Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Blanton v. Huntington Mall Co.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

October 13, 2017

DEBBIE J. BLANTON, Plaintiff,
v.
HUNTINGTON MALL COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 54). As set forth below, the Court finds that summary judgment is appropriate with regard to the claim for punitive damages, but summary judgment is not appropriate with regard to Plaintiff's claim for negligence based upon a theory of premises liability. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS, IN PART, Defendant's motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, Debbie J. Blanton, on an afternoon trip to the Huntington Mall (“Mall”), slipped and fell on a small pool of water. Def.'s Mem. of Law in Support of its Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 55, at 1-2; Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 56, at 1; Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 9-11. As a result of the fall, Plaintiff suffered a fractured foot and an injured knee, among other injuries. Compl. at ¶ 13. Plaintiff filed a complaint based upon these facts, claiming that Defendant breached a duty of care it owed to her, which was the direct and proximate cause of her injuries. Id. at ¶ 14-19.

         After the parties conducted discovery, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 54) and an accompanying Memorandum in Support of the Motion (ECF No. 55) on August 21, 2017. The Plaintiff responded on September 5, 2017; and Defendant filed no reply.

         Defendant claims that summary judgment is appropriate with regard to both Plaintiff's negligence claim and Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. Concerning the negligence claim, Defendant contends that it did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous, clear pool of water. Further, Defendant claims that there is no dispute about that material fact. To support this contention, Defendant cites to the hearsay statement of an unidentified maintenance worker who spoke with Plaintiff after she fell. Def.'s Mem. of Law in Support of its Mot. for Summ. J., at 5-6. Plaintiff, during her deposition, claimed that after she had fallen and while she was still on the ground, a maintenance worker approached her saying that she “was just [at the site of the fall] a few minutes ago and [there was not anything there].” Ex A., Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 54-1, at 5. Defendant claims that this statement establishes the lack of its actual or constructive knowledge, and that Plaintiff has not produced evidence to show otherwise. Def.'s Mem. of Law in Support of its Mot. for Summ. J., at 2-3. Further, Defendant argues that where it lacked knowledge of any type, summary judgment is appropriate in its favor as a matter of law.

         Plaintiff disputes Defendant's assertions, and argues that evidence exists that demonstrates that Defendant had, at minimum, constructive knowledge. Pl.'s Resp., 8-9. In support of her argument, Plaintiff cites to both the depositions of two of Defendant's employees and Defendant's answers to interrogatories. Plaintiff claims that based upon the factual information contained within those documents, there is a factual dispute as to how long the water hazard existed and “whether Defendant employed proper procedures to identify and correct the hazard.” Id. at 8. From these facts, she argues that a jury could determine that Defendant breached a duty of care that it owed to Plaintiff. Id. at 8-9. As such, she contends the motion for summary judgment on that claim should be denied. Id.

         Defendant also argues that summary judgment in its favor is appropriate regarding Plaintiff's punitive damages claim. Defendant submits that no facts exists that would allow for the finding necessary for the assessment of punitive damages. Def.'s Mem. of Law in Support of its Mot. for Summ. J., at 10-11. In response to this argument, Plaintiff contends that it is premature to foreclose the availability of punitive damages. Plaintiff relies upon an answer given by Defendant's 30(b)(6) representative during his deposition, in response to a hypothetical question. Pl.'s Resp., at 9-10.

         Based upon the parties' submissions, it is clear to the Court that disputed material facts remain regarding the negligence claim but not regarding the punitive damages claim.

         II. Legal Standard

         To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must show that no genuine issue as to any material fact remains and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter[.]” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Instead, the Court will draw any permissible inference from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). Any inference, however, “must fall within the range of reasonable probability and not be so tenuous as to amount to speculation or conjecture.” JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         Although the Court will view all underlying facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party nonetheless must offer some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his [or her] favor[.]” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmoving party has the burden of proof on an essential element of his or her case and does not make, after adequate time for discovery, a showing sufficient to establish that element. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The nonmoving party must satisfy this burden of proof by offering more than a mere “scintilla of evidence” in support of his or her position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. “Mere speculation by the non-movant cannot create a genuine issue of material fact” to avoid summary judgment. JKC Holding, 264 F.3d at 465.

         III. Discussion

         Beginning with the first claim on which Defendant requests summary judgment, the Court does not believe that Plaintiff's negligence claim fails as a matter of law. In order to establish a prima facie negligence claim under West Virginia law, [1] a “plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that [(1)] the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff and [(2)] that by breaching that duty [(3)] the defendant proximately [(4) and actually] caused the injuries to the plaintiff.” Neely v. Belk Inc., 668 S.E.2d 189, 197 ( W.Va. 2008) (quoting Strahin v. Cleavenger, 603 S.E.2d 197, 205 ( W.Va. 2004) (internal citations omitted)). The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has provided that when a negligence claim proceeds upon a premises liability theory of ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.