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Ladapo v. Target Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

June 23, 2017

JACKIE SUE LADAPO, Plaintiff,
v.
TARGET STORES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY A. FITZWATER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a removed action in which the plaintiff alleges a premises liability claim based in part on the necessary-use exception announced by the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin v. Kroger Texas, L.P., 465 S.W.3d 193 (Tex. 2015). Concluding that the plaintiff has failed to meet her summary judgment burden regarding the necessary-use exception, and that the evidence otherwise conclusively establishes that the defendant owed her no duty to warn or make the premises safe, the court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismisses this action by judgment filed today.

         I

         Because the background facts and procedural history of this case are set out in two prior memorandum opinions and orders, see Ladapo v. Target Stores, Inc., 2016 WL 2609996 (N.D. Tex. May 6, 2016) (Fitzwater, J.) (“Ladapo II”); Ladapo v. Target Stores, Inc., 2014 WL 6617031 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 21, 2014) (Fitzwater, J.) (“Ladapo I”), vacated and remanded, 615 Fed.Appx. 842 (5th Cir. 2015), the court will limit its discussion to what is necessary to understand this decision.

         Plaintiff Jackie Sue Ladapo (“Ladapo”) was employed by Boots Retail USA, Inc. (“Boots”), an independent contractor of defendant Target Stores, Inc. (“Target”).[1] In her position as “senior beauty advisor, ” Ladapo was responsible for marketing Boots cosmetics products to Target customers by providing them personalized and detailed information through product demonstrations and makeovers. At Target's store in Cedar Hill, Texas, [2]Ladapo stored all of the products she needed to do her job-testers, samples, journal book, makeup brushes, and other supplies-in a large white drawer. She contends that on several occasions prior to June 14, 2012, she and other Target employees had complained to Target that the drawer did not function properly and would “pull out and fall” without warning. Am. Compl. ¶ 4(D)(ii). On June 14, 2012 Ladapo was injured when the drawer came all the way out and fell on her foot.

         Ladapo filed this premises liability action against Target in state court. Target removed the case and filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). In Ladapo I the court granted Target's motion, holding that Target “owed no duty to warn Ladapo about a defective drawer that she already knew was defective, and the hazardous nature of which was not concealed.” Ladapo I, 2014 WL 6617031, at *2. Ladapo appealed. Several months after the court decided Ladapo I, the Supreme Court of Texas issued its decision in Austin, clarifying the law regarding premises liability generally, and recognizing a necessary-use exception. In her appeal of Ladapo I, Ladapo argued that the necessary-use exception announced in Austin applied to her case. Without expressing a view on whether the necessary-use exception could or did apply, the Fifth Circuit remanded the case to this court with instructions to “address the pleadings, including any requests to amend the pleadings, anew in light of the decision in Austin.” Ladapo v. Target Stores, Inc., 615 Fed.Appx. 842, 843 (5th Cir. 2015) (per curiam).

         Following the Fifth Circuit's remand, Ladapo amended her complaint and Target moved anew to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In Ladapo II the court concluded that the allegations in the amended complaint were sufficient to plausibly allege a premises liability claim based on the necessary-use exception recognized in Austin:

At this stage of the case, it is sufficient that Ladapo has alleged that it was necessary for her to use the white drawer that caused her injury and that Target should have anticipated that she was unable to take measures to avoid the risk. This is all Austin appears to require to state a claim under the necessary-use exception.

Ladapo II, 2016 WL 2609996, at *3 (footnote omitted). The court noted, however, that it was not “suggest[ing] how it would rule on a motion for summary judgment or what it deems to be the probable verdict at trial.” Id. at *3 n.5.

         Target now moves for summary judgment on Ladapo's premises liability claim. It contends that it owed no duty to warn or protect Ladapo because she has admitted that she was aware of the hazard; that the necessary-use exception does not apply to Ladapo's claim; and that there is no evidence that Target had notice of the degree of the defect. Ladapo opposes Target's motion.

         II

         When a party moves for summary judgment on claims on which the opposing party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can meet its summary judgment obligation by pointing the court to the absence of admissible evidence to support the nonmovant's claims. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party does so, the nonmovant must go beyond her pleadings and designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. See Id. at 324; Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam). An issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The nonmovant's failure to produce proof as to any essential element of a claim renders all other facts immaterial. See TruGreen Landcare, L.L.C. v. Scott, 512 F.Supp.2d 613, 623 (N.D. Tex. 2007) (Fitzwater, J.). Summary judgment is mandatory if the nonmovant fails to meet this burden. Little, 37 F.3d at 1076.

         III

         The parties primarily dispute whether Target had any duty with respect to Ladapo, an ...


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