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Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

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

April 20, 2017

WAL-MART STORES, INC., individually and d/b/a WALMART, and WALMART, individually, Defendants.



         Before the Court is Defendants' Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., individually, and doing business as Walmart, and Walmart, individually, (collectively, “Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1 against Plaintiff Larita Wilson (“Wilson”). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         Rule 56.1(a)(3) requires the “party moving for summary judgment to include with that motion ‘a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue and that entitle [it] to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Ammons v. Aramark Unif. Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting N.D.Ill. R. 56.1(a)(3)). Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) mandates that Wilson file a response to a statement of uncontested material facts. Wilson failed to oblige.

         There is a penalty imposed by Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) for such a failure: “[a]ll material facts set forth in [Defendants' statement of undisputed facts] will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party.” Of course, this does not “automatically result in judgment for the movant.” Keeton v. Morningstar, Inc., 667 F.3d 877, 884 (7th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). The Court accepts as admitted only those factual assertions in Defendants' Rule 56.1 statement that are presented in accordance with the Local Rule, and it construes those facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from them in the light most favorable to Wilson, disregarding any argument, conclusion, or assertion unsupported by the evidence in the record. See id.; Flint v. City of Belvidere, 791 F.3d 764, 767 (7th Cir. 2015).

         The following facts are taken from Defendants' Rule 56.1 statement of undisputed material facts and the record evidence. On May 11, 2015, around 4:30-4:45 p.m., Wilson entered a Wal-Mart store, located at 21410 South Cicero Avenue in Matteson, Illinois, through its lawn and garden department entrance. According to Wilson, while she “was looking down at the flowers, ” located on the floor of the aisle, her left shoulder made contact with a water valve handle that was attached to a pole. As a result, Wilson contends that she sustained injuries to her left shoulder. Prior to the incident, Wilson claims that she did not “see any part of the pole, ” nor did she notice the yellow and black caution sign that is displayed on the pole. Wilson alleges that Defendants negligently allowed the water valve handle to protrude into the aisle.

         The parties dispute the direction that the water valve handle faced at the time of the incident. Wilson claims that “[i]t was sticking straight out at an angle, ” and that following the incident, an “employee . . . banged it back in place.” Kristopher Young (“Young”), a Sales Associate at the store during the relevant time, testified that when he viewed the valve, about “less than an hour” before he investigated the incident, it “was fine, ” and “if it w[ere] out of place, it would have caught [his] eye.” Young stated that he did not know of anyone “ever having a problem negotiating their way past th[e] water valve or walking into it.” Young also indicated that he had never seen anyone touch or use the handle-“[n]o one uses that water valve, ” he stated.

         At her deposition, Wilson admitted that the lawn and garden department was “not really” busy when she arrived. Wilson stated that she did not have to maneuver around anything, nor did she “have to step over or avoid anything prior to the” incident. Wilson testified that she was in the department for “[m]aybe 10, 15 minutes” before the incident. Wilson claimed that she was walking and looking around at the pace of “a regular shopper.” Wilson stated that she was able to see where she was walking. In fact, Wilson admitted that had she “been looking straight ahead, ” “she would have seen the pole and the water valve.” Young also testified that nothing was blocking the view of the water valve on the date of the incident.

         Eric Jones (“Jones”), Manager of the store, Sharon Pasko (“Pasko”), Assistant Manager, and Michael Tisdale (“Tisdale”), Asset Protection Manager during the pertinent time, were also deposed. Jones and Pasko both testified that they were unaware of any injuries ever occurring in the lawn and garden department of the store prior to May 11, 2015. Tisdale attested that “[t]here's never been an issue brought to [his] knowledge, and from . . . speaking to associates that work in that area, there was never an issue with the watering hose prior to th[is] incident.”


         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that 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). A genuine issue of material fact arises where a reasonable jury could find, based on the evidence of record, in favor of the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “The movant bears the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists.” Genova v. Kellogg, 12 C 3105, 2015 WL 3930351, at *3 (N.D. Ill. June 25, 2015). “The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to show through specific evidence that a triable issue of fact remains on issues on which the movant bears the burden of proof at trial.” Id. The non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and support her contentions with documentary evidence of specific facts that demonstrate that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).


         Defendants contend that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the Complaint. First, Defendants claim that they did not have a duty to protect Wilson because “the water valve handle was an open and obvious condition.” Second, Defendants argue that Wilson's “negligence was more than 50% the proximate cause of the injury or damage for which she seeks recovery.” In response, Wilson first contends that the condition was not open and obvious. Second, Wilson argues that even if it were open and obvious, the distraction exception applies, imposing a duty of care on Defendants. Finally, Wilson urges that a jury should determine whether she was contributorily negligent. This Court finds that the water valve was an open and obvious condition. Nonetheless, we conclude that whether the distraction exception to the open and obvious condition applies, and to what extent, if any, Wilson was contributorily negligent are fact questions for the jury, as discussed below.

         I. Open and ...

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