United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Fields brings this case against Target Corporation following
an incident where he fell and injured his knee while shopping
at a Target located in the Promenade Shopping Center in
McCalla, Alabama. Fields claims a spilled liquid caused his
fall, and that Target's failure to remove or otherwise
warn him about the spill constituted negligence. Target has
filed a motion for summary judgment, doc. 30, arguing that
Fields has presented no evidence suggesting it was on notice,
as Alabama law requires, of the spill's presence. That
motion is now fully briefed, docs. 34; 36, and ripe for
review. After careful consideration of the record evidence
and the briefs, this court has determined that Target lacked
both actual and constructive notice of the spill, and
accordingly its motion is due to be granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is proper “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 dispute about a material fact is genuine “if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.”
Id. at 255. It is expressly not the role of the
court “to weigh conflicting evidence or to make
credibility determinations.” Mize v. Jefferson City
Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996); see
also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (explaining
“[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the
evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the
facts are jury functions, not those of a judge”).
“mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations
are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment
motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326
(11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park,
Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)).
“[A] . . . ‘scintilla of evidence in support of
the nonmoving party will not suffice to overcome a motion for
summary judgment.'” Melton v. Abston, 841
F.3d 1207, 1219 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Young v. City
of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)).
Instead, if “the record taken as a whole could not lead
a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party,
there is no ‘genuine issue for trial, '” and
summary judgment is appropriate. Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)
facts in this slip-and-fall negligence case are
straightforward. On October 2, 2015, Fields, along with his
sister, Latoya Ferguson, visited a Target Pharmacy located in
McCalla, Alabama, to pick up a prescription. Doc. 34 at 2.
After retrieving the prescription, they attempted to exit the
store through an aisle directly in front of the pharmacy.
Id. at 2-3. Security footage reveals that a Target
employee, Debbie Hamilton, exited that aisle seconds before
Fields entered. Doc. 30-4 at 10, 13. Hamilton testified that
she did not notice anything on the ground while she was in
the aisle. Id. at 14. The security footage shows
that Hamilton was concentrated on the shelves and never
walked through the area where Fields would eventually fall.
Doc. 34-5 at 0:00-0:04. The parties have presented no evidence
to suggest any other Target employee was present in the aisle
around the time of Fields' accident.
Fields reached the approximate mid-point of the aisle, he
suddenly fell forward striking his knees on the ground. Docs.
34 at 4; 30-1 at 4. Fields alleges he slipped and fell
because of a wet substance on the floor. Doc. 34 at
4. However, he testified that he did not notice
anything on the ground before falling. Doc. 30-3 at 46. He
also indicated that he had no recollection of the size of the
spill, and that he never looked back to see what had caused
his fall. Id. at 47-49. A Target employee, Zuhair
Alqaza, quickly arrived to assist Fields and noticed that his
pants were wet to the knee. Doc. 34 at 5. Alqaza provided a
statement to Target shortly after the incident indicating
that while helping Fields he had noticed a “small wet
spot” about 8 inches in diameter on the floor of the
aisle. Doc. 34-8 at 1. After about twenty seconds, Fields got
to his feet, and he eventually left the store without further
assistance. Docs. 34 at 4; 34-5 at 3:30-4:00.
also returned to the aisle to assist Fields after his
accident. Doc. 30-1 at 6. She testified that she noticed
“three or four” small drops of water “about
the size of . . . a nickel” on the floor by Fields and
assumed that they had caused his fall. Doc. 30-4 at 16, 20.
Upon noticing the liquid on the floor, Hamilton returned to
the pharmacy and gathered a small handful of paper towels.
Id. at 16. She wiped the floor around where the fall
occurred for about fifty seconds before again returning to
the pharmacy. Doc. 34-5 at 1:10-2:08. Target never determined
either the source of the liquid on the floor or when the
spill had initially occurred. Doc. 30-5 at 66.
Alabama premises owner owes her invitees “a duty to
keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn
them of any ‘defects and dangers that are known to the
landowner but are unknown or hidden to the
invitee[s].'” Edwards v. Intergraph Servs.
Co., 4 So.3d 495, 503 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008) (quoting
Prentiss v. Evergreen Presbyterian Church, 644 So.2d
475, 477 (Ala. 1994)). Liability in this context is based on
the shopkeeper's presumably superior knowledge regarding
potential dangers on the premises and “‘if that
superior knowledge is lacking . . . the [shopkeeper] cannot
be held liable.'” Jones Food Co. v.
Shipman, 981 So.2d 355, 363 (Ala. 2006) (quoting
Quillen v. Quillen, 388 So.2d 985, 989 (Ala. 1980)).
Alabama courts have repeatedly noted that “‘[t]he
owner of a premises . . . is not an insurer of the safety of
his invitees . . . and the principle of res ipsa loquitor is
not applicable.'” Ex parte Harold L. Martin
Distrib. Co., 769 So.2d 313, 314 (Ala. 2000) (quoting
Tice v. Tice, 361 So.2d 1051, 1052 (Ala. 1978)). Put
another way, “‘no presumption of negligence . . .
arises from the mere fact of an injury to an
invitee.'” Id. (quoting Tice, 361
So.2d at 1052).
to prove negligence on the part of a shopkeeper, the
plaintiff typically must show that the shopkeeper had actual
or constructive notice of the hazard by proving: (1)
“the foreign substance slipped upon was on the floor a
sufficient length of time to impute constructive notice to
the [shopkeeper], ” (2) “that the [shopkeeper]
had actual notice of the substance's presence on the
floor, ” or (3) “that the [shopkeeper] was
delinquent in not discovering and removing the foreign
substance.” Hale v. Kroger Ltd. P'ship I,
28 So.3d 772, 779 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009) (quoting
Winn-Dixie Store No. 1501 v. Brown, 394 So.2d 49, 50
(Ala. Civ. App. 1981)). Alternatively, in situations
“where the plaintiff alleges that the business
negligently created on the premises a hazardous condition
that proximately caused injury to the plaintiff, ” the
law will presume notice on the part of the shopkeeper.
Nelson v. Delchamps, Inc., 699 So.2d 1259, 1261
(Ala. Civ. App. 1997) (citing Dunklin v. Winn-Dixie of
Montgomery, Inc., 595 So.2d 463, 465 (Ala. 1992)).
does not contend that Target affirmatively created the hazard
that caused his fall or that Target had actual notice of that
hazard. Instead, Fields focuses on constructive notice
arguing that the substance causing his fall was on the floor
for a sufficient time to impute constructive notice to Target
or, in the alternative, that Target was delinquent in failing