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Jones v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

December 21, 2018

AMANDA JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST LP, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court is Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East LP's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 28]. After reviewing the parties' submissions, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 28].

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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 genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmovant and a fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In considering this motion, “the evidence of the [nonmovant] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmovant's] favor.” Id. at 255. However, the Court need not draw “all possible inferences” in favor of the nonmovant. Horn v. United Parcel Servs., Inc., 433 Fed.Appx. 788, 796 (11th Cir. 2011).

         The movant “bears the initial burden 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.” Jones v. UPS Ground Freight, 683 F.3d 1283, 1292 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation omitted) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmovant “to rebut that showing by producing affidavits or other relevant and admissible evidence beyond the pleadings.” Jones, 683 F.3d at 1292 (quoting Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315 (11th Cir. 2012)). The Court recounts the facts of this case below in light of this standard.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This premises liability case arises out of an injury Plaintiff Amanda Jones sustained when she tripped over a pallet while she was picking up donated food items from Defendant's facility. At the time of the injury, Plaintiff worked as a truck driver for Middle Georgia Community Food Bank (“Middle Georgia”). [Doc. 30-1 at 20:19-21]. In this position, Plaintiff drove to a number of nearby businesses-including Defendant's- to pick up donated items for the food bank. [Id. at 44:8-10]. Plaintiff held her position with Middle Georgia for three years prior to the incident giving rise to her claim and during that time picked up donations from Defendant's facility three days a week.[1] [Id. at 47:6-8; 50:1-2].

         In the deposition taken on August 15, 2016, Plaintiff described at length her routine for making a pick up at Defendant's facility. See [id. at 47:12-59:25]. On arrival, Plaintiff would back her truck up to the loading dock and then enter the facility through a rear door into Defendant's receiving area where products were delivered and stored. [Id. at 47:9-16; 48:2-4]; see also [Doc. 30-2 at 124:3-14]. Defendant usually donated a substantial amount of food, so Plaintiff would find a pallet jack to facilitate loading the donated goods onto her truck. [Doc. 30-1 at 47:18-21; 52:9-12]. Once Plaintiff procured her pallet jack, she would exit the receiving area through a set of double doors into the public area of Defendant's facility. [Id. at 48:8-10]. Plaintiff would then drag her pallet jack through the public area of the store to another set of double doors leading to the dry goods receiving area where Defendant placed its donations at a designated spot. [Doc. 30-2 at 108:24-109:7]; see also [Doc. 30-1 at 49:1-3]. Plaintiff would then load her pallet jack and return to the other receiving area where she parked her truck. [Doc. 30-1 at 53:14-54:16]. Plaintiff testified that she often walked backward while pulling the pallet jack because it made it easier to move. [Doc. 30-2 at 114:6-14]. Plaintiff noted, though, that if she was walking backward, she was constantly looking over her shoulder to avoid bumping into customers or goods that may have fallen from the shelves in the store. [Id. at 117:12-15; 119:5-17]. After returning to the receiving area, Plaintiff would load her truck and return the pallet jack. [Doc. 30-1 at 54:6-19].

         On the day of the incident, Plaintiff followed her customary practice for picking up donated goods at Defendant's facility. [Doc. 30-2 at 113:15-18]. However, on this day, Defendant placed a pallet with a box on it by the double doors leading from Defendant's receiving area into the public area of the store.[2] [Doc. 30-2 at 142:13-19]. Plaintiff admits that she walked by the pallet and that it was not hidden for someone walking out of the receiving area into the public area of Defendant's store but denies she actually saw the pallet. [Doc. 30-2 at 142:13-19; 152:13-14; 210:3-9].[3]

         Plaintiff's injury occurred as she was re-entering the receiving area with her loaded pallet jack when she tripped over the pallet Defendant had placed by the double doors. [Doc. 30-2 at 142:13-19]. Plaintiff admits that when she arrived at the double doors leading to the receiving area, she looked through their windows to ensure that it was safe for her to enter but again denied seeing the pallet that she tripped on. [Id. at 180:1-6]. After looking through the window, Plaintiff walked backward through the double doors pulling the pallet jack with her. [Id. at 133:20-134:16]. Plaintiff testified that she did not see the pallet as she walked through the doors because it was on her left side and she was looking over her right shoulder as she entered the receiving area. [Id.]. When the pallet jack was about half way through the doorway, Plaintiff's heel hit the pallet, causing her to fall. [Id. at 186:7-10; 188:19-20].

         As a result of her fall, Plaintiff incurred approximately $13, 000 in medical expenses as well as lost wages. [Doc. 1-3 at p. 2]. Plaintiff has received some compensation for these damages as part of her worker's compensation settlement and she now asserts claims against Defendant for allegedly negligently placing the pallet next to the double doors. [Doc. 30-2 at 96:4-7].

         DISCUSSION

         After reviewing the parties' submissions, the Court finds that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment. Under Georgia law,

[w]here an owner or occupier of land, by express or implied invitation, induces or leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages to such persons for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ...

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