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Clark v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 27, 2018

CANDA CLARK, Plaintiff,

          Chelsey M. Vascura Magistrate Judge.



         While shopping at Wal-Mart, a box containing a cast iron griddle fell on Plaintiff Canda Clark's foot and broke three of her toes. She brought a negligence claim under Ohio law that was later removed to this Court. Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has now moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that Motion (ECF No. 24) is DENIED.


         On May 2, 2014, Plaintiff Canda Clark and her boyfriend, Michael Church, went to Wal-Mart to buy two basketball hoop sets. (Clark Dep. at 17-20, ECF No. 25-1.) When they arrived, Clark and Church retrieved a shopping cart and started walking toward the store's sporting goods section. (Id. at 20.) As they walked down the camping supply aisle, Clark was looking at the tents to her left. (Id. at 21.) Clark suddenly stopped when she noticed that something had landed on her foot. (Id.) Clark looked down and saw a long, thin box on her right foot. (See Id. at 24-25.) The box was heavy, and Clark could not lift it off her foot, so Church moved it for her. (Id. at 22, 25.) Church informed a Wal-Mart employee about the incident, and Clark was eventually provided an electric cart to sit on while she completed an accident report. (Id. at 22-23.)

         While attending to her foot, Clark realized that the box that had fallen on her foot contained a cast iron griddle. (Clark Dep. at 25.) An employee had moved the fallen box; Clark, however, saw that other griddle boxes were situated on an elbow-height shelf that she was walking by when the box fell. (See Id. at 23, 25, 31.) Clark noticed that one griddle box was extending beyond the front edge of the shelf. (See Id. at 23, 25.) Behind that box, deeper on the shelf, were several stacked griddle boxes. (See Id. at 32-33, Ex. 1.)

         Photographs submitted by the parties show the griddle boxes on the shelf after the incident. (Photos at PageID 214, 216-22, ECF Nos. 39-2, 39-3.) The box that fell on Clark is not included in the photographs. (See Clark Dep. at 23.) The photographs show a stack of griddle boxes at the rear of the shelf and one griddle box sitting in front of the stack. (Photos at PageID 214, 216-22.) At least a third of the length of the front box extends beyond the shelf s front edge. (Id.) The shelf is a light tan color; the floor is white; and the stacked griddle boxes are yellow on their sides. (Id.) The box extending beyond the shelf s front edge is also yellow on its sides; the top of the box features an image of a cast iron griddle. (Id.)

         Some of the photographs depict a shopping cart handle in contact with the griddle box protruding from the shelf. (Photos at PageID 214, 218-19, 221-22.) A Wal-Mart employee who responded to the incident staged these photographs. (See Resp. at 2-3, 11, ECF No. 39; Wentzel Dep. at 16-17, 20, ECF No. 40-2.) Clark speculates that this staging depicts how the incident occurred: her shopping cart's handle struck a griddle box as she walked down the aisle, causing the box to fall on her foot. (See Clark Dep. at 29; Resp. at 2-3, 10-11; Wentzel Dep. at 16.)

         Clark acknowledged in her deposition that if she had looked to her right as she walked down the aisle there was nothing that would have blocked her view of the griddle boxes. (See Clark Dep. at 26-29.) There was nothing in Clark's shopping cart, and the store was well lit. (Id. at 29, 34.) Clark also acknowledged that the box that fell was visible after it landed on her foot. (See Id. at 24-25.)

         When the griddle box landed on her right foot, Clark felt a sharp pain. (Clark Dep. at 37-38.) Clark's foot continued to hurt, and it later swelled and bruised. (See Id. at 42.) Clark saw her doctor several days later: three of her toes were broken. (Id. at 40, 43.) Because of her broken toes, Clark started walking on her heel and the side of her foot; this altered gait aggravated an existing condition with her right knee. (See Id. at 53, 65.) Clark has undergone two surgeries related to her broken toes, and she has had her right knee replaced. (Id. at 45-53.)

         Clark brought a state-law negligence claim against Wal-Mart on April 27, 2016, in the Delaware County Common Pleas Court. (Compl. at 1-3, ECF No. 2.) Wal-Mart removed the action to this Court on May 24, 2016, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Notice of Removal at 1-2, ECF No. 1.) Wal-Mart now moves for summary judgment. (Mot. at 1, ECF No. 24.)


         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). The movant has the burden of establishing that there are no genuine issues of material fact, which may be accomplished by demonstrating that the nonmoving party lacks evidence to support an essential element of its case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Barnhart v. Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling Co., 12 F.3d 1382, 1388-89 (6th Cir. 1993). When the moving party has carried this burden, the nonmoving party must then set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 374 (6th Cir. 2009).

         "After the parties have presented their evidence, 'the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Moldowan, 578 F.3d at 374 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). In evaluating the evidence, the Court must draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. The nonmoving party, however, cannot establish a genuine issue for trial by producing a mere scintilla of evidence in support of its position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (showing the existence of "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" does not create a genuine issue for trial). A genuine issue for trial exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         A. Negligence

         To prevail on a negligence claim under Ohio law, a plaintiff must show the existence of a duty, the breach of that duty, and an injury proximately caused by the breach. Texler v. D.O. Summers Cleaners & Shirt Laundry Co., 693 N.E.2d 271, 274 (Ohio 1998). Because Clark purportedly cannot establish any of these elements, Wal-Mart requests summary judgment.

         1. Duty

         Wal-Mart argues that it did not owe a duty to Clark because, as a matter of law, the griddle box was an open and obvious hazard. (See Mot. at 4-7, ECF No. 24.) The Court disagrees.

         In general, the legal status of a person (i.e., trespasser, licensee, or invitee) injured on real property determines the scope and extent of the duty owed to the injured person by the owner or occupier of the property. Benton v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., 1 Oth Dist. Franklin No. 02AP-1211, 2003-Ohio-2890, ΒΆ 12. Here, given that Clark entered the store, "by invitation, express or implied, for some purpose which [was] ...

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