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Hudson v. Harris Teeter, LLC

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 12, 2018

HARRIS TEETER, LLC, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Antoinette Hudson sued defendant Harris Teeter, LLC, based on an incident in May 2015, when Hudson alleges that she slipped, fell, and sustained injuries as a result of applesauce left on the supermarket floor. (Compl. ¶¶ 6-7, 12, ECF No. 1-1.) Harris Teeter has filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts are legally insufficient to support Hudson's negligence claim. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 24 (“Mot.”).) Upon consideration of the pleadings and the record before it, the Court concludes that Hudson has failed to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists and thus grants defendant's motion for summary judgment.


         I. FACTS

         On May 26, 2015, plaintiff Antoinette Hudson and her work supervisor, Boyle Stuckey, went together to a Harris Teeter supermarket in northeast Washington, D.C., to buy lunch. (Pl.'s Opp. Mot. Summ. J. at 2, ECF No. 25 (“Opp.”); see Mot. ¶ 1.) Hudson and Stuckey were talking and walking from the dairy section to the front of the store when Hudson “slipped on applesauce that was on the floor, and attempting to brace herself struck her left shoulder and head on a display of mayonnaise jars before finally falling on her right hip.” (Opp. at 2 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 1, at 41-46, ECF No. 25-1); see Mot. ¶ 2.) No Harris Teeter representative was nearby, so Stuckey “left to get the manager, Charles Magaraci.” (Opp. at 2 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 2, at 18, ECF No. 25-2).) Hudson told Magaraci that “she had hurt her hip and felt dizzy.” (Id. at 3 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 1, at 49-50).) She then left the Harris Teeter with Stuckey and returned to work, but she soon left and “drove herself to an urgent care center for treatment.” (Id. (citing Pl.'s Ex. 1, at 54-56).)

         Neither Hudson nor Stuckey saw the applesauce before Hudson fell, nor do they know when or how the applesauce came to be on the floor. (Mot. ¶¶ 3-5; Opp. ¶¶ 3-6.) Hudson and Stuckey also do not know whether anyone from Harris Teeter knew the applesauce was on the floor. (Mot. ¶¶ 7-8; Opp. ¶¶ 7-8 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 1, at 50; Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 19).) Hudson adds that she and Stuckey testified in their depositions that they saw someone stocking wine near where she fell, that Hudson “remembers the unknown wine stocker as the person who cleaned up the mess, ” and that Stuckey “believed the Harris Teeter Manager [Magaraci] actually instructed the wine stocker to do so.” (Opp. ¶¶ 7-8 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 1, at 50-51; Pl.'s Ex. 2, at 19).)

         It is also undisputed that Harris Teeter uses a “‘Gleason System' for tracking store inspections, ” and that the Gleason Report for the day in question indicates that “checks were made every hour and that the area of the fall was marked ‘clear.'” (Opp. ¶ 10 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 5, ECF No. 25-5); Def.'s Reply Mot. Summ. J. at 2, ECF No. 26 (“Reply”).)


         Plaintiff filed her complaint in the Civil Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on January 23, 2017. (Compl. at 3.) Harris Teeter filed a notice of removal and an answer to the complaint on March 2, 2017. (ECF No. 1; Answer, ECF No. 2.) After discovery, on December 6, 2017, Harris Teeter moved for summary judgment. (Mot., ECF No. 24.)


         “[T]he plain language of [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who 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). Although “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986), a mere “scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Id. at 252. Stated in a context similar to the one at bar, “[w]hile it is true that plaintiff is entitled to every legitimate inference which may be deduced from the evidence, she is not entitled in the absence of any evidence as to how long the alleged defect existed, to have a jury speculate in her favor on this essential element.” Jones v. Dist. of Columbia, 123 A.2d 364, 366 (D.C. 1956).


         In its motion for summary judgment, Harris Teeter argues that Hudson has failed to present the evidence necessary to make out an essential element of her legal claim for negligence. (Mot. at 6-9.) Hudson argues in response that she has either presented the necessary evidence, or that defendant's evidence is unreliable. (Opp. at 5-7.) The Court finds that Hudson has not met her burden.

         “To succeed in a negligence action under District of Columbia law, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on three issues: the applicable standard of care, a deviation from that standard by the defendant, and a causal relationship between that deviation and the plaintiff's injury.” Martin v. Omni Hotels Mgmt. Corp., 206 F.Supp.3d 115, 121 (D.D.C. 2016). Where liability is “predicated upon the existence of a dangerous condition it is necessary to show that the party against whom negligence is claimed had actual notice of the dangerous condition or that the condition had existed for such length of time that, in the exercise of reasonable care, its existence should have become known and corrected.” Sullivan v. AboveNet Comm'ns, Inc., 112 A.3d 347, 356 (D.C. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Woodward & Lothrop, 244 A.2d 918, 918 (D.C. 1968) (per curiam)). “The negligence of a store proprietor in such a case is premised on an obligation of due care to protect customers from risks created by employees or risks created by other customers.” Safeway Stores, Inc. v. Morgan, 253 A.2d 452, 453 (D.C. 1969). If she cannot show actual notice, “it is incumbent upon the injured customer ...

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