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Castleberry v. Winn Dixie Stores, Inc.

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

February 15, 2019




         Before the Court is Defendant Winn Dixie Stores, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 40). After reviewing the pleadings, briefs, affidavits, and other evidentiary materials presented, and with the benefit of oral argument, the Court determines that there are genuine issues of material fact that must be resolved by a jury. The Court accordingly DENIES Defendant's motion.


         The undisputed material facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff are as follows:

         On October 7, 2014, Plaintiff Ronald Castleberry entered Defendant Winn Dixie Stores, Inc.'s Bemiss Road location in Valdosta, Georgia to fill a prescription. (Doc. 42, p. 21-22). Plaintiff filled prescriptions at the store at least once a month. (Id. at p. 22). Plaintiff entered the grocery store and went directly to the pharmacy, where he handed his prescription to the pharmacy technician.

         (Id. at p. 25). He was told that it would take approximately fifteen minutes to fill his prescription. (Id.; Doc. 43, p. 43). Plaintiff took a seat in one of the chairs located in the pharmacy waiting area. (Doc. 42, p. 25). Plaintiff had sat in the same set of chairs on numerous other occasions, though he cannot say whether he ever sat in the exact same chair. (Id. at p. 35). There was another woman in the pharmacy area sitting in a similar chair. (Id. at p. 30-31). Plaintiff did not notice anything unusual about the chair in which this other person was sitting. (Id. at p. 31).

         Plaintiff testified that he sat in the chair as he normally would sit, with his feet planted on the floor and his back against the seat back. (Id. at p. 30-31; Doc. 43, p. 47). Plaintiff explained that as a result of prior injuries to his back, he has difficulty sitting forward or leaning back and that he tries to sit up straight to alleviate any pressure. (Doc. 42, p. 30-31). When the pharmacy notified Plaintiff that his prescription was ready, he grasped the arms of the chair, leaned forward, and pushed himself up from a seated position. (Doc. 42, p. 33; Doc. 43, p. 48-49). As he rose, the chair shot out from under him. (Doc. 42, p. 26, 33; Doc. 43, p. 49). Plaintiff testified that he “went straight down and landed on my butt - my tailbone, and when I hit my tailbone, it just felt like it just jarred my whole insides, and I just went on down flat on the floor.” (Doc. 42, p. 37). While he was falling, Plaintiff did not know what caused the chair to shoot out from under him. (Id. at p. 34). After the fall, however, he noticed holes in the bottom of the chair where rubber stoppers should have been. (Doc. 42, p. 36).[1]

         Plaintiff was able to get up unassisted. (Id. at p. 37). He stood up, took a minute to steady himself, and then walked to the counter to collect his prescription. (Id.). The pharmacy technician asked if he was okay. (Id.). Plaintiff replied that he thought he was fine and that he just wanted to leave the store because he was embarrassed. (Id.). Plaintiff did not realize that he was injured until several hours after the incident, when he stated he “started having a lot of pains in my leg and in the center of my back, and I just started hurting so bad I couldn't even lay down on it.” (Id. at p. 40). The next morning, the store manager called and asked Plaintiff to return to the store to complete an incident report. (Id. at p. 37-38).


         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact arises only when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must evaluate all of the evidence, together with any logical inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 254- 55. The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Id. at 255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).


         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's negligence claims fail as a matter of law because Plaintiff has not demonstrated that there was a defect in the chair which caused his fall. Additionally, Defendant contends that even if the chair was defective, there is no evidence suggesting that Defendant had either actual or constructive knowledge of any hazard. While the evidence of a purported defect is limited, Plaintiff has identified that the chair was missing some or all of its rubber stoppers and that the missing stoppers contributed to his fall. Plaintiff further avers that genuine issues of material fact remain as to Defendant's knowledge of the hazard, making summary judgment improper.

         Under Georgia law, “[a]n owner or occupier of land has a legal duty, enforceable by lawsuit, to exercise ordinary care to keep and maintain its premises and the approaches in a condition that does not pose an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to the invited public.” American Multi-Cinema, Inc. v. Brown, 285 Ga. 442 (2009); O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1 (“Where 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 ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.”). Nevertheless, a property owner “is not an insurer of the safety of its invitees, ” and the “mere occurrence of an injury does not create a presumption of negligence.” Kennestone Hosp. v. Harris, 285 Ga.App. 393, 393-94 (2007) (citation and punctuation omitted).

         “Proof of an injury, without more, is not enough to establish a proprietor's liability.” Ford v. Bank of America Corp., 277 Ga.App. 708, 709 (citing Sams v. Wal-Mart Stores, 228 Ga.App. 314, 316 (1997). In order to recover in a slip and fall action, the injured party “must prove (1) that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard; and (2) that the plaintiff lacked knowledge of the hazard despite the exercise of ordinary care ...

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