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Nichols v. 1St Stop

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

February 21, 2019

SANDRA K. NICHOLS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
1st STOP, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. [DE 34.] For reasons enumerated below, the Court GRANTS the Defendants' motion in full. The Plaintiffs' claims are dismissed accordingly.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Sandra K. Nichols seeks compensatory damages for injuries sustained during a slip and fall which occurred on November 3, 2015, at the 1st Stop Gas Station in Cynthiana, Kentucky (“1st Stop”). [DE 12, at 4.] Though she did not attach any medical records to her original or amended complaint, Nichols alleges that she was permanently injured in the fall and is no longer able to work. [DE 36, at 1.] Nichols's husband Dana, also a Plaintiff in this action, seeks derivative damages for loss of consortium. [DE 12, at 10.]

         On the day of the accident, Sandra Nichols went into the 1st Stop to get a cup of ice while her husband and others waited outside in a car. [34-2, at 6.] While Nichols was waiting in the checkout line, a young boy pushed against the door as he tried to exit the store. When he pushed, his feet slid backward and wrinkled one of the two commercial floormats located just inside the entrance/exit of the 1 Stop. [DE 36, at 1.]

         Shortly after the boy wrinkled the floormat, Nichols realized she did not have enough money to pay for her ice, so she traversed the wrinkled mat on her way outside to get some change from the car. [DE 34-2, at 5.] Security camera footage shows Nichols walking across the wrinkled floormat and leaving the store without incident. [DE 34-4.] It also shows (while Nichols was outside) another customer entering the store and walking on the mat without incident. [DE 34-4.]

         About thirty-three seconds after the floormat wrinkle appeared and after she had already walked over it on her way out of the 1st Stop, Nichols tripped over the wrinkle in the mat on her way back inside. [DE 34-4.]. After she fell, store clerks tended to Nichols, who remained in the floor until paramedics arrived and took her out on a stretcher. During this time, the video shows several patrons walking on the wrinkled mat without any problem. [DE 36-1.]

         The offending floormat was one of two just inside the doorway of the 1st Stop. These mats were provided by the Cintas Corporation, an Ohio company that provides an array of services to businesses nationwide. [DE 12, at 4.] Cintas replaced the 1st Stop floormats with fresh, clean ones every Monday and had replaced them the day before Nichols's fall.

         Plaintiffs Sandra and Dana Nichols filed their negligence action in Harrison Circuit Court on October 14, 2016. The original complaint listed multiple defendants, including 1stStop, its related corporate affiliates, and the owners of these entities, Robert and Linda Cantrell. [DE 1-1.] On December 28, 2016, the defendants removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. Although Plaintiffs were later permitted to add Cintas Corporation as a defendant, they voluntarily dismissed all claims against Cintas, leaving only Robert and Lisa Cantrell, 1st Stop, Inc., and C-Stores Realty, Inc. as Defendants in this action.

         ANALYSIS

         Defendants seek summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. [DE 34.] In support of their motion, the Defendants offer four arguments. First, they maintain that the floormats were not inherently dangerous. They point to the lack of any complaints or accidents involving these common commercial grade floormats which were maintained and replaced weekly by Cintas. [DE 388, at 3-4.] Second, Defendants assert that even when wrinkled, the offending floormat did not create an unreasonably dangerous condition because patrons, including Nichols, were able to walk over it without tripping. [DE 34-1, at 14-15.] Third, Defendants assert that even if the wrinkled mat created a dangerous condition, there was not enough time between the creation of the condition and Nichols's fall for the 1st Stop store clerks to repair or warn of it. [DE 38, at 7.] Fourth, Defendants claim that the Court should excuse them of any liability because the wrinkled mat constituted an open and obvious condition. [DE 34-1, at 9.]

         A.

         To grant a motion for summary judgment, the Court must first find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The party moving under Rule 56 harbors the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citation omitted). The movant may meet this burden by demonstrating the absence of evidence supporting one or more essential elements of the non-movant's claim. Id. at 322-25. Once the movant meets this initial burden, the opposing party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         Once the burden of production has shifted, the party opposing summary judgment cannot rest on its pleadings or merely reassert its previous allegations. It is not sufficient “simply [to] show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rule 56(e) “requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings” and present some type of evidentiary material in support of its position. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. Summary judgment must be entered ÔÇťagainst a party who fails to make a showing ...


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