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Noel v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

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

February 14, 2019

LATASHA NOEL, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, and JOHN DOES 1 through 2, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JACKSON L. KISER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East, LP's (“Wal-Mart”) Motion for Summary Judgment (“the Motion”). [ECF No. 12]. The matter was fully briefed by the parties, and I heard oral argument on the Motion on January 31, 2019. 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.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Wal-Mart owns and operates a Wal-Mart store located at 976 Commonwealth Boulevard in Martinsville, Va (“the store”). (Compl. ¶ 1 [ECF No. 1-1].) On or about September 7, 2017, Plaintiff Latasha Noel (“Plaintiff”), her boyfriend Michael Finney, and Plaintiff's children were shopping in the store. While shopping, Plaintiff slipped in a pool of unknown liquid, fell, and suffered injuries. (Id. ¶ 8-10.)

         In her deposition, Plaintiff testified that, while walking down the aisle, she reached to pick up a bag of pinto beans but slipped on a brown liquid on the floor; there were no warning signs to indicate that the floor was wet. (Latasha Noel Dep. 50:2-8; 59:4-23; 75:1-4, Oct. 8, 2018 [ECF Nos. 13-1-13-3].) “Minutes” after she fell (id. 68:1-3), someone Plaintiff assumes was a manager[2]came up to her, asked her if she needed an ambulance, and stated “that someone was supposed to clean up the mess.” (Id. 50:10-15; 76:6-21.) Within seconds of hearing that statement, Plaintiff remembered “seeing a lady with a mop and bucket” coming down the aisle. (Id. 50:17-18.)

         Finney recalls two Wal-Mart employees responding to Plaintiff's fall: first a female employee, then a male Finney claims self-identified as a manager. (Michael Finney Dep. 33:8-20, Oct. 8, 2018 [ECF Nos. 13-4-13-5].) According to Finney, he heard the female employee “say they were supposed to clean that up.” (Id. 31:21-32:1.) He does not recall any such statement by the male employee.

         Plaintiff filed suit in the Henry County Circuit Court on April 5, 2018, and Wal-Mart removed the action to this Court on April 30. [ECF No. 1.] Following discovery, Wal-Mart filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on January 7, 2019. [ECF No. 12.] Plaintiff responded on January 22 [ECF No. 17], and Wal-Mart replied on January 29 [ECF No. 18]. I heard oral arguments on January 31, and I advised the parties that I would prepare a written opinion outlining the reasoning for my ruling. This Memorandum Opinion serves that purpose.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. DISCUSSION

         The parties agree that Plaintiff was a Wal-Mart invitee. In Virginia, a business owner owes an invitee:

the duty to exercise ordinary care toward her as its invitee upon the premises. In carrying out this duty, [the business owner is] required to have the premises in a reasonably safe condition for [the invitee's] visit; to remove, within a reasonable time, foreign objects from its floors which it may have placed there or which it knew, or should have known, that others persons had placed there; [and] to warn [the invitee] of the unsafe condition if it was unknown to her, but was or should have been, known to the [business owner].

Colonial Stores Inc. v. Pulley, 125 S.E.2d 188, 190 (Va. 1962). A plaintiff “must introduce evidence of the responsible person's actual or constructive knowledge of a defective condition on the premises to establish a prima facie case of negligence.” Grim v. Rahe, Inc., 434 S.E.2d 888, 889 (Va. 1993). See also Turley v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 220 Fed.Appx. 179, 181 (4th Cir. 2001) (“When, as here, the dangerous condition resulted from passive conduct, the plaintiff may prevail only if he shows that ‘defendants had actual or constructive ...


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