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Daniel v. Moran Food LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 14, 2018

KIM DANIEL, Plaintiff,
v.
MORAN FOODS, LLC, SUPERVALU, INC. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Moran Foods, LLC's (“Defendant”) Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 22) requesting summary judgment be entered against Plaintiff Kim Daniel (“Plaintiff”).[1] The Court has reviewed Defendant's Motion, related memoranda, and the applicable law. No. hearing is deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On August 1, 2015, Plaintiff entered one of Defendant's Save-A-Lot establishments to purchase groceries. Daniel Dep. 35:12-19. Plaintiff testified that after spending only five minutes in the store, she approached the dairy display and slipped and fell in the aisle. Daniel Dep. 32:12-21; 35:9-12. The entire sequence of events involving this incident was recorded by surveillance video, the relevant sections of which were provided to the Court as still-frame photographs, which showed that Plaintiff slipped and fell on a puddle of milk which was spilled by another customer approximately one minute prior to Plaintiff's fall. ECF Nos. 22-3, 22-4, 22-5, 22-6 and 22-7. The photographs also show that within that one minute timeframe, one of Defendant's employees was notified of the spill, collected and disposed of the spilled milk carton in a back room of the store, and came out of the back room with a bucket, mop and wet floor sign, before assisting Plaintiff. See ECF No. 22-3, 22-4, 22-5, 22-6, and 22-7; see also Def.'s Mot. 3; Pl.'s Opp'n 4-5.

         On September 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant alleging two counts: first, a claim of negligence by Defendant in failing to safely maintain its premises, and second, a claim of negligent hiring, training, and supervision. Pl.'s Compl. 6.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he 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). A dispute is deemed genuine only if the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” and a fact is deemed material only if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Supreme Court has explained that the burden of proof lies with the movant to identify “those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show an absence of evidence in the record as to an essential element of the claim or to present “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. A court reviewing a motion for summary judgment must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Premises Liability

         Alleging a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) that the defendant owed a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury; (2) that the defendant breached the duty; (3) that the plaintiff suffered damages; and (4) that the plaintiff's damages proximately resulted from the defendant's breach. Hall v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 679 F.Supp.2d 629, 632 (D. Md. 2010) (citations omitted). “Negligence means doing something a person using reasonable care would not do, or not doing something a person using reasonable care would do.” Oliver v. Maxway Stores, No. WGC-12-3033, 2013 WL 6091844, at *3 (D. Md. Nov. 2013) (citing Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instruction 19:1). Under Maryland law, a property owner “owes a certain duty to a person who comes in contact with the property. The extent of this duty depends upon the person's status while on the property.” Baltimore Gas & Elec. Co. v. Flippo, 348 Md. 680, 688 (1998) (citing to BG&E v. Lane, 338 Md. 34, 44 (1995)). Maryland law recognizes four categories of individuals: (1) an invitee, (2) a licensee by invitation, (3) a bare licensee and (4) a trespasser. Id. “An invitee is a person on the property for a purpose related to the possessor's business.” Id.

         Considering that Plaintiff here was in Defendant's establishment for the purpose of purchasing groceries, it is clear that Plaintiff was an invitee. Accordingly, Defendant had a duty to “warn [Plaintiff] of known hidden dangers, a duty to inspect, and a duty to take reasonable precautions against foreseeable dangers.” Tennant v. Shoppers Food Warehouse Md. Corp., 693 A.2d 370, 374 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1997). However, the duty that a storekeeper owes to its customers is not unlimited. Indeed, “storekeepers are not insurers of their customers' safety, and no presumption of negligence arises merely because an injury was sustained on a storekeeper's premises.” Giant Food, Inc. v. Mitchell, 334 Md. 633, 636 (1994). “Rather, the evidence ‘must show not only that a dangerous condition existed, but also that the proprietor had actual or constructive knowledge of it, and that knowledge was gained in sufficient time to give the [proprietor] the opportunity to remove [the hazard] or to warn the invitee.'” Linn v. Target Corp., Civ. No. JKB-14-2159, 2015 WL 6690247, at *4 (D. Md. Oct. 2015) (citing to Rehn v. Westfield Am., 153 Md.App. 586, 593 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2003)). It is undisputed here that Defendant had actual knowledge of the “dangerous condition, ” namely the puddle of spilled milk. Def.'s Mot. 2 (acknowledging that an employee of Defendant was made aware of the spill prior to Plaintiff's fall). Instead, Defendant argues that pursuant to the court's findings in Rehn, it did not have “sufficient time to . . . remove [the hazard] or to warn [Plaintiff].” Id. at 7; Rehn, 153 Md.App., at 593.

         B. There is a genuine issue for a trier of fact to determine whether Defendant had sufficient time to warn Plaintiff of the dangerous condition, such that Plaintiff's injuries could have been avoided.

         In support of its Motion, Defendant argues that “Plaintiff has not produce[d] any admissible evidence to establish a prima facie case of negligence in accordance with the well-settled premises liability law in Maryland.” Def.'s Mot. 8. Specifically, Defendant points to established case law in Maryland mandating that in premises liability cases, there must be sufficient time given to the storeowner to discover and cure the dangerous condition. Id. at 6 (citing to Rehn, 153 Md.App., at 593).

What will amount to sufficient time depends upon the circumstances of the particular case, and involves consideration of the nature of the danger, the number of persons likely to be affected by it, the diligence required to discover or prevent it, opportunities and means of knowledge, the foresight which a person of ordinary care and prudence would be expected to ...

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