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Mills v. Costco Wholesale Corp.

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

July 29, 2019

FRANCES KAY MILLS, Plaintiff,
v.
COSTCO WHOLESALE CORP., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT M. DOW, JR., JUDGE

         Plaintiff Frances Kay Mills brings this negligence action against Costco Wholesale Corp. alleging that the negligence of the company's employees at its Niles, Illinois store led her to suffer injuries when she slipped and fell in a large puddle of water outside the women's restroom. Currently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment [23]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's motion [23]. The Court sets the case for further status on August 20, 2019 at 9:00 a.m.

         I. Background

         The Court takes the relevant facts from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements of undisputed material facts and supporting exhibits: [24], [27]. The Court construes the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party-here, Plaintiff. The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. “When we cite as undisputed a statement of fact that a party has attempted to dispute, it reflects our determination that the evidence cited in the response does not show that the fact is in genuine dispute.” King v. Chapman, 2013 WL 6709623, at *3 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 16, 2013).

         On February 20, 2016, Plaintiff visited Defendant's store in Niles, Illinois around 10:00 a.m. [24, ¶¶ 2, 9-10.] As soon as she entered the store, Plaintiff made her way to the main restrooms in the store. [Id. ¶ 11.] These restrooms are located in the front of the store, past the registers, and consist of a men's and women's room next door to one another that share a vestibule. [Id. ¶¶ 12-13, 15.] Anyone who wishes to access the restrooms must walk down a hallway, past an employee break room and employee lockers, to the vestibule. [Id. ¶ 15.] From the vestibule, one turns right to enter the men's restroom or left to enter the women's restroom. [Id.] Plaintiff's accident occurred in this vestibule. [Id. ¶ 17.]

         As Plaintiff entered and began crossing the vestibule towards the women's restroom, she slipped and fell on what she described as a “huge” puddle of water approximately three feet from the restroom. [Id. ¶ 19.] Although the parties dispute whether the puddle took up the entire length and width of the vestibule, there is no dispute that during her deposition Plaintiff drew a circle to show that the puddle encompassed a significant portion, if not the majority, of the vestibule. [26, ¶ 21; 24-5, at 41.] Plaintiff does not know where the water came from or how long it had been on the floor of the vestibule when she fell. [24, ¶¶ 22-23.]

         After Plaintiff's fall, Monique Thomas helped transport Plaintiff to the warehouse office. [Id. ¶ 24.] Thomas testified that immediately after taking Plaintiff to the office, she returned to the vestibule and took photographs of the space at the direction of Stephanie Reynolds, the Defendant's front-end manager. [Id. ¶ 25.] Thomas took four photographs of the vestibule within minutes of the accident and forwarded them to Reynolds. [Id. ¶ 26.] Defendant asserts that these images fairly and accurately represent the vestibule of the restrooms located in the Niles Costco the morning of February 20, 2016. [Id. ¶ 27.] Plaintiff strongly denies this. While admitting that the photographs do accurately depict the layout of the restrooms, she denies that the photographs accurately depict the condition of the floor, the lighting of the vestibule, or the location of a wet floor sign. [26, ¶¶ 27-29.]

         Relying on the photographs, Defendants assert (1) that the lighting in the vestibule was bright immediately following the accident and (2) that a yellow caution sign depicting someone slipping was in the middle of the vestibule between the men's and women's restrooms and would have been clearly visible to anyone walking into the restroom vestibule. [24, ¶¶ 32-33.] Defendants further assert that the caution sign was there at all times and is never moved when the store is open. [Id. ¶ 34.]

         By contrast, Plaintiff points to her own testimony that (1) the vestibule was dark and dimly lit when she entered the space such that she could not see the puddle until after she fell and (2) that she did not see the caution sign until after she fell because it was located more closely to the men's restroom and was therefore blocked from view by a wall as she approached the restroom from that direction. [26, ¶¶ 28, 32-34 (citing 27-1, at 10).]

         After her fall, Plaintiff was transported by ambulance to Lutheran General Hospital. [24, ¶ 38.] While Plaintiff was in the Emergency Room, she received treatment from one of the emergency room nurses, Deborah Walsh-Monforti. [Id. ¶ 39.] Walsh-Monforti testified that whenever a patient comes into the emergency room, she takes a history from the patient that is as close to verbatim as possible. [Id. ¶ 40.] Defendant asserts that during the course of her treatment by Walsh-Monforti, Plaintiff admitted that she saw the wet floor sign, saw the water, thought the floor was not as wet was it was, and proceeded to encounter the hazard despite the warning. [24, ¶¶ 41-44.] Plaintiff strenuously disagrees, pointing to her own testimony regarding the incident, asserting that she said nothing of the sort to the nurse, and noting that the Walsh-Monforti testified that she generally puts any verbatim quotes from the patient in quotes when she prepares a medical record, and that this statement was not in quotes. [26, ¶¶ 41-44 (citing 27-1, at 6, 15, 25-28; 27-2, at 8).]

         On November 13, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant negligence action in the Circuit Court of Cook County. [1-1.] After initial discovery demonstrated the case's removability, Defendant removed the case to this Court on January 16, 2018. See generally [1]. The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because the parties are residents of different states, [26, ¶¶ 1, 3], and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, [id. ¶ 8]. Finally, venue is proper in this District because the alleged events giving rise to Plaintiff's claims occurred within the Northern District of Illinois. [Id. ¶ 7.]

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper where “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.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 makes clear that whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Id. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor (here, Plaintiff). Majors v. Gen. Elec. Co., 714 F.3d 527, 532 (7th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). But Plaintiff “is only entitled to the benefit of inferences supported by admissible evidence, not those ‘supported by only speculation or conjecture.'” Grant v. Trs. of Ind. Univ., 870 F.3d 562, 568 (7th Cir. 2017) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Rule 56(a) “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against any party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party would bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In other words, the moving party may meet its burden by pointing out to the court that “there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 324.

         It is not the role of the Court to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment; instead, the nonmoving party bears the responsibility of identifying evidence to defeat summary judgment. Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2008). To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). For this reason, the Seventh Circuit has called summary judgment the “put up or shut up” moment in a lawsuit-“when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events.” See Steen v. Myers, 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007). In other words, the party opposing summary judgment “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. ...


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