Waldon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 112619 FED7, 19-1529

Docket Nº:19-1529
Opinion Judge:Brennan, Circuit Judge
Party Name:Linda Waldon and Steve Waldon, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Store Number, Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before Ripple, Rovner, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:November 26, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Linda Waldon and Steve Waldon, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Store Number, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 19-1529

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 26, 2019

Argued September 25, 2019

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. l:17-cv-03673-JRS-MPB - James R. Sweeney, II, Judge.

Before Ripple, Rovner, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.

Brennan, Circuit Judge

While shopping at a Wal-Mart store, Linda Waldon believes she slipped on a plastic hanger and fell causing her injuries. Under Indiana premises-liability law, a defendant must have actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the premises that involves an unreasonable risk of harm to an invitee. After discovery, the district court concluded there was no evidence Wal-Mart knew of such a condition and granted it summary judgment. We review this decision, and we consider whether photographs the Waldons rely on to show store conditions have been intentionally altered, requiring sanctions against the Waldons' counsel.

I.

On New Year's Day 2017, Linda Waldon was shopping at the Crawfordsville, Indiana Wal-Mart store. She claims plastic hangers had fallen on the floor beneath and around a rack of clothes she was examining. She says she stepped on a hanger, her foot slid, and she fell backward onto the floor. As a result, she suffered back, neck, and head injuries requiring medical care. Her husband Steve alleges his wife's injuries caused him to suffer the loss of consortium and companionship. The Waldons brought this action against Wal-Mart in Indiana state court, alleging Wal-Mart failed to provide a safe environment for its shoppers and is liable for their injuries. Wal-Mart timely removed this case to federal court.1

During discovery, Wal-Mart employees submitted affidavits declaring that no Wal-Mart employee was notified of any potential hazards on the floor, including hangers, where Linda Waldon fell. Wal-Mart instructs its employees to "zone" their work areas-to walk through their departments, visually inspect the floor, and pick up and return items to their proper places-before and after breaks and during their shifts. One employee averred she visually inspected the clothing racks where Linda Waldon was shopping approximately five to ten minutes before her fall. That employee did not see any hangers, debris, or other potential slip or trip hazards on the floor.

In Linda Waldon's deposition she conceded she had no evidence or personal knowledge of: • how long a hanger was on the floor before she fell;

• the last time an employee inspected the department and clothing racks before she fell; or

• that Wal-Mart knew a hanger was on the floor before she fell.

Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment relying on its employees' affidavits and Linda Waldon's deposition responses (among other evidence). The district court found that Wal-Mart presented evidence it had no actual knowledge of the purportedly dangerous conditions. Contending the Wal-Mart employees lied, the Waldons submitted two photographs allegedly depicting "substantial debris" where Linda Waldon fell. But the district court disregarded the photos because the Waldons failed to show that the conditions in the photos were the same or similar to those on January 1, 2017. Of the two photos the Waldons relied on at the summary judgment stage, one was undated, and the second bore two date stamps of January 12, 2017, eleven days after the fall.2

The district court also found that the Waldons had offered no evidence Wal-Mart had constructive knowledge of a hazardous condition where Linda Waldon fell. The photographs could not support that inference. And the employee's statement that shortly before the fall she "did not observe any hangers, debris or other potential slip or trip hazards on the floor" precluded a reasonable jury from finding that Wal-Mart constructively knew a hanger had fallen on the floor.

For these reasons, the district court concluded that Linda Waldon's premises-liability claim failed as a matter of law, and it entered summary judgment for Wal-Mart.3 The Waldons chose to appeal, did so timely, and this court has jurisdiction in this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

II.

We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, construing all facts and drawing all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Austin v. Walgreen Co., 885 F.3d 1085, 1087 (7th Cir. 2018). A court is to enter summary judgment "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). The Supreme Court instructs that Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary judgment... 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).

Because this case is before us under diversity jurisdiction, state substantive law applies, Austin, 885 F.3d at 1088, here Indiana law.

A.

Linda Waldon's...

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