United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.
This is a negligence action involving a "slip and fall" by Plaintiff Lalauna Sandage at a store owned and operated by Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19). The motion is fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule. For the reasons stated in detail below, the Court denies Defendant's motion.
The facts of this case are largely uncontroverted; to the extent they are, the Court views them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. On June 13, 2012, Plaintiff was shopping at a Wal-Mart store in Hays, Kansas. She entered a certain aisle at about 7:22 p.m. After shopping in that aisle for a few minutes, Plaintiff slipped and fell.
A Wal-Mart surveillance camera captured the incident on video. The video shows Plaintiff entering an aisle with display shelves on each side-one row of shelves lining the right side of the aisle, another row of shelves lining the left. A plastic bin sat on the floor against the left row of shelves. Plaintiff parked her shopping cart in the center of the aisle near this plastic bin and began looking at items displayed on the row of shelves to the right. As Plaintiff moved forward to select an item from one of those shelves, she stepped into a small puddle of water. Noticing the puddle, she took a step backward and looked up to determine whether water was dripping from the ceiling.
Plaintiff did not notify a Wal-Mart employee of the puddle; instead, she continued shopping along the row of shelves lining the right side of the aisle, stepping in the same puddle several times as she did so. Plaintiff never looked at the shelves on the left side of the aisle, but focused exclusively on the row of shelves to the right. After proceeding in this manner for about one minute, Plaintiff stepped backward to gain a better view of the items on the shelves to the right. She then turned and crossed for the first time between her shopping cart, which was still situated in the center of the aisle, and the plastic bin laying beside the row of shelves on the left. She slipped and fell to the ground as she passed by the plastic bin, sustaining injuries to her back, neck, and head.
Plaintiff admits that prior to her fall she was aware of the small puddle on the right side of the aisle. She declares in an affidavit, however, that a separate, previously undetected puddle sat on the left side of the aisle next to the plastic bin, and that it was this second puddle that caused her to fall. Though Plaintiff does not know the precise size of the second puddle, it was large enough that her "clothes were soaked by the time [she] got to the hospital." She also states that the second puddle was difficult to see because of the glossy finish of Wal-Mart's white tile floor and because the plastic bin hid the puddle from her view. Defendant asserts, to the contrary, that the danger posed by the water was open and obvious, and that Defendant was therefore under no legal duty to protect Plaintiff from the hazard that caused her injuries.
II. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact" and that it is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law." In applying this standard, the court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. "There is no genuine issue of material fact unless the evidence, construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." A fact is "material" if, under the applicable substantive law, it is "essential to the proper disposition of the claim." An issue of fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.'"
The moving party bears the initial burden of providing the court with the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. "A movant that will not bear the burden of persuasion at trial need not negate the nonmovant's claim." The burden may be met by showing that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. If this initial burden is met, the nonmovant must then "go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts' that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant."
To accomplish this, the facts "must be identified by reference to an affidavit, a deposition transcript, or a specific exhibit incorporated therein." Rule 56(c)(4) provides that opposing affidavits must be made on personal knowledge and shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence. The non-moving party cannot avoid summary judgment by repeating conclusory opinions, allegations unsupported by specific facts, or speculation.
Finally, summary judgment is not a "disfavored procedural shortcut"; on the contrary, it is an important procedure "designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." In responding to a motion for summary judgment, "a party cannot rest on ignorance of facts, on speculation, or on suspicion and may not escape summary judgment in the mere hope that something will turn up at trial."
Plaintiff claims that Defendant maintained its premises in an unsafe condition and failed to warn her of and protect her from the puddle of water on which she slipped. Defendant responds that because the water sitting on the aisle floor was an open and obvious danger, Defendant owed ...