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Martin v. Belk Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston

August 1, 2019

DARLENE C. MARTIN and JAMES MARTIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
BELK INC. and DOE 1, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN T. COPENHAVER, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending is the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Belk Inc. (“Belk”) on May 17, 2019.

         I. Background

         On or about May 23, 2016, plaintiff Darlene C. Martin, a resident of West Virginia, was trying on shoes at the Wood County, West Virginia location of defendant Belk, a corporation with its principal place of business in North Carolina. Compl., ECF No. 2-2, ¶¶ 1-3, 10, 12. A Belk employee, who is named as Doe 1 in the complaint and is later identified as Ms. Carmen Eddy, was helping Ms. Martin try on shoes on the date in question. Id. ¶ 12, Pls.' Resp., ECF No. 22, at 3.[1]

         Upon trying on a pair of high-heeled shoes, Ms. Martin asked Ms. Eddy about the location of a mirror she might use, and Ms. Eddy directed her to a mirror in front of the cash register some distance away from where she was standing. See Martin Dep., ECF No. 20-1, at p. 20; Eddy Dep., ECF No. 22-1, at p. 13. As she was looking for the mirror to which Ms. Eddy directed her, Ms. Martin fell to the ground. Martin Dep., ECF No. 20-1, at p. 20-21; see Video of Fall, ECF No. 20-2 (showing the video of Ms. Martin falling to the floor). Ms. Martin asserts that “there was a mirror behind the chair where I sat down” and that she, and “apparently, ” Ms. Eddy, did not know about it. Martin Dep., ECF No. 20-1, at p. 41.

         Ms. Eddy acknowledged that there were three portable mirrors in the store but that she did not know where each of them was located, and that she had no reason to dispute Ms. Martin's statement that she saw a mirror behind where she was originally seated. Eddy Dep., ECF No. 22-1, at p. 12, 36. Ms. Eddy also admitted that she could not recall whether she offered to assist Ms. Martin try on shoes on the date in question but that it was part of Belk's policy to assist customers in trying on shoes and to make portable mirrors available to them. Id. at 33-34.

         When Ms. Martin began to walk, she was looking for the mirror and not at the floor, and she stated that she did not see anything on the floor that was a hazard or tripping danger. Martin Dep., ECF. No. 20-1, p. 37, 40. After she fell, she noticed, for the first time, that there were wrinkles in the carpet, although she could not recall how deep the wrinkles were or how many there were. Id. at 38. Ms. Martin also acknowledged that there was nothing covering the wrinkles or hiding them from view. Id. Ms. Martin believes that the “shoe, possibly the heel, caught on the wrinkle, ” causing her to fall. Id. at 40.

         Plaintiffs contend in their complaint that Ms. Eddy should have known there was a nearby mirror that Ms. Martin could have used which would have prevented her from having to walk over the wrinkled carpet, but Ms. Eddy directed Ms. Martin to walk to a more distant mirror “across” the carpet that she “knew or should have known . . . contained an unknown and unseen dangerous condition.” Compl., ECF No. 2-2, ¶¶ 16-17. Plaintiffs allege that “Defendants knew or should have known of the hazard that created a dangerous condition for Mrs. Martin and neglected to give adequate notice of its presence.” Id. ¶ 22. The complaint further states that “Belk was . . . negligent, careless and/or reckless in hiring, failing to properly supervise and failing to adequately monitor the activities of Doe 1, and was further negligent, careless and/or reckless in failing to have and/or enforce adequate policies, procedures and guidelines to prevent the above-described negligent activities.” Id. ¶ 24. Belk is also alleged to be vicariously liable for the acts of Doe 1 as her employer. Id. ¶ 9.

         Plaintiffs seek compensatory and future damages for the harms caused to Ms. Martin. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. They further seek damages for James Martin, Ms. Martin's husband, who suffered the loss of care, companionship and service of his wife and “will continue to suffer the loss of care, companionship and services of his wife.” Id. ¶¶ 30-31. Plaintiffs also request punitive damages. Id. at 5-6.

         Plaintiffs initiated this action in the Circuit Court of Wood County, West Virginia on May 17, 2018. Belk removed the matter to this court on June 22, 2018 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. After conducting discovery, Belk filed its motion for summary judgment, to which the plaintiffs have responded, and Belk has filed its reply.

         Belk contends that it is entitled to summary judgment on plaintiffs' negligence claim inasmuch as Ms. Martin “cannot identify the cause of her fall and link it to an act or omission of Defendant.” Belk's Mem. Supp. Mot. Summary J. (“Belk's Mem.”), ECF No. 20, at 1. Belk further asserts that “the only condition identified by Plaintiff as potentially causing her fall, wrinkling in the carpet, was an open and obvious condition.” Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         A party is entitled to summary judgment “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Material facts are those necessary to establish the elements of a party's cause of action. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         A genuine issue of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. The moving party has the burden of showing -- “that is, pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific facts as would be admissible in evidence that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of fact for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Id. at 322-23. A party is entitled ...


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