United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
Cynthia Parker Gaines, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Michael W. Gaines a/k/a Michael Gaines, Sr. Plaintiff,
CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendant.
BRYAN HARWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Cynthia Parker Gaines (“Plaintiff”), who
represents the estate of her deceased husband Michael W.
Gaines, Sr. (“Mr. Gaines”), brings this wrongful
death and survival action against Defendant CSX
Transportation, Inc. (“Defendant”). Defendant has
filed a motion for summary judgment, and the Court denies the
motion for the reasons herein.
the very windy afternoon of February 24, 2016, Mr. Gaines was
driving his truck on Gilchrist Road, a paved public road
located in Darlington County. He encountered a broken tree
limb blocking the roadway, so he parked his truck, walked to
the limb, and attempted to remove it. While Mr. Gaines was
bending down to pick up the limb, a pine tree fell on him and
seriously injured him. The pine tree had been located on
property (an abandoned railbed) owned by Defendant; it had
not been planted there but was naturally occurring and
indigenous to the area. Mr. Gaines died from his injuries
approximately two hours later.
3, 2017, Plaintiff filed this wrongful death and survival
action in state court against Defendant. See
Complaint [ECF No. 1-1]. Plaintiff alleged, among other
things, that the fallen tree was “damaged or
diseased” and that Defendant had “a duty to
maintain its property to make certain trees on its property
safe, and a duty of reasonable care to make certain trees on
its property are safe for travelers of streets adjoining its
land.” Compl. at ¶¶ 10, 13.
August 4, 2017, Defendant removed the action to this Court
based on diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1332, and it subsequently answered and filed a motion for
summary judgment. See ECF Nos. 1, 4, & 32.
Plaintiff filed a response in opposition, and Defendant filed
a reply. See ECF Nos. 35 & 36.
judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material
fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cty., Md.,
789 F.3d 407, 413 (4th Cir. 2015); see Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(a) (“The 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.”). “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
. . .; 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). The facts and
inferences to be drawn from the evidence must be viewed in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party,
Reyazuddin, 789 F.3d at 413, but the Court
“cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility
determinations.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of
the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015).
“the mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of
material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “A dispute of
material fact is ‘genuine' if sufficient evidence
favoring the non-moving party exists for the trier of fact to
return a verdict for that party.” Seastrunk v.
United States, 25 F.Supp.3d 812, 814 (D.S.C. 2014). A
fact is “material” if proof of its existence or
nonexistence would affect disposition of the case under the
applicable law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
summary judgment stage, “the moving party must
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Once the moving party has met his burden, the nonmoving party
must come forward with some evidence beyond the mere
allegations contained in the pleadings to show that there is
a genuine issue for trial.” Baber v. Hosp. Corp. of
Am., 977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992) (internal
citation omitted). Summary judgment is not warranted unless,
“from the totality of the evidence, including
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
affidavits, the [C]ourt believes no genuine issue of material
fact exists for trial and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Whiteman v.
Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C., 729 F.3d 381, 385 (4th
Cir. 2013); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
moves for summary judgment by arguing “that South
Carolina law does not require an owner of rural land to
inspect trees on its property so as to prevent a defective
tree from falling onto a public highway causing
injury.” ECF No. 32-1 at p. 4. Defendant further
contends “there are no disputed issues of material
prove a negligence claim under South Carolina law, a
plaintiff must show: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a
duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty by a
negligent act or omission; (3) the defendant's breach was
the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury;
and (4) the plaintiff suffered injury or damages. Roddey
v. Wal-Mart Stores E., LP, 784 S.E.2d 670, 675 (S.C.
2016). The sole issue here is whether Defendant owed a duty
Israel v. Carolina Bar-B-Que, Inc., 356 S.E.2d 123
(S.C. Ct. App. 1987), cert. denied, 360 S.E.2d 824
(S.C. 1987), [the South Carolina Court of Appeals] adopted
the rule that a landowner in a residential or urban area has
a duty to others outside the property to prevent an
unreasonable risk of harm from defective or unsound trees on
the premises.”Ford v. S.C. Dep't of
Transp., 492 S.E.2d 811, 814 (S.C. Ct. App. 1997);
see Israel, 356 S.E.2d at 127 (adopting the
reasoning of Mahurin v. Lockhart, 390 N.E.2d 523
(Ill.App.Ct. 1979), and holding “a landowner in a
residential or urban area has a duty to others outside of his
land to exercise reasonable care to prevent an unreasonable
risk of harm arising from defective or unsound trees on his
premises, including trees of purely natural origin”).
However, this duty does not extend “to an owner of
trees of natural origin growing on rural, undeveloped
land.” Ford, 492 S.E.2d ...