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Latham v. Wal-Mart Stores Texas, L.L.C.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

July 6, 2017

Saundra Latham, Plaintiff,
v.
Wal-Mart Stores Texas, L.L.C., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gray H. Miller United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is defendant Wal-Mart Stores Texas, L.L.C.'s (“Wal-Mart”) motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 17) and Plaintiff Saundra Latham's motion for continuance of summary judgment (Dkt. 18). Having considered the motions, record evidence, and applicable law, the court is of the opinion that Wal-Mart's motion should be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Latham's motion should be GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Latham brings this action against defendant Wal-Mart Stores Texas, L.L.C. (“Wal-Mart”), alleging gross negligence and premises liability. Dkt. 1-2. Latham claims that on June 15, 2016, she slipped in a “transparent liquid that appeared to be water” on the floor inside a Wal-Mart store located at 2700 S. Kirkwood Rd., Houston, Texas 77077. Dkt. 18. Latham contends that after she fell, she noticed the puddle looked “like a glaze” or “a thin sheet.” Id. This suggested to her the puddle had been there “for some time.” Id. Latham asserts that as a result of the fall, she fractured her patella and suffered injuries to other parts of her body. Dkt. 1-2.

         Latham's spouse, Christopher Starks, was with Latham at the time of her fall. Dkt. 18-2. Starks also saw the puddle, but only after Latham's fall. Id. He describes the liquid as “thin to the floor like it had been sitting.” Id. at 6. Both Latham and Starks claim they passed a Wal-Mart associate exiting the aisle of the incident shortly before Latham's fall. Id. at 12; Dkt. 18-1 at 10. Latham alleges her husband and three Wal-Mart managers attended to her after her fall. Dkt. 18-1 at 9. According to Latham, the managers had Latham fill out a form, took pictures of the scene, and wiped up the spill. Id.

         On August 19, 2016, Latham filed this lawsuit against Wal-Mart. Dkt. 1-2. Latham alleges that Wal-Mart is liable for gross negligence and premises liability. Id. Latham claims that as a result of the incident she sustained substantial injuries and is entitled to loss of past and future earnings, medical expenses, pain and mental anguish, and other damages. Dkt. 1-2. Latham seeks all legally recoverable damages, including pre- and post-judgment interest, as a result of these injuries. Id. at 6.

         Wal-Mart removed the lawsuit to this court based on diversity jurisdiction. Dkt. 8. On April 19, 2017, the court granted an agreed motion to amend that extended the discovery deadline to August 14, 2017. Dkt. 16. On April 28, 2017, Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment. Dkt. 17. On May 18, 2017, Latham filed a response to the motion for summary judgment, in which she requested a continuance for further discovery. Dkt. 18. The motion for summary judgment and Latham's request for a continuance are now ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standard

         A court shall grant summary judgment when a “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] fact is genuinely in dispute only if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Fordoche, Inc. v. Texaco, Inc., 463 F.3d 388, 392 (5th Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Envtl. Conservation Org. v. City of Dall., Tex., 529 F.3d 519, 524 (5th Cir. 2008).

         III. Analysis

         Wal-Mart seeks summary judgment on all of Latham's claims, asserting that Latham lacks sufficient evidence to demonstrate genuine issues of material fact. Dkt. 17. Latham responded to this argument and also requested a continuance for further discovery. Dkt. 18. The court will first discuss whether Wal-Mart is entitled to summary judgment under the current record. The court will then address Latham's request for a continuance.

         A. Gross Negligence

         Latham acknowledges in her response to Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment that there is no evidence to support a finding of gross negligence and agrees to amend her complaint to drop this claim. Dkt-18. Accordingly, the court GRANTS Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment on Latham's gross negligence claim.

         B. ...


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