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Mauer v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

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

December 5, 2017

ANGELA MAUER, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC., ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID L. HORAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Defendants Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Wal-Mart Stores East, Inc., d/b/a Wal-Mart #1055, and Wal-Mart Real Est Business (collectively, “Wal-Mart”) filed a Motion for No-Evidence Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Claims. See Dkt. No. 30 (the “MSJ”). Plaintiff Angela Mauer filed a response, see Dkt. Nos. 33 & 34, and Wal-Mart filed a reply, see Dkt. No. 36.

         The Court heard oral argument on December 1, 2017. See Dkt. No. 40.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Wal-Mart's Motion for No-Evidence Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Claims [Dkt. No. 30].

         Background

         Mauer filed this case against Defendants Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Wal-Mart Stores East, Inc., d/b/a Wal-Mart #1055, and Wal-Mart Real Est Business (collectively, “Defendants”) in Dallas County state court on June 6, 2016. See Dkt. Nos. 2-2 & 2-3. She asserted claims based on premises liability, general negligence, and gross negligence. See Dkt. No. 2-3 at 4-7.

         Defendants filed an answer on July 14, 2016, see Dkt. No. 2-6, and then removed the case to this Court on July 19, 2016, see Dkt. No. 1.

         Legal Standards

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper “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 factual “issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Weeks Marine, Inc. v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co., 340 F.3d 233, 235 (5th Cir. 2003). “A factual dispute is ‘genuine, ' if the evidence is such that a reasonable [trier of fact] could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Crowe v. Henry, 115 F.3d 294, 296 (5th Cir. 1997).

         If the moving party seeks summary judgment as to his opponent's claims or defenses, “[t]he moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery in the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, but is not required to negate elements of the nonmoving party's case.” Lynch Props., Inc. v. Potomac Ins. Co., 140 F.3d 622, 625 (5th Cir. 1998). “Summary judgment must be granted against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. If the moving party fails to meet this initial burden, the motion must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response.” Pioneer Expl., L.L.C. v. Steadfast Ins. Co., 767 F.3d 503, 511 (5th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and footnote omitted).

         “Once the moving party meets this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth” - and submit evidence of - “specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial and not rest upon the allegations or denials contained in its pleadings.” Lynch Props., 140 F.3d at 625; Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc); accord Pioneer Expl., 767 F.3d at 511 (“[T]he nonmovant cannot rely on the allegations in the pleadings alone” but rather “must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” (internal quotation marks and footnotes omitted)).

         The Court is required to consider all evidence and view all facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all disputed factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party - but only if the summary judgment evidence shows that an actual controversy exists. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Pioneer Expl., 767 F.3d at 511; Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005); Lynch Props., 140 F.3d at 625. “The evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor. While the court must disregard evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe, it gives credence to evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached if that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.” Porter v. Houma Terrebonne Hous. Auth. Bd. of Comm'rs, 810 F.3d 940, 942-43 (5th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and footnotes omitted). And “[u]nsubstantiated assertions, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation are not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment, ” Brown v. City of Houston, 337 F.3d 539, 541 (5th Cir. 2003), and neither will “only a scintilla of evidence” meet the nonmovant's burden, Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; accord Pioneer Expl., 767 F.3d at 511 (“Conclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” (internal quotation marks and footnote omitted)).

         Rather, the non-moving party must “set forth specific facts showing the existence of a ‘genuine' issue concerning every essential component of its case.” Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998). And “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Pioneer Expl., 767 F.3d at 511 (internal quotation marks and footnote omitted).

         “After the nonmovant has been given an opportunity to raise a genuine factual issue, if no reasonable juror could find for the nonmovant, summary judgment will be granted.” DIRECTV, Inc. v. Minor, 420 F.3d 546, 549 (5th Cir. 2005) (footnote and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Court will not assume “in the absence of any proof ... that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts” and will grant summary judgment “in any case where critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. “Rule 56 does not impose upon the district court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment, ” and “[a] failure on the part of the nonmoving party to offer proof concerning an essential element of its case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial and mandates a finding that no genuine issue of fact exists.” Adams v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 465 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Analysis

         I. Wal-Mart sufficiently briefed its MSJ as to the premises liability claim.

         Mauer asserts that Wal-Mart's MSJ must be denied because it does not attach evidence and is labeled a no-evidence summary judgment motion, which Mauer asserts that federal law does not permit. The Court cannot agree.

         As the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently explained,

The movant bears the initial burden and must identify those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. But the movant need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case. Summary judgment must be granted against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. If the moving party fails to meet this initial burden, the motion must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response.

Pioneer Expl., 767 F.3d at 511 (internal quotation marks and footnotes omitted; emphasis in original). The United States Supreme Court's decision in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), “makes clear that before the non-moving party is required to produce evidence in opposition to the motion, the moving party must first satisfy its obligation of demonstrating that there are no factual issues warranting trial.” Russ v. Int'l Paper Co., 943 F.2d 589, 592 (5th Cir. 1991). “Of course, a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the ‘pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on ...


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