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Lyons v. Shoppers Food Warehouse Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 24, 2017

PENNY LYONS, Plaintiff,


          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before this court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Shoppers Food Warehouse Corp. and SUPERVALU INC. (“Defendants”), [ECF No. 21], Plaintiff Penny Lyons's (“Plaintiff's”) opposition, [ECF No. 22], and Defendants' Reply, [ECF No. 23]. No oral argument is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 6, 2013 at approximately 10:00pm, Plaintiff, Plaintiff's husband Alfred Lyons, Sr. (“Lyons, Sr.”), and Plaintiff's son Alfred Lyons, Jr., were shopping at Shoppers Food Warehouse (“Shoppers”) at Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore City. Penny Lyons Dep. at 31.

         About five minutes after entering the store, Plaintiff was pushing a shopping cart when she made a left-turn down an aisle, walked a few feet, and slipped and fell in a clear liquid substance on the floor.[1] Id. at 31, 33. Before falling, Plaintiff did not see water on the floor, nor did anyone tell her they saw water on the floor. Id. at 45, 46. After falling, however, Plaintiff observed a trail of water “coming from the freezer part” of the aisle.[2] Id. at 36, 37. Plaintiff did not see any footprints or cart marks tracking water on the floor. Id. at 37. Plaintiff did not see water leaking from a nearby coffin cooler, she never inspected the coffin cooler, and nobody told her the coffin cooler was leaking. Id. at 45. Plaintiff does not know how the water got on the floor, and she does not know how long it was on the floor before she fell. Id. at 46. When Plaintiff got up, her clothes were “really wet.” Id. at 78. She saw “a wet-floor sign like down where the beginning of the trail of the water was.” Id. Plaintiff estimated that the wet-floor sign, standing near the coffin cooler, was fourteen to twenty feet from where she fell. Id. at 79. Plaintiff did not know why the wet-floor sign had been placed there. Id. Lyons, Sr. “believe[d] that the sign may have been there for some time because of the trail of the distance of the water.” Lyons, Sr. Dep. at 10.

         Plaintiff is suing Defendants for negligence and is seeking $695, 000 in damages for the “severe pain and permanent injuries” she suffered as a result of this incident. Pl.'s Compl., [ECF No. 2, 2-4].


         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides the “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). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Id. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must take all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         While the party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986), the party opposing summary judgment must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also In re Apex Express Corp., 190 F.3d 624, 633 (4th Cir. 1999). The non-movant “‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)); see also Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160 (1970). A court should enter summary judgment when a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish elements essential to a party's case, and on which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         Since the alleged tort and resulting injury occurred in Maryland, the Court applies Maryland law. See Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496-97 (1941); Branhaven, LLC v. BeefTek, Inc., 965 F.Supp.2d 650, 664 (D. Md. 2013) (“When a claim is based on state law, the choice of law rules are those of the state in which the district court sits.”); Lab. Corp. of America v. Hood, 911 A.2d 841, 845 (Md. 2006) (holding that, in a tort action, Maryland applies the law of the state where the injury occurred).


         Under Maryland law, “a proprietor of a store owes a duty to his customers to exercise ordinary care to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition, and he will be held liable for injuries sustained by a customer in consequence of his failure to do so.” Moulden v. Greenbelt Consumer Services, Inc., 210 A.2d 724, 725 (Md. 1965). However, the proprietor “is not an insurer of the safety of his customers while they are on the premises and no presumption of negligence on the part of the owner arises merely from a showing that an injury was sustained in his store.” Id.; Giant Food, Inc. v. Mitchell, 640 A.2d 1134, 1135 (Md. 1994); Rawls v. Hochschild, Kohn & Co., 113 A.2d 405, 408 (Md. 1955). Consequently, to establish a prima facie case of negligence, Plaintiff must demonstrate that the proprietor “created the dangerous condition or had actual or constructive knowledge of its existence.” Lexington Market Authority v. Zappala, 197 A.2d 147, 148 (Md. 1964); Rawls, 113 A.2d at 408. Additionally, Plaintiff has “the further responsibility of producing evidence that the dangerous condition had existed for a sufficiently long period of time for [Defendants or their] employees to correct it or to warn [their] invitees.” Keene v. Arlan's Department Store of Balt. Inc., 35 Md.App. 250, 258 (1977).

         Plaintiff adequately establishes, and Defendants do not dispute, that there was water on the floor prior to the incident. See Penny Lyons Dep. at 36-37, 45-46 & 78; Lyons, Sr. Dep. at 9-10. Having successfully established the existence of a dangerous condition, Plaintiff argues that, “Defendants had [actual] knowledge of the leaky refrigeration unit … [as] demonstrated by the wet floor sign near [said] unit and the trail of water.” Pl.'s Opp., [ECF No. 22, 3-4]. While Plaintiff avers that Defendants “were aware the refrigeration unit was leaking water[, ]” id. at 5, this factual claim is not supported in evidence. In her deposition, Plaintiff denied observing water leaking from the refrigeration unit, inspecting the refrigeration unit, or being told by anyone that the refrigeration unit was leaking. Penny Lyons Dep. at 45. Lyons, Sr. also cannot identify the refrigeration unit as the source of the water. See Lyons, Sr. Dep. at 9-10. Plaintiff's theory, then, requires that an impermissible inference be drawn between the refrigeration unit and the wet-floor sign nearby, see Burwell v. Easton Memorial Hospital, 577 A.2d 394, 395 (Md.App. 1989) (limiting the inferences permitted in premise liability cases to “‘reasonable ones'”) (quoting Clea v. City of Baltimore, 541 A.2d. 1202 (Md. 1988) (emphasis in original)), despite Plaintiff conceding that she did not know why the wet-floor sign had been placed in the aisle. Penny Lyons Dep. at 79. The water could just as easily have come from a drink spilled by a customer as a leaky cooler.

         Still, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the wet-floor sign “near the beginning of the trail of water[, ]” Penny Lyons Dep. 78, indicates that Defendants knew that there was water on the floor and put up a wet-floor sign to warn customers.[3] The question, then, becomes whether Defendants nevertheless “failed to exercise reasonable care to protect [Plaintiff] against the danger.” Maans v. Giant of Maryland, L.L.C., 871 A.2d 627, 631 (Md.App. 2005) (citations omitted). See Rehn v. Westfield Am., , 837 A.2d 981, 984 (Md.App. 2003) (citations omitted) (“When another patron creates the danger, the proprietor may be liable if ...

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