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Piotrowski v. Menard Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 29, 2016

Hannah Piotrowski and James M. Piotrowski, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Menard, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued May 23, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 13 CV 05572 - Mary M. Rowland, Magistrate Judge.

          Before Bauer, Posner, and Williams, Circuit Judges.


         Hannah Piotrowski was injured after slipping on two small rocks in the parking lot of a Menard store. She filed this suit alleging that her injuries were due to Menard's negligence, contending that the rocks must have come from a planter that Menard maintained outside the store or from decorative rocks that the store sold in bags of at least forty pounds. We affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the store because Piotrowski's belief that she fell as a result of the store's negligence is only speculation, and speculation is not enough to survive summary judgment under Illinois law. That Piotrowski fell in the Menard's parking lot after slipping on two rocks is not enough to support an inference that Menard's negligence caused the fall. In addition, there is no evidence of a pattern of conduct or recurring incident, and the store's general manager and employees regularly monitored the parking lot for unsafe conditions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Hannah Piotrowski and her husband went shopping at a Menard home improvement store in Hodgkins, Illinois on April 14, 2012. While walking in the parking lot toward their vehicle, Piotrowski stepped on one or two small rocks that she had not seen before stepping on them and fell, very hard. Piotrowski described the rocks as oval in shape and larger than marbles.

         When she fell, Piotrowski was in the area outside the store entrance and exit used for vehicle drop-offs. About 50 to 125 feet away, there is a large, half-moon shaped concrete planter with a small tree and bush in the center. Decorative "river rock" fills the planter. The rock needed to be replenished from time to time, and the store's general manager said that rock was added to the planter "whenever it looks a little bare." The planter was near the store's exit, and the store's front end manager had seen children in the planter on occasion. Menard also sold decorative river rock in the garden center of its store in large bags weighing forty to fifty pounds.

         The store's general manager walked the store's premises, including the parking lot, on a daily basis. More specifically, he explained that he walks "every square foot of our store, our parking lot, my outside yard, and our perimeter" every day as part of his duties as general manager. Other employees also walked through the parking lot throughout the day and were responsible for reporting any hazards.

         Piotrowski went by ambulance to the hospital after her fall and was treated for fracture, torn ligaments, and dislocation of her right elbow. Her injuries required four additional hospitalizations and three more surgeries within the first year of the accident.

         Piotrowski and her husband filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois against Menard, Inc. alleging negligence and loss of consortium.[1] Menard removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. The judge granted Menard's motion for summary judgment, and this appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The question on appeal, as it was before the district court, is whether Piotrowski has set forth sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on whether Menard's negligence caused Piotrowski's fall. We review the grant of summary judgment to Menard de novo, viewing all evidence in the light most favorable to Piotrowski as the non-movant at summary judgment. Farrell v. Butler Univ., 421 F.3d 609, 612 (7th Cir. 2005). Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         Illinois law governs in this diversity case. A plaintiff like Piotrowski who alleges that the defendant was negligent must show a duty owed by the defendant, a breach of that duty, and injury that was proximately caused by the breach. Newsom-Bogan v. Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers of N.Y., Inc.,953 N.E.2d 427, 431 (111. App. Ct. 2011). In Illinois, a business like Menard owes customers a duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition to avoid injuries to those customers. Zujrpardi v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,770 F.3d 644, 649 (7th Cir. 2014). The parties agree that Menard owed ...

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