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Gearhart v. Belk, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Gainesville Division

November 15, 2019

KAY GEARHART, Plaintiff,
v.
BELK, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          RICHARD W. STORY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the Court on Defendant Belk, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment [19]. The Court has reviewed the record, and, for the reasons below, Belk's Motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         In this slip-and-fall case, Gearhart claims that the slick tile floor in the Belk department store at her local mall was a hazard that caused her to fall and injure herself. Though Gearhart herself could not remember what caused her fall, and no one saw any unusual substance on the floor, her husband, who arrived a few minutes later, ran his hand along the floor and found it to be slick.

         Before she fell, Gearhart had not seen any employees in the area. Previously, Gearhart had visited the Belk store dozens, if not hundreds of times, all without incident. Belk hired an expert who tested the floor at a later date and determined that it surpassed appropriate standards for slickness.

         Discussion

         I. Legal Standard

         The standard for summary judgment is well-established. Summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is improper, however, “if 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); Guevara v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 920 F.3d 710, 720 (11th Cir. 2019).

         The moving party need not positively disprove the opponent's case; rather, the moving party must establish the lack of evidentiary support for the non-moving party's position. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the moving party meets this initial burden, in order to survive summary judgment, the non-moving party must then present competent evidence beyond the pleadings to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324-26.

         II. Analysis

         Under Georgia law, [1] a slip-and-fall plaintiff must establish more than a fall on a slick surface to survive summary judgment. Glynn-Brunswick Mem'l Hosp. Auth. v. Benton, 693 S.E.2d 566, 568-69 (Ga.Ct.App. 2010). In Glynn-Brunswick Mem'l Hosp., the Georgia Court of Appeals faced facts very similar to these: a plaintiff fell on a tile floor; she felt the floor after falling and determined it was slick; but she could not identify any water or foreign substance on the floor. Id. at 567-68. The court explained, under the relevant legal principles, why the plaintiff failed to establish her case:

Although an owner or occupier of land has a statutory duty to keep its approaches and premises in a reasonably safe condition for invitees . . . an owner or occupier of land is not an insurer of the safety of its invitees. Thus, the threshold point of inquiry in a slip and fall case is the existence of a hazardous condition on the premises. Proof of a fall, without more, does not create liability on the part of a proprietor or landowner, because it is common knowledge that people fall on the best of sidewalks and floors. Where the plaintiff cannot show the existence of a hazardous condition, she cannot prove the cause of her injuries and there can be no recovery because an essential element of negligence cannot be proven.
To create a question of fact as to the existence of a hazardous condition, a plaintiff cannot rely upon speculation and she must prove more than the existence of a slick or wet floor. Guesses or speculation which raise merely a conjecture or possibility of a hazardous condition are not sufficient to create even an inference of fact for consideration on summary judgment. Rather, the plaintiff must produce evidence of ...

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