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Hickey v. Target Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 1, 2014

JANET HICKEY, Plaintiff,
v.
TARGET CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

YOUNG B. KIM, Magistrate Judge.

Before the court is the motion of Defendant Target Corporation ("Target") for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons the motion is granted in part and denied in part:

Background

Janet Hickey filed a complaint in state court against Target in April 2012 alleging that Target's negligence caused her to slip and fall in one of its retail stores. (R. 1, Ex. A, Compl.) Target removed the case to federal court in May 2012 on the basis of diversity, (id.), and the parties then consented to this court's jurisdiction, (R. 16). Both sides have completed non-medical fact discovery, and Target filed the current motion for summary judgment on November 13, 2013. (R. 54.) Hickey filed her response on February 27, 2014, (R. 70), and Target filed its reply on March 13, 2014, (R. 76).

Facts[1]

On May 1, 2010, Hickey and her husband, William Hickey ("William"), went to the Target store located at 1154 South Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois ("the store"), to shop. (R. 55, Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 5-6.) When the Hickeys approached a checkout lane to pay for their purchases, Hickey entered the lane ahead of William and placed their items on the checkout counter. ( Id. ¶ 8.) While they were waiting in line, the cashier, Jaynell Richardson, informed the Hickeys that she could not process their purchases because she was experiencing problems with her register. (R. 71, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 11.) She motioned for the Hickeys to switch over to the adjacent checkout lane on their right. (R. 55, Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 8, 10 & Ex. C; R. 71, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 10.)

The Hickeys were still standing in their original checkout lane when Guadalupe Tovar, another Target employee, entered the lane from the end opposite from where the Hickeys entered. (R. 55, Def.'s Facts ¶ 13.) Although neither party knows exactly when or how it got there, (id., Ex. A at 33:3-12 & Ex. D at 25:4-6, 26:4-6), there was a puddle of spilled laundry detergent on the floor near the checkout lane "endcap, " which is a product stand located at the end of an aisle, (id. ¶¶ 15-16). This endcap displayed shelves of laundry detergent bottles between the Hickeys' lane and the neighboring lane Richardson directed them to enter. ( Id. ¶¶ 15, 21.) Tovar passed the Hickeys as she walked through the lane, (id., Ex. C), and upon reaching the endcap, stopped immediately to guard the spill by standing with her back to the spilled detergent and facing the sales floor. (R. 71, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 9; R. 55, Def.'s Facts ¶ 19.)

Meanwhile the Hickeys had begun moving out of their lane to get to the neighboring checkout aisle. (R. 55, Def.'s Facts ¶ 19.) William walked in front of Hickey to the area where Tovar was standing. ( Id. ¶ 21.) William took a wider left turn walking between the endcap and Tovar and did not step in the spill, but Hickey took a sharper turn around the endcap than William, slipped in the detergent, and fell. (R. 71, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 12.) Hickey testified that she felt pain in her right knee, left elbow, and right wrist immediately after the fall, (R. 55, Def.'s Facts, Ex. A at 48:17-49:4), and that she later experienced neck pain in the weeks following the accident, (id. at 50:20-51:18).

The store's security video system captured the fall, along with portions of time before and after it happened.[2] (R. 55, Def.'s Facts ¶ 9 & Ex. C.) According to the video, approximately 10 seconds elapsed between when Richardson asked the Hickeys to move to the next lane and when Hickey fell. ( Id., Ex. C.) Tovar also walked through the aisle and stopped at the spill site during the same 10-second period. (Id.)

The Hickeys testified that when they first entered the checkout lane, they did not see any spilled detergent or bottles on the floor. (R. 55, Def.'s Facts ¶ 25, Ex. A at 32:3-7 & Ex. B at 18:7-19:14.) Starla Nesbitt, another Target employee, testified that she saw a bottle of detergent on the floor with a broken cap when she arrived at the scene just after Hickey fell. (R. 72, Pl.'s Fact Resp., Ex. F at 43:14-16.) The spilled detergent was clear or very light in color, which made it difficult to see. (R. 71, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 15.) A photograph taken of the endcap after Hickey's fall shows that the bottom shelf was not equipped with a silver railing used to keep products on the shelf. (R. 71, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 32 & Ex. J.)

Target's policies and procedures require employees to guard a spill, stay with it once discovered, and warn customers of the spill. ( Id. ¶¶ 5, 25.) It is undisputed that Tovar did not warn Hickey in the time that elapsed between Tovar's arrival at the spill and when Hickey slipped and fell. ( Id. ¶ 31.) Tovar testified that she did not expect anyone to approach the spill from behind her from the checkout lane, but stated she knew that customers sometimes move from one checkout lane to another. (R. 71, Pl.'s Facts, Ex. D at 44:8-45:25.) The parties disagree about whether Tovar used her walkie-talkie to call for clean-up assistance upon reaching the spill. (R. 71 Pl.'s Facts ¶ 26; R. 55 Def.'s Facts ¶ 15.)

Analysis

Summary judgment is appropriate where "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). Target bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute of material fact. See Kramer v. Vill. of N. Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004). If Target meets this burden, Hickey "may not simply rest upon the pleadings but must instead submit evidentiary materials that set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.'" See Jones v. City of Elkhart, Ind., 737 F.3d 1107, 1112-13 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

In reviewing Target's motion for summary judgment, this court draws all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to Hickey, the nonmoving party. See Carmichael v. Village of Palatine, Ill., 605 F.3d 451, 456 (7th Cir. 2010). Summary judgment is not "a vehicle for resolving factual disputes." Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). This court "may not make credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or decide which inferences to draw from the facts; these are jobs for the factfinder." See Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). Rather, this court must examine ...


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