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Messina v. Sam's East, Inc.

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

July 19, 2018

DAWN J. MESSINA, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court is Defendants Sam's Club East, Inc., and Sam's Real Estate Business Trust's (collectively “Sam's Club”) Motion for Summary Judgment (“the Motion”). [ECF No. 35]. The matter was fully briefed by the parties, and I heard oral argument on the Motion on July 12, 2018. I have reviewed the evidence, arguments of counsel, and applicable law. The matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, I will deny the Motion.


         Pursuant to the appropriate standard of review, the facts are recounted in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the party opposing summary judgment. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         Sam's Club owns and operates a retail store in Danville, Virginia. The store is laid out in such a way that the area near the cash registers, through which most patrons pass after completing their purchases, is known by Sam's Club as “Action Alley.” Immediately adjacent to action alley are several tables at which patrons may sit after making food and drink purchases at Sam's Club's in-store café.

         Plaintiff Dawn J. Messina (“Plaintiff”) was shopping at Sam's Club on August 21, 2015. A surveillance video shows several important minutes of that day.

         While in the store, Plaintiff was walking through Action Alley and past the café area. As she turned right out of Action Alley and passed in front of a table, she slipped on a liquid substance on the floor and fell to her knee. After falling, Plaintiff looked back and noticed clear liquid on the floor where she slipped. Sam's Club employees immediately tended to her and cleaned up the liquid. As a result of her fall, Plaintiff injured her left thumb and right knee.

         Prior to her fall, a Sam's Club employee is seen cleaning tables near where Plaintiff fell. Although the employee did not clean the table where Plaintiff fell, he cleaned a table next to it.

         The surveillance video shows a spot on the floor in the approximate area where Plaintiff fell. From the beginning of the video until Plaintiff's fall over eight minutes later, the spot is visible. After Plaintiff's fall and after a Sam's employee wiped the floor with a paper towel, the spot is no longer visible.

         Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court for the City of Danville on July 17, 2017, and Sam's Club removed the action to this Court on October 20, 2017. Following discovery, Sam's Club filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on June 13, 2018. [ECF No. 35.] Plaintiff responded on July 26 [ECF No. 41], and Sam's Club replied on July 3 [ECF No. 45]. I heard oral argument on July 12, and advised the parties that I would prepare a written opinion outlining the reasoning for my ruling. This Memorandum Opinion serves that purpose.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); George & Co. LLC v. Imagination Entm't Ltd., 575 F.3d 383, 392 (4th Cir. 2009). A genuine dispute of material fact exists “[w]here the record taken as a whole could…lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citing reference omitted); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute cannot be created where there is only a scintilla of evidence favoring the nonmovant; rather, the Court must look to the quantum of proof applicable to the claim to determine whether a genuine dispute exists. Scott, 550 U.S. at 380; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 254. Not every factual dispute will defeat a summary judgment motion; there must be a genuine dispute over a material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. A fact is material where it might affect the outcome of the case in light of the controlling law. Id. at 248. On a motion for summary judgment, the facts are taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party insofar as there is a genuine dispute about those facts. Scott, 550 U.S. at 380. At this stage, however, the Court's role is not to weigh the evidence, but simply to determine whether a genuine dispute exists making it appropriate for the case to proceed to trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         In a diversity case, a federal court must apply the substantive law of the forum state. See generally Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). Therefore, the Virginia law applicable to slip-and-fall cases governs this case. Logan v. Boddie-Noell Enter., Inc., No. 4:11-cv-8, 2012 WL 135284, at *4 (W.D. Va. January 18, 2012).

         III. ...

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