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Oliver v. Maxway Stores

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

November 18, 2013

MAXWAY STORES, et al., Defendants.


WILLIAM CONNELLY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Sandra Oliver ("Mrs. Oliver") brought this action against Defendants Maxway Stores and Variety Wholesalers, Inc. alleging negligence and seeking $320, 000 in damages. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all further proceedings in the case and the entry of a final judgment. See ECF No. 16. The case thereafter was referred to the undersigned. See ECF No. 18. Pending before the court and ready for resolution is Defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 25). Mrs. Oliver filed an opposition (ECF No. 28). The deadline for Defendants to file a reply elapsed on September 16, 2013. No hearing is deemed necessary and the court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011).


On the afternoon of December 6, 2009 at approximately 2:30 p.m., Mrs. Oliver and her daughter, Tabitha Oliver, visited a Maxway store located at 4221 Branch Avenue, Temple Hills, Maryland 20748. Approximately five minutes after entering the store, while walking down an aisle, Mrs. Oliver slipped and fell. When she hit the floor, Mrs. Oliver felt a greasy substance. She did not see the clear liquid before falling. Shortly after Mrs. Oliver fell, a Maxway store employee named Wanda arrived on the scene and remarked that she slipped on the same oil.


Subject matter jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Mrs. Oliver resides in Suitland, Maryland. See ECF No. 2 at 1. Defendant Variety Wholesalers, Inc., doing business as Maxway Stores, is a North Carolina corporation. Its wholly owned subsidiary, Defendant Variety Stores, Inc., doing business as Maxway Stores, is a Delaware corporation. See ECF No. 13 ¶ 2. The amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391 venue is proper in this district because a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred in this district.


A motion for summary judgment will be granted only if there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In other words, if there clearly exist factual issues "that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party, " then summary judgment is inappropriate. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250; see also Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Properties, 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987); Morrison v. Nissan Motor Co., 601 F.2d 139, 141 (4th Cir. 1979); Stevens v. Howard D. Johnson Co., 181 F.2d 390, 394 (4th Cir. 1950). The moving party bears the burden of showing no genuine issue as to any material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Pulliam Inv. Co., 810 F.2d at 1286 (citing Charbonnages de France v. Smith, 597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir. 1979)).

When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the facts alleged in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962); Gill v. Rollins Protective Servs. Co., 773 F.2d 592, 595 (4th Cir. 1985). A party who bears the burden of proof on a particular claim must factually support each element of his or her claim. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element... necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.

On those issues where the nonmoving party will have the burden of proof, it is that party's responsibility to confront the motion for summary judgment with an affidavit or other similar evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. However, "[a] mere scintilla of evidence is not enough to create a fact issue.'" Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958-59 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Seago v. North Carolina Theaters, Inc., 42 F.R.D. 627, 632 (E.D. N.C. 1966), aff'd, 388 F.2d 987 (4th Cir. 1967), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 959 (1968)). There must be "sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).


A. Overview - Premises Liability

Before addressing the parties' positions regarding genuine issues as to any material fact, the court must address some preliminary matters. Since this court's jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship, the principles outlined in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938) require the application of Maryland law to substantive law questions. Under Maryland law a property owner owes a certain duty to an individual who comes in contact with the property, and the scope of the duty owed is dependent upon the individual's status while on the property. Baltimore Gas & Elec. Co. v. Flippo, 348 Md. 680, 688, 705 A.2d 1144, 1148 (1998). Maryland law recognizes four categories of individuals: (1) an invitee, (2) a licensee by invitation, (3) a bare licensee and (4) a trespasser. An invitee is an individual who is on the property for a purpose related to the landowner's business. "An occupier of land has a duty to use reasonable and ordinary care to keep the premises safe for an invitee and to protect him from injury caused by an unreasonable risk that the invitee, by exercising ordinary care for his own safety, will not discover." Henley v. Prince George's County, 305 Md. 320, 339, 503 A.2d 1333, 1343 (1986).

A licensee by invitation is a social guest and the landowner "owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to warn the guest of dangerous conditions that are known to the [landowner] but not easily discoverable." Flippo, 348 Md. at 689, 705 A.2d at 1148 (citation omitted). For a bare licensee, a person on the property with permission but for his/her own purpose, a landowner only owes a duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring the bare licensee and to refrain from creating "new and undisclosed sources of danger without warning the [bare] licensee.'" Id. (citation omitted). For a trespasser, someone who ...

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