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Collins v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Northern Division

February 12, 2014

DONNA F. COLLINS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WILLIAM D. QUARLES, Jr., District Judge.

Donna F. Collins ("Mrs. Collins")[1] sued Wal-Mart Stores East, LP ("Wal-Mart East") and Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated ("Wal-Mart Inc."), (collectively "Wal-Mart"), for negligence. ECF No. 2. Wal-Mart removed to this Court. ECF No. 1. Pending is Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 13. No hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the following reasons, summary judgment will be denied.

I. Background[2]

On January 2, 2012, Mrs. Collins visited a Wal-Mart store in Baltimore, Maryland with her son, Jacob Collins ("Jacob"), and Jacob's girlfriend, Alicia Herold.[3] ECF No. 14-2 at 9. After they completed their shopping and checked out at a cash register, they walked down the back aisle behind the cash registers toward the exit. See ECF Nos. 13-2 at 4, 13-4 (surveillance video). Jacob walked a few steps in front of Mrs. Collins and Herold, pushing their shopping cart. See id. At 2:34 pm-about halfway between the exit and the end of the line of cash registers-Mrs. Collins slipped and fell on water that was on the floor. ECF Nos. 13-2 at 5, 13-4, 13-5 at 4, 14-4 at 2. Jacob and Mrs. Collins did not notice the water before Mrs. Collins fell.[4] See ECF Nos. 13-2 at 4, 13-3 at 4.

Jacob attempted to help Mrs. Collins up, but she declined his help because of pain in the left side of her body.[5] See ECF No. 14-2 at 10. A Wal-Mart assistant manager, Crystal Day, approached and offered her assistance. See id.; ECF No. 14-4. Day brought a chair for Mrs. Collins, and Jacob helped her into it. See ECF Nos. 13-4, 14-2 at 10. Mrs. Collins declined Day's offer to call an ambulance. ECF No. 14-2 at 10. Another Wal-Mart employee, Gary Ivey-the asset protection manager[6] for the store-arrived while Mrs. Collins was still sitting in the chair. ECF Nos. 13-4, 14-3 at 19-20. Day escorted Mrs. Collins, Jacob, and Herold to a Dunkin' Donuts restaurant in the store and asked Mrs. Collins to complete an incident report. See ECF No. 14-2 at 11. Mrs. Collins agreed, and she and Herold completed incident reports. See id. at 11-12.

In the meantime, a warning sign was placed by the water spill, and Ivey stood by the spill until another employee brought him a camera. See ECF Nos. 13-4, 13-5 at 5, 14-3 at 15, 20-21. Ivey took three photographs of the spill and then cleaned it up in under a minute with paper towels. See ECF No. 14-3 at 15, 22. He returned to his office where he completed an incident report, which was transmitted electronically to Wal-Mart's insurance company, CMI. ECF Nos. 13-5 at 4, 14-3 at 14. Ivey's report noted that the surface on which Mrs. Collins fell was clean, but had water spots, and that the weather conditions that day were "good, " meaning "there was no rain or snow out that day." ECF Nos. 14-3 at 16, 14-4 at 2. At CMI's request, Ivey also obtained surveillance video of the aisle behind the registers from one hour before Mrs. Collins's fall to one hour after her fall.[7] See ECF Nos. 14-3 at 15, 17; 15-5.

The surveillance video-although grainy-shows that, in the hour before her fall, dozens of customers and Wal-Mart employees[8] passed the spot where Mrs. Collins fell. See ECF Nos. 13-4, 14-3 at 22-26. The video does not show any other customer or employee slipping on the water or looking at the ground where Mrs. Collins fell. See ECF Nos. 13-4, 14-3 at 23-26. Also, the video does not show how the water got on the floor, and the water spot is not visible.[9] See ECF Nos. 13-4, 14-3 at 25-26.

In his deposition, Ivey testified that he did a general sweep of the store for safety hazards each day upon his arrival to work.[10] See ECF No. 14-3 at 7. Throughout the day, maintenance workers would continually clean the floors in different parts of the store and would respond quickly when called to clean up hazardous conditions.[11] See id. at 8. Also, if they saw a spill or hazardous condition in the store, all Wal-Mart associates and managers were trained to stand next to the spill or hazardous condition until it was cleaned. See id. at 8-9. Even employees working at cash registers were instructed to stop what they were doing if they saw a spill and stand next to it. See id. at 8-10. Ivey also testified that 60% of the spills in the store occurred in the area between the registers and the exit, where Mrs. Collins fell. See id. at 13.

On January 30, 2013, Mrs. Collins and John sued Wal-Mart in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland, claiming that, as a result of Wal-Mart's negligence, Wal-Mart was liable for Mrs. Collins's injuries from her fall and loss of consortium. See ECF No. 2. On February 19, 2013, Wal-Mart removed to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. ECF No. 1.

On August 22, 2013, after discovery was completed, Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment. ECF No. 13. On September 9, 2013, Mrs. Collins opposed the motion. ECF No. 14. On September 15, 2013, Wal-Mart replied. ECF No. 15. On January 15, 2014, the Court ordered the parties to submit additional briefing on jurisdiction. ECF No. 16. On January 27 and 28, 2014, the parties submitted additional briefing. ECF Nos. 17, 18.

II. Analysis

A. Jurisdiction

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant... to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing where such action is pending." A defendant may only remove state court actions that "originally could have been filed in federal court." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). "A party seeking to adjudicate a matter in federal court must allege and, when challenged, must demonstrate the federal court's jurisdiction over the matter." Strawn v. AT & T Mobility LLC, 530 F.3d 293, 296 (4th Cir. 2008). Because removal raises "significant federalism concerns, " the removal statutes must be strictly construed, and all doubts must be resolved in favor of remanding the case to state court. Md. Stadium Auth. v. Ellerbe Becket, Inc., 407 F.3d 255, 260 (4th Cir. 2005).

To remove a case, the defendants must file a notice of removal in the district court within 30 days after receiving the initial pleading. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a)-(b) (2006). The notice of removal must contain "a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal." Id. § 1446(a). The sufficiency of the jurisdictional allegations in the notice of removal is governed by the same pleading standard that applies to jurisdictional allegations in a complaint. Ellenburg v. Spartan Motors Chassis, Inc., 519 F.3d 192, 200 (4th Cir. 2008). Thus, in diversity cases, a sufficient notice of removal must allege only "that the parties are of diverse citizenship and that ...


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