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Hoffee v. Walmart Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

December 19, 2019

KAREN HOFFEE, Plaintiff,
v.
WALMART INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN V. ACOSTA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Introduction

         Plaintiff Karen Hoffee ("Hoffee") sues Defendant Walmart, Inc. ("Walmart") for negligence. The claim arises from injuries Hoffee sustained when she slipped and fell on Walmart's premises in McMinnville, Oregon. Walmart moves for summary judgment asserting there are no genuine issues of fact, and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For the reasons set forth below, Walmart's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is DENIED. [1]

         Background

         On September 20, 2017, Hoffee entered the McMinnville Walmart. (Pl's Am. Compl. ("Compl.") ¶ 2, ECF No. 34.) She entered through a vestibule, the tile floor of which was partially covered with a carpeted mat. (Decl. of Jessica Lancaster ("Lancaster Decl."), Dep. of Karen Hoffee ("Hoffee Dep.") at 58:2-12, ECF No. 17-1 .)[2] Although the mat covered the length of the vestibule, at three and one-half-feet wide it did not cover the vestibule's width. (Decl. of Gary Norris ("Norris Decl"), Ex. 3, ECF No. 36; Dep. of Clinton Nelson ("Nelson Dep.") at 24:1-5, 33:9-21, ECF No. 36-1.)

         It had been raining that day. (Nelson Dep. at 12:3-18.) Walmart had placed a "wet floor" cone at the entrance, at least one hour before Hoffee entered the store. (Norris Decl., Ex. 3.) Hoffee entered the vestibule and had taken one or two steps on the carpet when a person began walking beside her from her left. (Lancaster Decl., Hoffee Dep. at 61:2-7.) Hoffee stepped forward and off the carpet with her right foot and fell. (Id., Hoffee Dep. at 63:14-17.) She did not notice puddled water, dirt, or mud in the area where she fell. (Id., Hoffee Dep. at 65:16-24.) Hoffee's clothes did not get wet from the fall, but the palms of her hands were wet after touching the floor. (Id. Hoffee Dep. at 65:8-11; Decl. of Karen Hoffee ("Hoffee Decl.") ¶ 4, ECF No. 38.)

         Customer Store Manager Kim Schultz saw Hoffee fall and helped her up. (Decl. of Kim Shultz ("Shultz Decl") ¶ 2, ECF No. 18.) Ms. Schultz did not see water in the vicinity before or after Hoffee fell. (Id. ¶ 3.) Ms. Schutz did not have to complete a Walmart "spill cleanup" form after Hoffee fell because there was no spill to cleanup. (Id. ¶ 4.) As a result of her fall, Hoffee sustained injuries to her left knee. (Compl. ¶ 5.)

         Hoffee filed this suit alleging negligence against Walmart in one or more of the following ways: (a) failure to locate an area rug or other slip resistant/absorbent material in the area where Hoffee fell; (b) failure to warn customers that the area rug was not wide enough to avoid slippery areas of the floor; (c) failure to adequately inspect the floor to ensure it had not become wet or slippery from rainwater; (d) failure to mop or remove the rainwater; (e) installation of flooring that became excessively slippery when wet; (f) failure to adequately discover the floor became excessively slippery; (g) failure to adequately warn customers that the floor was excessively slippery when wet; (h) failure to install flooring that would not present a fall hazard; (i) failure to adequately cover the entry way flooring with a rug or other non-slip material; (j) use of a three-and-a-half foot wide rug when it was possible to have used a wider rug; and (k) allowing the rug to shift position exposing a larger area of flooring on one side. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Walmart moves for summary judgment asserting it did not know or should not have known about the rainwater on its floor and, therefore, is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 1-2, ECF No. 16.)

         Legal Standards

         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). Summary judgment is not proper if material factual issues exist for trial. Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party shows the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and identify facts which show a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324. A nonmoving party cannot defeat summary judgment by relying on the allegations in the complaint, or with unsupported conjecture or conclusory statements. Hernandez v. Spacelabs Med., Inc., 343 F.3d 1107, 1112 (9th Cir. 2003). Thus, summary judgment should be entered against "a party who 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, 477 U.S. at 322.

         The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Bell v. Cameron Meadows Land Co., 669 F.2d 1278, 1284 (9th Cir. 1982). All reasonable doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue of fact should be resolved against the moving party. Hector v. Wiens, 533 F.2d 429, 432 (9th Cir. 1976). Where different ultimate inferences may be drawn, summary judgment is inappropriate. Sankovich v. Life Ins. Co. of North America, 638 F.2d 136, 140 (9th Cir. 1981).

         However, deference to the nonmoving party has limits. A party asserting that a fact cannot be true or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion with admissible evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [party's] position [is] insufficient." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Therefore, where "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Mats ...


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