United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
DEBBIE J. BLANTON, Plaintiff,
HUNTINGTON MALL COMPANY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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 ¶
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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,  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 ...