United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a premises liability case removed here from the Circuit Court
of Etowah County on the basis of diversity. (Doc. 1).
Presently pending is the motion for summary judgment filed by
Defendant Sears, Roebuck and Co. (Doc. 20). The motion is
fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. (Docs. 31, 34). For
the reasons explained below, the motion is due to be granted.
August 29, 2013, Plaintiff Connie Johnson gave non-party
Martha Vickery a ride to the Sears Auto Center in Gadsden,
Alabama. (Doc. 21 at 3). The purpose of the trip was to allow
Ms. Vickery to purchase a new battery for her vehicle.
(Id.). On arrival at Sears, Plaintiff asked a
salesperson, Steven, to come outside to her vehicle to
discuss battery options with Ms. Vickery. (Id.).
After deciding on a battery, Ms. Vickery and Plaintiff
followed Steven back inside the store. (Id. at 4).
entrance to Sears is enclosed by two sets of doors. (Doc. 21
at 4). As they entered Sears, Steven-who was carrying the car
battery-led the way, followed by Ms. Vickery and Plaintiff,
in that order. (Id.). The trio passed through the
exterior doors without incident; Steven and Ms. Vickery
successfully navigated through the interior doors as well.
(Id.). However, as Plaintiff passed through the
interior doors, she tripped over a wooden doorstop, falling
to one knee before her body twisted to the floor.
(Id.; see Doc. 31 at 1). Plaintiff was
wearing shoes with slender, two-inch heels, one of which
caught on the doorstop and caused the fall. (Doc. 21 at 6).
to Plaintiff's fall, the interior door was being held
open by at least one, but possibly two, wooden door stops.
(Doc. 21 at 4). Ms. Vickery observed-but Plaintiff did
not-Steven place the doorstop under the interior door. (Doc.
31 at 4). The parties agree that the doorstop was brown and
approximately three to five inches in length; the cement
floor of the entrance area was "blackish" in color.
(Doc. 21 at 6). Plaintiff's brief describes the offending
doorstop as "frayed, " which the undersigned
interprets as describing the doorstop as worn from use. Ms.
Vickery noted the worn condition of the doorstop when she saw
Steven place it under the interior door. (Doc. 31 at 3).
undisputed that the doorstop was not in the walkway when
Steven passed through the interior door. (Doc. 21 at 6).
Steven had already entered the store and did not look back
toward the Plaintiff prior to her fall. (Id.; Doc.
31 at 2). Plaintiff does not know how the doorstop came to be
in her path but opined that Ms. Vickery may have pushed the
door open further, causing the doorstop to dislodge from the
door. (Doc. 21 at 5; see Doc. 31 at 2). Plaintiff
did not know whether Steven touched the door as he passed
through the interior entrance; Ms. Vickery contends Steven
did not touch the door. (Doc. 21 at 4-5; see Doc. 31
at 2). Ms. Vickery opined the doorstop may have dislodged
when she and Plaintiff "exchanged hands on the
door." (Doc. 31 at 2). The record is devoid of evidence
of prior complaints regarding, or accidents caused by, wooden
doorstops at Sears. (Doc. 21 at 7).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
322 (1986). The party asking for summary judgment always
bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of
the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of
the pleadings or filings which it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at
323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e)
requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and
by his own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific
facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. See
substantive law identifies which facts are material and which
are irrelevant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the
facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of
the non-movant. See Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta,
2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine
“if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely
colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary
judgment may be granted. See id. at 249.
complaint asserts claims for negligence and wantonness. (Doc.
1-1). In response to the motion for summary judgment,
Plaintiff has conceded her claim for wantonness. (Doc. 31 at
9). Additionally, the facts do not support a claim that Sears
acted "with a reckless or conscious disregard of the
rights or safety of others." Ala. Code §
6-11-20(b)(3). Accordingly, Sears is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law regarding wantonness. The claim for
negligence is addressed below.
Alabama law, the elements of negligence in a premises
liability case “are the same as those in any tort
litigation: duty, breach of duty, cause in fact, proximate or
legal cause, and damages.” Ex parte Harold L.
Martin Distrib. Co., 769 So.2d 313, 314 (Ala. 2000). A
defendant owes a business invitee the duty to “exercise
reasonable care in maintaining [its] premises in a reasonably
safe condition.” Bishop v. South, 642 So.2d
442, 445 (Ala. 1994). A slip-and-fall plaintiff must show:
(1) the injury was caused by a defective condition on the
defendant's premises; and (2) the defendant knew or
should have known of the defect. Miller v. Liberty Park
Joint Venture, LLC, 84 So.3d 88, 92 (Ala. Civ. App.
Alabama Supreme Court has held an owner's actual or
constructive notice of a defect is presumed when the defect
is part of the premises, when the owner has created the
defective condition, or where the owner has unreasonably
failed to perform inspections to discover the defect.
Burlington Coat Factory of Alabama, LLC v. Butler,
156 So.3d 963, 969 (Ala. Civ. App. 2014) (citing Mims v.
Jack's Rest.,565 So.2d 609, 610 (Ala. 1990);
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. McClinton,631 So.2d 232,
234 (Ala. 1993); Norris v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,628 So.2d 475, 478 (Ala. 1993)). Examples of defective
conditions of which defendants' notice has been presumed
include an unattached door threshold, Mims, 565
So.2d at 611, merchandise protruding from a barbeque grill
display, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Rolin, 813 So.2d
861, 864 (Ala. 2001), a water-damaged seating booth,
Isbell v. Aztecas Mexican Grill, 78 So.3d 420, 425
(Ala. Civ. App. 2011), and a gun cabinet which protruded into
an aisle, McClinton, 631 So.2d at ...