aware that "[everything was wet" from the rain that had fallen. Id. at 39-40. Immediately upon entering the store, Dennis made a right turn in front of the shopping carts in order to head in the direction of the customer service counter. Dennis subsequently realized that she was walking through water. She continued to walk through it, "just like a kid walking through water, " since she needed to return the camera. Id. at 47. After taking approximately ten or eleven steps in the water, Dennis slipped and fell. As a result of the fall, Dennis injured her left knee.

         During her deposition, Dennis testified that she saw water dripping from the shopping carts after she fell. Id. at 50. However, she was unable to say whether the water dripping from the carts had extended into the area in which she was walking. Id. at 63-64. Likewise, Dennis acknowledged that she does not know when the shopping carts had last been pushed into the store on the day of the incident, and that she does not know how long the water had been on the floor before she slipped and fell. Id at 50, 64.

         Elizabeth Crumpler was working at the customer service counter at the time of the incident. Video surveillance footage shows that Crumpler was talking on one of the store's telephones just before Dennis fell.[1] Upon learning that Dennis had fallen, Crumpler called for assistance.

         Procedural History

         In October of 2015, Dennis filed this negligence action against Wal-Mart in the Circuit Court for the County of Giles. Wal-Mart removed the case to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Following the close of discovery, Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment. The court held a hearing on the motion on February 8, 2017. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to move for summary judgment. "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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (finding summary judgment appropriate "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case"). In deciding whether to grant a summary judgment motion, the court must view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Libertarian Party of Va., 718 F.3d at 312.

         Discussion

         Because this federal action is based upon diversity of citizenship, the court must apply the substantive law of the forum state, including its choice of law rules. Limbach Co.. LLC v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 396 F.3d 358, 361 (4th Cir. 2005). The parties ...


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