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Taylor v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC

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

March 22, 2018

Nancy M. Taylor and James Taylor, Plaintiffs,
v.
Lowe's Home Centers, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Donald C. Coggins, Jr., United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 22. Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition, [1] ECF No. 29, and Defendant filed a Reply, ECF No. 30. The Court heard argument on the Motion on February 15, 2018. ECF No. 41. Therefore, the Motion is ripe for review.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 26, 2015, Plaintiffs arrived at Defendant's store in Spartanburg, South Carolina just before 4:00 p.m. When Plaintiffs arrived, the weather was clear, although it had rained earlier in the day. Plaintiff James Taylor let Plaintiff Nancy Taylor out of the vehicle so that she could do her shopping while he waited in the car. When Plaintiff Nancy Taylor walked into the store, she took a shopping cart; a short time later, she stopped in an aisle, bent over to look at goods on a shelf, and fell. Defendant's employees found her shortly thereafter and conducted an investigation of the fall.

         Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Defendant in the Court of Common Pleas for Spartanburg County, South Carolina, alleging that Plaintiff Nancy M. Taylor “slipped on water that had been allowed to pool on the floor [of Defendant's premises] and fell to the ground, hitting her head and causing her numerous injuries.” ECF No. 1-1 at 6. Defendant removed the case to this Court. ECF No. 1. Thereafter, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, in which it claimed there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether Defendant created a dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition. ECF No. 22. Plaintiffs filed a Response, in which they contend that Defendant's premises had a history of roof leaks, which necessitated repairs on numerous occasions. ECF No. 29 at 1. Therefore, according to Plaintiffs, Defendant had constructive notice of the dangerous condition on its premises and are liable for Plaintiffs' injuries. Id. Additionally, Plaintiffs state that Defendant failed to preserve evidence about the slip and fall and should thus be deemed to have spoliated evidence in the case. ECF No. 29 at 4-5. In reply, Defendant claims that “Plaintiffs present no evidence that demonstrates that [Defendant] had any reason to know there would be a puddle of water where [Plaintiff Nancy Taylor] fell.” ECF No. 30 at 3. Defendant further argues that the issue of spoliation only goes to the existence of a dangerous condition and is unrelated to whether Defendant had actual or constructive notice of the alleged dangerous condition. Id. at 4-6.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         One of the principal purposes of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. To that end, “Rule 56 states “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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 disposition of the case under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. When determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude granting the summary judgment motion. Ross v. Commc'ns Satellite Corp., 759 F.2d 355, 365 (4th Cir. 1985), overruled on other grounds, 490 U.S. 228 (1989). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         Further, Rule 56 provides in pertinent part:

         A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). Accordingly, when Rule 56(c) has shifted the burden of proof to the non-movant, he must produce existence of a factual dispute on every element essential to his action that he bears ...


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