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Rushton v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

December 8, 2017

Linda K. Rushton and Kenneth Rushton, Plaintiffs,
United States of America and Cintas Corporation No. 2, Defendants.,


         Plaintiffs Linda K. Rushton (“Ms. Rushton”) and her husband Kenneth Rushton filed this action seeking damages from Defendants the United States of America (“United States”) and Cintas Corporation No. 2 (“Cintas”) (collectively “Defendants”) for injuries Ms. Rushton suffered on April 15, 2013, from an alleged slip and fall in the United States Post Office in Wagener, South Carolina. (ECF No. 23 at 2 ¶¶ 8-9.) Ms. Rushton allegedly tripped on a “ripple” in a mat when she entered the Post Office, and then fell resulting in “severe and permanent injuries.” (Id. at ¶ 9.)

         Plaintiffs allege that Cintas was negligent “in leasing, renting, and installing on the premises (of the Post Office) a defective rug that would develop ripples; in failing to properly inspect the mat; in continuing to use a defective mat after actual or constructive notice that it was defective; in using a mat past its useful life; and in such other particulars as the evidence may establish.” (Id. at 2-3 ¶ 12.) Kenneth Rushton also brings a claim for loss of consortium with his wife as a result of her injuries. (Id. at 3 ¶ 14.)

         Plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint on March 26, 2015 (ECF No. 1) against the United States, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), and subsequently filed an Amended Complaint on March 30, 2016 adding Cintas Corporation as a defendant. (ECF No. 23.)[1]

         This matter is before the court on Cintas' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiffs' claim for negligence against it. (ECF No. 57.) Plaintiffs responded to the Motion, and Cintas replied. (ECF Nos. 70, 71.) For the reasons stated below, the court GRANTS Cintas' Motion.[2]


         The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiffs Ms. Rushton and Kenneth Rushton are citizens of Aiken County, South Carolina (ECF No. 23 at 1 ¶ 1) and Cintas is a foreign corporation (id. at 1 ¶ 3); (see also ECF No. 32 at 5 ¶ 3). Plaintiffs seek to recover more than $75, 000. (ECF No. 23 at 1 ¶¶ 3, 6.)


         Summary judgment should be granted “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 fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id.

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990) (citing Pignons S.A. De Mecanique v. Polaroid Corp., 657 F.2d 482, 486 (1st Cir. 1981)). The non-moving party may not oppose a motion for summary judgment with mere allegations or denials of the movant's pleading, but instead must set forth specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 324 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252 (1986); Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). All that is required is that “sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citing First National Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)). “Mere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987)). “[T]he burden [to show no genuine issue of material fact] on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing'- that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the non[-] moving party's case.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325.

         “In [ ] a situation [where a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish an essential element of their case, on which they will bear the burden of proof at trial], there can be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact, ' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non[-]moving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is ‘entitled to a judgment as a matter of law' because the non[-]moving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The court sits in diversity jurisdiction, thus state substantive law must be used to adjudicate Plaintiffs' state law negligence claim. See Auer v. Kawasaki Motors Corp., 830 F.2d 535, 537 (4th Cir. 1987) (“. . . a federal court called upon to adjudicate a state law claim in the diversity jurisdiction must apply the relevant state law in determining the substantive rights and duties of the parties, while applying federal law to matters of procedure.”) (citing Erie Railroad v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)). Thus, South Carolina law will be used in this matter.

         To prove a negligence claim, Plaintiff must show evidence that “. . . (1) [Cintas] owed [Ms. Rushton] a duty of care; (2) [Cintas] breached this duty by a negligent act or omission; (3) [Cintas'] breach was the proximate cause of [Ms. Rushton's] injuries; and (4) [Ms. Rushton] suffered injury or damages.” Dorrell v. S.C. DOT, 605 S.E.2d 12, 15 (S.C. 2004) (citation omitted).

         Extrapolating from the Complaint, Plaintiffs bring both a product liability claim and a premises liability claim against Cintas. Plaintiffs bring their product liability claim under a negligence theory and argue that Cintas breached a duty to Ms. Rushton in “leasing, renting, and installing on the premises a defective [mat] that would develop ripples.” (ECF No. 23 at 2 ¶ 12(a).) Under South Carolina law, “. . . in order to find liability under any products liability theory, the plaintiff must show: (1) he was injured by the product; (2) the injury occurred because the product was in a defective condition, unreasonably dangerous to the user; and (3) that the product at the time of the accident was in essentially the same condition as when it left the hands of the defendant.” Bragg v. Hi-Ranger, Inc., 462 S.E.2d 321, 326 (S.C. Ct. App. 1995) (citing Madden v. Cox, 328 S.E.2d 108, 112 (S.C. Ct. ...

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