United States District Court, D. Maryland
TIMOTHY J. SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc.'s (“Wal-Mart”) Motion for Summary
Judgment (“Motion”). (ECF No. 24.) The matter has
been fully briefed (see ECF Nos. 24, 28 & 30)
and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For
the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment will be granted.
following facts are presented and considered by the Court in
the light most favorable to the Plaintiff Regina Johnson
(“Ms. Johnson”) because she is the non-moving
party. On February 20, 2016, Ms. Johnson went shopping at the
Wal-Mart store located in Clinton, Maryland to purchase a
baby stroller as a baby shower gift. (ECF No. 24-2 at 4.) In
the store's infant department, Ms. Johnson first looked
at the strollers on display in one aisle and inspected them
by touching the tires and feeling the material. (Id.
at 5.) Ms. Johnson then walked to a second aisle where
additional strollers were displayed. (Id.)
Eventually, Ms. Johnson saw a Jeep stroller that was of
interest to her. (Id.) Ms. Johnson touched the
armrest, the seat, the back, the net that holds a bottle, and
the wheel of the Jeep stroller. (Id. at 6-7.) Ms.
Johnson decided to purchase the Jeep stroller. (Id.)
Ms. Johnson was aware that the strollers in both aisles were
displayed on metal shelving units and affixed by zip-ties to
keep them from moving off the shelf. (Id. at 7.) Ms.
Johnson did not remove any zip-ties or attempt to take the
Jeep stroller down from the display. (Id. at 8.) Ms.
Johnson did not realize that the Jeep stroller was not
zip-tied to the shelf. (Id.)
the shelf containing the display strollers, Wal-Mart kept a
stock of strollers in stacked boxes for customers to
purchase. (Id.) Ms. Johnson squatted down to grab a
box containing a Jeep stroller and did not touch the stroller
display. (Id. at 9-10.) As Ms. Johnson pulled the
box towards her, the Jeep stroller on display
“rolled” and struck Ms. Johnson on her head,
neck, back and arm, causing her injuries. (Id.) An
unidentified male shopper yelled “watch out”
while Ms. Johnson was attempting to pull the box out.
(Id. at 10.) An unidentified female shopper notified
an unidentified female Wal-Mart employee, who came to Ms.
Johnson's assistance. (Id. at 11.) Ms. Johnson
saw no Wal-Mart personnel in the infant department before the
incident. (Id.) Ms. Johnson's mother and sister
were in the store with her at the time but did not observe
the incident. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff's mother
testified that there were no Wal-Mart employees in the
stroller section at the time of the incident. (ECF No. 24-4
at 5.) Plaintiff's sister provided similar testimony,
stating that she saw Wal-Mart personnel “[c]oming in
and out, ” that they may have been stocking merchandise
in other aisles, and that no employees were
“specifically right there” in the area where the
incident occurred. (ECF No. 24-5 at 4.) The unidentified
female Wal-Mart employee said to Ms. Johnson after the
incident: “Dammit. They were supposed to be tied
down.” (ECF No. 24-2 at 11.) The employee called for
the assistant store manager, Jason Witherspoon. Mr.
Witherspoon told Ms. Johnson that the strollers were
“all supposed to be toggled down.” (Id.
at 13.) Ms. Johnson testified that she believed neither the
unidentified female Wal-Mart employee nor Mr. Witherspoon
were aware that the Jeep stroller was not zip-tied to the
metal display shelf before it fell on her. (Id. at
13.) Ms. Johnson declined an ambulance, completed her
purchase, and left the Wal-Mart store. (Id.)
Johnson filed her Complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince
George's County, Maryland on January 25, 2019. (ECF No.
2.) Wal-Mart removed the case to this Court on March 21,
2019. (ECF No. 1.) Subject matter jurisdiction is based on
diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391, venue is proper in this
Court as a substantial part of the events or omissions giving
rise to the claim occurred in this district. 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 state law to questions of substantive law.
Maryland adheres to the lex loci delicti rule to
determine the applicable law in tort actions. Philip
Morris Inc. v. Angeletti, 358 Md. 689, 744 (2000). Under
this rule, the “substantive tort law of the state where
the wrong occurs governs.” Hauch v. Connor,
295 Md. 120, 123 (1983). Because the alleged tort took place
in Maryland, Maryland law governs Ms. Johnson's
negligence claim. In her Complaint, Ms. Johnson alleges that
Wal-Mart was negligent by failing to “keep and maintain
the premises, and any items contained therein, in a safe
condition.” (ECF No. 2 ¶ 7.)
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). The burden is on the moving party to
demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material
fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable
jury to render a verdict in favor of the party opposing the
motion, then a genuine dispute of material fact is presented
and summary judgment should be denied. See Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However,
the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the [opposing party's] position” is
insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.
Id. at 252.
facts themselves, and the inferences to be drawn from the
underlying facts, must be viewed in the light most favorable
to the opposing party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S.
372, 378 (2007); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230
(4th Cir. 2008). A party may not rest upon the mere
allegations or denials of its pleading but instead must, by
affidavit or other evidentiary showing, set out specific
facts showing a genuine dispute for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)(1). Supporting and opposing affidavits are to be made
on personal knowledge, contain such facts as would be
admissible in evidence, and show affirmatively the competence
of the affiant to testify to the matters stated in the
affidavit. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).
Maryland, the elements of a negligence claim are “(1)
that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff
from injury, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3)
that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and (4)
that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the
defendant's breach of the duty.” Chicago Title
Ins. Co. v. Allfirst Bank, 394 Md. 270, 290 (2006). In a
claim involving premises liability, the status of the person
injured on the property at the time of the incident is
critical to determining the defendant's duty to that
person. A person invited or permitted to be on another's
property for purposes related to the owner's business is
an invitee. See, e.g., Wagner v. Doehring, 315 Md.
97, 102 (1989). In this case, there is no dispute that Ms.
Johnson was an invitee on the premises. The duty of the
proprietor of a store to an invitee was summarized by the
Court of Appeals of Maryland in Mondawmin Corp. v.
Kres, 258 Md. 307, 313 (1970):
The Restatement of the Law of Torts, Second, sec. 343, sets
forth the standards governing the relationship of landowner
and business invitee with respect to a hazardous condition.
The landowner is subject to liability for harm caused by a
natural or artificial condition on his land if (a) he knows
or by the exercise of reasonable care could discover the
condition, (b) he should expect that invitees will not
discover the danger, or will fail to protect ...