Connors v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Civil Action No. 17-9390(FLW)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Writing for the CourtWOLFSON, Chief Judge
PartiesRICHARD CONNORS, Plaintiffs, v. WAL-MART STORES INC. (d/b/a WALMART), WAL-MART STORE NUMBER 6369; SAM'S WEST, INC. (d/b/a SAM'S CLUB); and JOHN DOES 1-5, and ABC CORP 1-5 (names of persons and/or entities presently unknown who are responsible for the ownership and/or leasing, operation, control, supervision, management, maintenance, repair, inspection, and/or construction of the premises where Plaintiff fell), Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 17-9390(FLW)
Decision Date03 June 2020

RICHARD CONNORS, Plaintiffs,
v.
WAL-MART STORES INC. (d/b/a WALMART),
WAL-MART STORE NUMBER 6369; SAM'S WEST, INC. (d/b/a SAM'S CLUB);
and JOHN DOES 1-5, and ABC CORP 1-5 (names of persons and/or
entities presently unknown who are responsible for the ownership and/or leasing,
operation, control, supervision, management, maintenance, repair, inspection,
and/or construction of the premises where Plaintiff fell), Defendants.

Civil Action No. 17-9390(FLW)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY

June 3, 2020


*NOT FOR PUBLICATION*

OPINION

WOLFSON, Chief Judge:

In this case, Plaintiff Richard Connors ("Plaintiff") sues Sam's East, Inc. ("Defendant") for injuries arising from Defendant's alleged negligence. Specifically, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Plaintiff sustained injuries to his knees and rotator cuff as a result of Defendant's negligence in maintaining its premises at a Sam's Club. In the instant motion, Defendant moves for summary judgment on the issues of breach of duty and comparative negligence. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of breach of duty, and Plaintiff's claim is dismissed.

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I. FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The following facts are drawn from Defendant's Stipulation of Undisputed Material Facts ("SUMF").1 On April 15, 2017, a clear, sunny, and dry day, Plaintiff visited Defendant's Sam's Club store located in Edison, New Jersey. SUMF ¶¶ 5, 10. Outside the store entrance was a metal advertisement sign measuring approximately three feet tall and two feet wide, with black legs at its base differing in color from the concrete floor underneath. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 22. The sign was positioned next to a flower display and approximately three feet to the right of the entrance door marked "Welcome." Id. at ¶ 9. The sign did not block any portion of the entranceway.2 Id. at ¶ 16. According to Sam's Club Merchandise Manager, Peiping Mao, the sign was neither broken nor damaged. Id. at ¶ 20. Additionally, in the eight years working at the Edison, New Jersey Sam's Club, he was unaware of any other person other than the Plaintiff ever falling over this sign or any other such sign. Id. at ¶ 28. Plaintiff claims this sign as the source of his injuries after tripping and falling over it. Id. at ¶ 5.

The morning of the accident, Plaintiff parked his car and approached the Sam's Club store in a straight line from the left side of the parking lot towards the main entrance of the store

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marked "Welcome." Id. at ¶¶ 10-11, 15. After arriving at the entrance door, Plaintiff paused for a second for the door to open. Id. at ¶ 17. When it failed to open, he realized it was closed and inoperative. Id. at ¶¶ 6, 11, 17. Plaintiff subsequently looked to his right, at which time he saw the exit door and the flower display. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18. He proceeded walking towards the entranceway on the right side of the building and the automatic door marked "Exit." Id. at ¶ 17. As he walked past the main entrance door, at approximately 8:00 am that morning, Plaintiff tripped and fell over the advertisement sign's leg. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6, 10-11, 17. Plaintiff acknowledged not seeing the sign and that the sign was not defective. Id. at ¶¶ 18, 21. Rather, his complaint was over what he believed to be the sign's misplacement. Id. at ¶ 21.

Plaintiff admitted visiting this particular Edison, New Jersey, Sam's Club on several prior occasions, and using the same entrance he attempted to use on the date of the accident. Id. at ¶ 22. While aware that Sam's Club uses advertisement signs like the one involved in his accident, Plaintiff testified he does not look at them. Id. at ¶ 24.

Sam's Club has green bollards in front of the store entrance. Id. at ¶ 25. Store personnel places nothing in front of the bollards (the space between bollards and the parking lot), thereby ensuring a clear pathway for pedestrian travel. Id. While they place advertisement signs behind the bollards in front of the middle bay door, because this door is covered and is not used as a customer entranceway, they never place advertisement signs in front of the "Welcome" or "Exit" doors. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a

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matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is genuine only if there is "a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party," and it is material only if it has the ability to "affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence 'is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, (1986); Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002).

The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing the basis for its motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). "If the moving party will bear the burden of persuasion at trial, that party must support its motion with credible evidence . . . that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial." Id. at 331. On the other hand, if the burden of persuasion at trial would be on the nonmoving party, the party moving for summary judgment may satisfy Rule 56's burden of production by either (1) "submit[ting] affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim" or (2) demonstrating "that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Id. Once the movant adequately supports its motion pursuant to Rule 56(c), the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions,

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answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324; see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586; Ridgewood Bd. of Ed. v. Stokley, 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999). In deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for...

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