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Allen v. Walmart, Inc.

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

January 16, 2020

DEBORAH ALLEN, Plaintiff,
v.
WALMART, INC., WAL-MART STORES, EAST, LP, WAL-MART REALTY COMPANY, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RICHARD W. STORY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 23]. The Court has reviewed the record, and for the reasons below, the Motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         In this slip-and-almost-fall case, Plaintiff Deborah Allen claims that Defendant Wal-Mart caused her injury when she slipped on a puddle of clear liquid at its store. Wal-Mart disagrees. It now moves for Summary Judgment, arguing that based on the evidence presented, it cannot be held liable as a matter of law.

         The facts-which for the reasons outlined in the discussion below are undisputed-show the following: Ms. Allen was shopping on the cereal aisle at her local Wal-Mart store when she slipped on something wet. She caught herself on the shopping cart she was holding and didn't fall. No store employees were around, so she called the store and had an employee come look at the spot. There was a small puddle of clear, odorless liquid. She was about halfway down the aisle, a distance she later estimated at 30-40 feet from the aisle entrance. The employee took pictures. The liquid-presumably water, though it cannot be said for sure- was invisible in the pictures.

         The cereal aisle cannot be seen from Wal-Mart's video, but the intersecting main aisle can. Ms. Allen entered the cereal aisle at around 6:46 P.M. Some twenty-three minutes before, at approximately 6:23 PM, an employee walked by the cereal aisle, conducting a visual inspection as she passed. She later stated that when she inspected the area, there were “no spills or liquids on the floor.” Had there been, she would have removed them, in accordance with the store's safety policies and procedures. Another employee had made a similar inspection eight minutes earlier, at approximately 6:15 PM, and he said the same thing.

         Discussion

         I. Summary Judgment 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). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the case under controlling substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of fact is genuine when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

         Ordinarily, in conducting its review at summary judgment, the court “consider[s] the record and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Blue v. Lopez, 901 F.3d 1352, 1357 (11th Cir. 2018). The court may grant summary judgment only when, after viewing all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the court determines that no genuine dispute of material fact exists such the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 1360. Summary judgment is improper, however, “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Guevara v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 920 F.3d 710, 720 (11th Cir. 2019).

         II. Local Rule 56.1(B)(2)

         The pertinent requirement of Local Rule 56.1 is that the respondent to a summary judgment motion must file a response to the movant's statement of undisputed facts which sets forth, as to each numbered undisputed fact that the respondent is contesting, “specific citations to evidence (including page or paragraph number)” that support the respondent's version of the facts. LR 56.1(B)(2)(a)(2). In the absence of such specific citations to evidence, the court “will deem each of the movant's facts as admitted.” Id.; see also Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1267 (11th Cir. 2008). Thus, “the proper course in applying Local Rule 56.1 at the summary judgment stage is for a district court to disregard or ignore evidence relied on by the respondent-but not cited in its response to the movant's statement of undisputed facts-that yields facts contrary to those listed in the movant's statement.” Reese, 527 F.3d at 1268.

         The Rule is not a mere formality. Rather, it is considered “both a sanction for the parties and a balm for the district court: the parties are given an incentive to conform to the rule (provided they wish to have their version of the facts considered), and the district court is in any case relieved of the obligation to ferret through the record.” Id. It is, indeed, “the only permissible way for [a party] to establish a genuine issue of material fact at that stage.” Id.

         Here, as Wal-Mart correctly notes in its Reply, Ms. Allen failed to cite to any evidence in her Response to the Statement of Material Facts [Dkt. 30]. Instead, she merely replied with a one-word “Admitted” or “Denied.” Therefore, per the terms of Local Rule ...


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