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Andrews v. United States

United States District Court, D. Kansas

November 8, 2017




         This is a Federal Tort Claims Act case arising from a trip and fall at a post office. This case is now before the court upon defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the court concludes that defendant has succeeded in showing that there is a lack of evidence for an essential element of plaintiff's case - that the post office had actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition which it was obliged to abate. Therefore, the court shall grant the motion for summary judgment.

         I. Summary judgment standards

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). A “genuine dispute as to a material fact” is one “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. A movant may show the absence of a genuine issue of material facts by negating the other party's claim or by pointing out a lack of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party's claim. Kannady v. City of Kiowa, 590 F.3d 1161, 1169 (10th Cir. 2010). If this initial burden of production is met, the nonmovant may not rest on her pleadings, but must bring forward specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial as to the dispositive matters for which she has the burden of proof. Id. At the summary judgment stage, the court's job “is not ... to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. . . . If [however] the evidence is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly probative . . . summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. In applying the above standards, the court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. City of Herriman v. Bell, 590 F.3d 1176, 1181 (10th Cir. 2010).

         II. Uncontroverted facts

         The following facts are considered uncontroverted for the purposes of defendant's motion, or, if they are controverted, are interpreted in the light most favorable to plaintiff.

         On December 8, 2014, at around 10:15 a.m., plaintiff fell as she entered from the outside into the lobby area of the United States Post Office at 2921 SE Adams St., Topeka, Kansas. That post office has two areas open to the public: a lobby area, accessible from the outside through outward opening doors, and the window area that is accessed from the lobby through another set of doors. Plaintiff alleges that she tripped over a floor mat just inside the lobby entrance and fell onto her left knee. There were no witnesses to her fall.

         Plaintiff has testified that after she fell, she looked at the floor mat and noticed it was “kind of frayed, and it was bunched up.” But, she didn't know whether it was her fall that caused the mat to be bunched up. It was also her testimony that she didn't notice the mat before she fell and didn't know the condition of the mat or whether it was bunched up before her fall. She has stated, however, that she believed her foot went under the mat when she opened the door and that this caused her to trip.

         Plaintiff reported her fall to the post office manager, Susan Grasmick, not long after she fell. Grasmick took plaintiff's statement and filled out a handwritten accident investigation worksheet. According to the worksheet, plaintiff reported that she tripped on the entrance rug. Plaintiff refused medical assistance and told Grasmick that “she was just extremely embarrassed.” Grasmick took a photograph of the floor mat.

         Then Grasmick completed an electronic version of the accident investigation worksheet. On the electronic version, Grasmick reported that “the lobby rug was in place and slightly buckled in some areas.” Grasmick has testified that she had no knowledge about the condition of the mat immediately before plaintiff fell, or what caused the buckles she observed after plaintiff fell. The floor mat was provided by Cintas, a company under contract to replace the post office's mats on a regular basis. Grasmick has no knowledge of prior falls by customers at the post office.

         Kevin Henderson cleans the lobby area of the post office every weekday morning from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. when he leaves to attend to other post offices. Part of his job every day is vacuuming and checking the floor mats. Henderson has not been told that part of his job is checking the mats for “buckles” or wrinkles. But, he tries to make sure the mats are in the right place and he has stated that he would remove a bad rug if he saw one. Henderson cleaned the lobby of the post office on the day plaintiff fell, but he left the building around 8:00 a.m. He testified that the rugs were flat when he was there on December 8, 2014. He also testified that he had no specific memory of their condition on that day.

         Other employees assigned to the post office do not enter the building through the lobby and they perform almost all of their duties in areas other than the lobby. On a daily basis, a postal employee will service mail boxes that are located in the lobby. On less than a daily basis, a postal employee may go into the lobby area to replenish certain mailing supplies.

         There is no written policy advising employees to make sure the floor mats are flat. But, Grasmick testified that any unsafe condition should be abated immediately. The post office has weekly five-minute safety meetings and an annual meeting regarding slip-and-fall safety. But, the meetings relate to employee safety not customer safety.

         III. There is no evidence that the post office had actual or constructive ...

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