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Arrington v. Wal-Mart Stores Texas, LLC

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

November 18, 2019

RUBY ARRINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES TEXAS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID C. GODBEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This Order addresses Defendant Wal-Mart Stores Texas, LLC's ("Wal-Mart") objections to Plaintiff Ruby Arrington's summary judgment evidence [20] and Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment [12]. For the following reasons, the Court sustains in part Wal-Mart's objections to Arrington's summary judgment evidence and grants Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Origins of the Dispute

         Arrington alleges that she slipped and fell while shopping in a Dallas Wal-Mart. Pl. Ruby Arrington's Br. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 1 ("Pl.'s Opp'n") [17]. She claims that an employee spilled chicken grease on the floor while the employee was restocking the shelves. Id. Arrington claims that a few minutes after the spill, she fell and instantly felt severe pain. Id. After the fall, Arrington alleges that she had to seek medical treatment. Id. at 11. Arrington originally filed this case in state court. Wal-Mart removed the case and now seeks summary judgment.

         II. The Court Sustains in Part Wal-Mart's Objections to Arrington's Summary Judgment Evidence

         The Court sustains in part Wal-Mart's objections to Arrington's summary judgment evidence. Arrington provided still photographs capturing moments from Wal-Mart's surveillance footage. See Pl. Ruby Arrington's App. Supp. Opp'n Def's Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl's App."), Ex. F [18]. Arrington's attorney, Hutton Sentell, attached descriptions to each photograph. Id. Wal-Mart objects to Sentell's authentication of the photographs and Sentell's descriptions of photographs 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14. Defs.' Objs. Evid. Submitted Supp. Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Mot. Traditional and No-Evid. Summ. J. ("Def's Objs.") 2-10 [20]. Wal-Mart argues that the descriptions are irrelevant and speculative. Id.

         Any witness can identify and authenticate evidence as long as the proponent produces enough evidence to support a finding that the item is what the proponent claims it to be. FED. R. EVID. 901(a). Sufficient evidence can include testimony from a witness with knowledge of the evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 901(b).

         Additionally, Federal Rules of Evidence 701 and 702 permit expert and lay witnesses to testify to their opinions. See FED. R. EVID. 701, 702. A lay witness may only testify to matters within the witness's personal knowledge. FED. R. EVID. 602. Lay witnesses cannot speculate. See Id. Their opinions must be based on their rationally based perception that is helpful to the factfinder and not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge. Fed.R.Evid. 701.

         Here, the Court overrules Wal-Mart's objections to Sentell's authentication of the photographs. Sentell states that he reviewed the surveillance video and created still photographs from the video. Pl.'s App., Ex. F 83-84. As a witness with knowledge of the video, his testimony is sufficient to authenticate the photographs.

         However, the Court finds that Sentell's photograph descriptions are speculative and sustains Wal-Mart's objections to these descriptions. Sentell makes no claim to be an expert in photograph interpretation, so the Court finds that Sentell's descriptions are lay witness opinions. In Sentell's descriptions of photographs 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14, he states that the photographs depict a Wal-Mart employee and what appears to be a cart of rotisserie chicken. Id. However, the Court finds that these descriptions are not based on Sentell's rationally based opinion. Rather, the Court concludes that Sentell merely speculates as to what he believed was happening in each photograph. Accordingly, the Court sustains Wal-Mart's objections to Sentell's descriptions.

         III. Summary Judgment Legal Standard

         Courts "shall grant summary judgment 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); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). In making this determination, courts must view all evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for its belief that there is no genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         When a party bears the burden of proof on an issue, she "must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in [her] favor." Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986) (emphasis omitted). When the nonmovant bears the burden of proof, the movant may demonstrate entitlement to summary judgment by either (1) submitting evidence that negates the existence of an essential element of the nonmovant's claim or affirmative defense, or (2) arguing that there is no evidence to support an essential element of the nonmovant's claim or affirmative defense. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-25.

         Once the movant has made this showing, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict in her favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). Moreover, a nonmovant does not satisfy her burden "with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence." Little v. Liquid Air Corp.,37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Indeed, factual controversies are resolved in favor of the nonmoving party "only when an actual controversy exists, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of ...


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