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Kling v. Menard, Inc.

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

April 2, 2015

RICHARD KLING, Plaintiff,
v.
MENARD, INC., a Wisconsin Corporation registered as a Foreign Corporation in the State of Illinois, d/b/a MENARDS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Menard Inc.'s ("Menards") Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 25]. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

This is a simple slip and fall case, and the following facts are undisputed except where noted. Plaintiff Richard Kling, Jr. ("Kling"), entered a Menards grocery store on January 25, 2013 in Fox Lake, Illinois. The store's parking lot was wet to some degree as a result of recent precipitation. Kling entered the store at a door by the check-out lanes, and as he attempted to pass through one such lane, he slipped and fell. As he was on the ground, Kling noticed a "saucer-sized" puddle of liquid, although he did not notice the liquid before the fall.

The central dispute in this case is the source of the liquid. Menards claims that the liquid came from the parking lot and that customers tracked the liquid into the store. Kling claims that the liquid came from a shoddy mop job by a Menards employee who was cleaning a recent spill. Kling originally sued Menards in Illinois state court for one count of negligence and one count of premises liability. Menards then removed the case to federal court and now moves for summary judgment.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). Material facts are those that affect the outcome of the lawsuit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The moving party may meet its burden by showing "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 moving party satisfies its initial burden, the non-moving party must demonstrate with evidence "that a triable issue of fact remains on issues for which [it] bears the burden of proof." Knight v. Wiseman, 590 F.3d 458, 463-64 (7th Cir. 2009).

The judge's role at summary judgment is not to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Washington v. Haupert, 481 F.3d 543, 550 (7th Cir. 2007). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court construes all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party - in this case Kling. See, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 491-92 (7th Cir. 2000).

III. ANALYSIS

Menards argues that it is entitled to summary judgment for two reasons. First, Menards claims that the natural accumulation doctrine bars Kling's claims. Second, Menards argues that, even if the natural accumulation doctrine does not apply, it cannot be liable because it lacked notice of any dangerous condition. The Court addresses both arguments in turn.

A. Natural Accumulation Doctrine

"[B]usinesses owe their invitees a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition to avoid injuring them." Zuppardi v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 770 F.3d 644, 649 (7th Cir. 2014). But in Illinois "it is well settled that... business operators are not liable for injuries resulting from the natural accumulation of ice, snow, or water that is tracked inside the premises from the outside." Reed v. Galaxy Holdings, Inc., 914 N.E.2d 632, 636 (Ill.App.Ct. 2009). Moreover, business owners have no duty to remove or warn of such natural accumulation of water. Id. Thus, if the cause of Kling's fall was the natural accumulation of water, Kling has no claim against Menards. Conversely, if the source of the puddle is something other than the natural accumulation of water, then the natural accumulation doctrine is inapplicable.

The parties agree on the law, but dispute its application to the facts in this case. Menards insists that there is no evidence that the puddle came from anywhere other than customers tracking water into the store. In support of this, Menards points to the undisputed wet condition of the parking lot and surveillance footage showing several customers walking over the area shortly before and after Kling's fall. Menards also relies on the deposition testimony of Kling, who stated that he did not remember seeing any broken container or display that could be the source of the puddle. Thus, according to Menards, the only possibly source of the puddle was the natural accumulation of water, which absolves Menards of all liability.

But this is not the only evidence of the puddle's source, and the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to Kling. According to Kling's deposition testimony, the Menards employee who filled out an incident report told Kling that "[t]here was some kind of spill" that someone had previously mopped up. (Kling Dep. 79:14-16, Sept. 24, 2014, Ex. C, ECF No. 25). Kling also testified to seeing signs of a recent mopping, stating that "you could tell maybe it was mopped." (Id. at 79:15-16.) As evidence of the recent mopping, Kling relied on his personal experience that "when you mop, you just see the swooshes... as it dries, " and after his fall, Kling noticed such "swooshes" around the area where he slipped. (Id. ...


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