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Canty v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

May 24, 2018

WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Defendant.



         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 17.) After careful consideration, Defendant's motion is GRANTED. As a result, Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case.


         On November 20, 2015, Plaintiff Trinisha Canty visited the Wells Fargo bank located at 3507 West Bay Street in Savannah, Georgia. (Doc. 20, Attach. 2 at 1.) After finishing her business with the bank, Mrs. Canty proceeded to exit the store via the west access handicap ramp. (Id. at 2.) The west access handicap ramp ran from the bank's entrance down into the parking lot. (Id.) The lower portion of the ramp that sloped directly into the parking lot was outlined with yellow paint. (Id. at 4.) As Plaintiff reached the bottom of the ramp, she placed her foot on the yellow paint outlining the lower portion of the ramp and fell, causing significant injuries to her foot and ankle. (Id.)

         On December 22, 2016, Mrs. Canty brought suit in the State Court of Chatham County seeking recovery for her injuries. (Doc. 1, Ex. A.) In her complaint, Mrs. Canty sought compensatory damages for her injuries and punitive damages for Defendant's "conscious indifference" to the ramp's hazardous design. (Id. at 11-12.) According to Mrs. Canty, the ramp was improperly designed as the sides of the ramps were over five times as steep as permitted by the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Doc. 23 at 4.) Mrs. Canty's husband, John Canty, also joined her suit seeking loss of consortium damages due to his wife's injuries. (Doc. 1, Ex. A at 12.)

         On February 22, 2017, Defendant invoked this Court's diversity jurisdiction and removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 1.) Now, Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 20.) In its motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs are not entitled to any recovery because Mrs. Canty was actually aware or should have been aware of the potential hazard presented by the lower portion of the ramp when she stepped on the yellow outline of the ramp and fell. (Doc. 20, Attach. 1 at 12-14.) In Defendant's view, Mrs. Canty knew that the ramp was potentially hazardous and did not exercise reasonable care when she decided to step on the side of the ramp. (Id.) Alternatively, Defendant contends that at the very least Mrs. Canty's claim for punitive damages should be denied because she has failed to offer evidence that would support an award of punitive damages. (Id. at 14.) In response, Plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to relief because the ramp was improperly designed and Mrs. Canty had no duty to recognize the hazard created by the ramp's improper design. (Doc. 23 at 6-7.)



         According to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), "[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim of defense-on which summary judgment is sought." Such a motion must be granted "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." Id. The "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.' " Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee notes).

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmovant "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The substantive law governing the action determines whether an element is essential. DeLong Equip. Co. v. Wash. Mills Abrasive Co., 887 F.2d 1499, 1505 (11th Cir. 1989).

         As the Supreme Court explained:

[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying 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, 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmovant to establish, by going beyond the pleadings, that there is a genuine issue as to facts material to the nonmovant's case. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) .

         The Court must review the evidence and all reasonable factual inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587-88. However, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Id. at 586. A mere "scintilla" of evidence, or simply conclusory allegations, will not suffice. See, e.g., Tidwell v. Carter Prods., 135 F.3d 1422, 1425 (11th Cir. 1998). Nevertheless, where a reasonable fact finder may "draw more than one inference from the facts, and that inference creates a genuine issue of material fact, then the Court should refuse to grant summary judgment." Barfield v. Brierton, 883 F.2d 923, 933-34 (11th Cir. 1989). II. PREMISE LIABILITY Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1, a store owner or occupier has a statutory duty to exercise ordinary care in keeping its premises and approaches safe for invitees. This duty, however, does not make the owner or occupier of the land an insurer of invitees' safety, or create a presumption of negligence when an invitee is injured on an owner or occupier's land. See Perkins v. Peachtree Doors, Inc., 196 Ga.App. 878, 879, 397 S.E.2d 54, 55 (1990) ("To presume that because a customer falls in a store that the proprietor has somehow been negligent would make the proprietor an insurer of his customer's safety which he is not in this state."). Rather, for an invitee to recover under a premise liability theory, the invitee must be able ...

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