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Rosson v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

March 29, 2019

GALEN A. ROSSON, Plaintiff,
v.
LOWE'S HOME CENTERS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Galen A. Rosson commenced this action against Lowe's Home Centers, LLC, in the Circuit Court of Marshall County, Alabama, asserting state law tort claims. (Doc. 1-1; Doc. 1-3). Lowe's removed the action to this district court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1).[2] Pending before the undersigned is Lowe's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 16). For the reasons discussed below, the motion is due to be granted.

         I. Facts[3]

         Rosson fell while pushing a shopping cart in the garden section of Lowe's Guntersville, Alabama store on May 25, 2015. (Doc. 1-1 at 4; Doc. 1-3 at 6). She suffered a gash on her right leg, scratches on her left leg, and a shoulder injury. (Doc. 17-2 at 12, 17-3 at 5-10).[4]

         At the time of her fall, Rosson told the store manager she had slipped on water. (Doc. 17-3 at 4, 8). Shortly after her fall, Rosson also told her treating physicians she had slipped on water. (Doc. 17-1 at 2). Rosson returned to the store a couple of weeks after her fall, having considered the mechanics of the accident and concluded water would not have caused her buggy to rear up as it did. (Doc. 17-2 at 14, 16-17; Doc. 17-3 at 1, 8). She wanted to see what could have happened to her shopping cart. (Doc. 17-3 at 8).

         Rosson testified she knew the exact location where she fell and returned to that spot. (Doc. 17-3 at 8-9).[5] She observed a hole slightly larger than a half dollar in the concrete floor and took a photo. (Id. at 2; Doc. 17-2 at 16-17). She did not observe the hole at the time of the accident or see her cart strike the hole, although she did feel the cart jar. (Doc. 17-3 at 8-9).

         When asked during her deposition how she knows her cart did not strike a rock, piece of pine bark, or other object dropped by another customer, she responded that could have happened. (Id. at 9). When asked whether her fall could have been caused by any number of things, she responded that was possible. (Id.). When further pressed as to whether her theory of causation could be wrong, she testified, “I know what happened. . . . I know the feel and what happened.” (Id. at 10). She also testified, “It happened so quickly. . . . I - I didn't know what to think. I was in a daze.” (Id.).

         In her amended complaint filed in state court on July 14, 2017, Rosson asserts against Lowe's traditional negligence and wantonness claims; negligent and wantonness claims under a theory of premises liability; and a negligent, reckless, and wanton supervision and training claim. (Doc. 1-3 at 7-9). Lowe's seeks summary judgment on these claims on the ground Rosson has produced no more than speculative evidence as to the cause of her fall. (Doc. 16).

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he [district] 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record the party believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party carries its initial burden, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with evidence showing there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact for trial. Id. at 324.

         The substantive law identifies which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable or not significantly probative, summary judgment is appropriate. Id. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted). All reasonable doubts about the facts should be resolved in favor of the non-movant, and all justifiable inferences should be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993).

         III. Discussion

         Causation is a common element of traditional negligence and wantonness claims, as well as negligence and wantonness claims brought under a theory of premises liability. See Martin v. Arnold, 643 So.2d 564, 567 (Ala. 1994) (“Proximate cause is an essential element of both negligence claims and wantonness claims.”); Ex parte Harold L. Martin Distrib. Co., Inc., 769 So.2d 313, 314 (Ala. 2000) (“In [a] premises-liability case, the elements of negligence are the same as those in any tort litigation: duty, breach of duty, cause in fact, proximate or legal cause, and damages.” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Logan v. Winn-Dixie Atlanta, Inc., 594 So.2d 83, 84 (Ala. 1992) (holding that to recover in a premises-liability action based on a fall, “[the plaintiff] must prove that her fall resulted from a defect or instrumentality located on the premises, that the fall was a result of the defendants' negligence, and that the defendants had or should have had notice of the defect or instrumentality before the accident.”); Hooks v. Dollar General Corp., 2015 WL 6964289, at *3 n.6 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 10, 2015) (explaining difference between traditional negligence claims and negligence claims brought under a theory of premises liability).

         Evidence amounting to speculation is insufficient to support the element of causation. See Ex parte Harold L. Martin Distrib. Co., 760 So.2d at 315 (“Alabama juries are not permitted to speculate as to the cause of an accident.” (emphasis in original)); Logan, 594 So.2d at 84-85 (“Evidence which affords nothing more than speculation, conjecture, or guess is wholly insufficient to warrant submission of a case to the jury.” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Cawthon v. Dolgencorp, LLC, 2011 WL 814496, at *2 (S.D. Ala. Mar. 2, 2011) (“The plaintiff must offer more than speculation as to what caused his fall in order to survive summary judgment.”). “ ‘[W]here evidence points equally to inferences both favorable and unfavorable to the moving party[, ] [] it lacks probative value; and its use to support one inference more than another, when in fact it will ...


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