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Rice v. Saloncentric, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 3, 2020

PENNY S. RICE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SALONCENTRIC INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Stephanie A. Gallagher, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Penny S. Rice and Russell Rice filed an Amended Complaint against Defendant SalonCentric, Inc. (“SalonCentric”), seeking money damages in connection with injuries Mrs. Rice suffered at a SalonCentric store. ECF 5. SalonCentric has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment/ Daubert Motion to Exclude Testimony of Plaintiffs' Proposed Expert (“the Motion”). ECF 19. This Court has considered the Motion, along with Plaintiffs' Opposition, ECF 22, and SalonCentric's Reply, ECF 23. The issues have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, as to the Daubert issue, I will grant the Motion in part and deny it in part, and I will deny summary judgment.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Fact Witnesses

         The basic facts surrounding this incident are undisputed. On November 17, 2015, Penny Rice entered the SalonCentric store in Frederick, Maryland, to shop for beauty products. ECF 19-1 at 5. As she removed a product from a shelf, the entire shelving unit fell on top of her, causing her injury.[1] See Id. at 6. The shelving unit was not anchored to the wall or floor at the time of the incident. See ECF 23 at 1 (“SalonCentric is not liable for the predecessor corporation's failure to bolt the shelving unit to the wall or floor.”).

         SalonCentric's parent company, L'Oréal USA S/D, Inc. (“L'Oréal”), had purchased the Frederick, Maryland store, along with fourteen other locations, from Columbia Beauty Supply, Inc. (“CBS”) in 2008. ECF 19-2 (Sharnsky Aff.) ¶ 3. In the Purchase Agreement, CBS represented and warrantied that the “buildings, fixtures and improvements thereon (i) are in good operating condition without structural defects. . . and no condition exists requiring material repairs, alterations, or corrections, and (ii) are suitable and sufficient in all respects for their current uses.” See Id. ¶ 4. L'Oreal did not inspect the Frederick store prior to purchase, Id.

         Melissa Blank has managed the Frederick store, for its various corporate owners, since 2001. ECF 19-3 (Blank Depo.) at 11:13-21. Blank described the shelving unit that fell on Mrs. Rice as a white peg-board gondola with attached shelves. Id. at 30:10-31:13. Blank testified that the same shelving unit had been in place since 2001. Id. at 34:4-35:8. Store employees regularly rearranged the shelves on the unit, which involved lifting the individual shelves out of the peg-board and replacing them in accordance with merchandise display plans sent by SalonCentric. Id. at 33:16-21; 37:6-15; 131:5-133:3, 136:9-137:14. Blank had never had any other customer injury take place in her store, and never personally inspected the shelving unit itself. Id. at 160:2-12, 160:16-21.

         Two other store employees, in addition to Blank, testified that they routinely stocked and moved the shelves on the unit, and never detected any movement or instability. See ECF 19-4 at 62:15-20, 70:7-71:1; ECF 19-5 at 18:6-15.

         B. Expert Witnesses

         Plaintiffs retained Gregory Harrison, Ph.D., P.E. to provide expert testimony. Dr. Harrison submitted an expert report on January 18, 2019 and a supplemental report on June 25, 2019, and provided deposition testimony on May 16, 2019. ECF 19-8, ECF 19-9, ECF 19-10. Dr. Harrison reviewed materials submitted about the incident, and made an informal visit to the Frederick, Maryland store, with a friend, before writing his report. ECF 19-8 at 4-5. During that visit, Dr. Harrison did not disclose his identity to store management, and inspected a shelving unit he then believed to be the one that had injured Mrs. Rice, later learning that it was the wrong unit. ECF 19-9 at 33:17-34:6, 35:8-18, 35:19-36-12 (answering “correct” when asked if he believed it was the same unit that had fallen over). Dr. Harrison never inspected the actual unit that fell on Mrs. Rice. Id. at 14-19 (answering “No” when asked if he has requested to go back and inspect the unit that fell over). Essentially, Dr. Harrison opined that the failure to bolt the shelving unit to the wall at installation created an unsafe condition, and that SalonCentric breached its duty to inspect the unit regularly to ensure customer safety. ECF 19-8; ECF 19-10 at 2-3.

         SalonCentric retained Garry Brock, Ph.D., to provide expert testimony on its behalf. Dr. Brock opined, in relevant part, that there would be no reason for SalonCentric to inspect the shelving unit, in the absence of any indication that it had been improperly installed. ECF 19-11 at 175:1-176:6. Dr. Brock testified that, in order to determine whether the shelving unit had been anchored to the wall, the entire shelving unit would have had to be disassembled. Id. at 197:2-9. Dr. Brock agreed with Dr. Harrison that anchoring the unit to the wall would have prevented the accident. ECF 22-1 at 8-9; see also ECF 19-11. at 150:10-14; 151:1-152:11.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate only “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). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material facts. See Casey v. Geek Squad, 823 F.Supp.2d 334, 348 (D. Md. 2011) (citing Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987)). If the moving party establishes that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to proffer specific facts to show a genuine issue exists for trial. Id. The non-moving party must provide enough admissible evidence to “carry the burden of proof in [its] claim at trial.” Id. at 349 (quoting Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1315-16 (4th Cir. 1993)). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find in its favor. Id. at 348 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). Moreover, a genuine issue of material fact cannot rest on “mere speculation, or building one inference upon another.” Id. at 349 (quoting Miskin v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 107 F.Supp.2d 669, 671 (D. Md. 1999)).

         Additionally, summary judgment shall be warranted if the non-moving party fails to provide evidence that establishes an essential element of the case. Id. at 352. The non-moving party “must produce competent evidence on each element of [its] claim.” Id. at 348-49 (quoting Miskin, 107 F.Supp.2d at 671). If the non-moving party fails to do so, “there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, ” because the failure to prove an essential element of the case “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 352 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Coleman v. United States, 369 Fed.Appx. 459, 461 (4th Cir. 2010 (unpublished)). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view all of the facts, including reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, ...


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