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Bell v. TJX Companies, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 13, 2015

JAMILA BELL c/o of JOSEPH MASON, a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
TJX COMPANIES, INC., a national corporation, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

GERALD E. ROSEN, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jamila Bell, a Michigan resident, originally filed this premises liability action on October 4, 2013, in Wayne County Circuit Court against Defendant TJX Companies, Inc., a company incorporated in and having its principal place of business in Massachusetts. The case arises out of an incident at one of Defendant's retail stores located in Allen Park, Michigan, at which Plaintiff's four-year old son, Joseph Mason, slipped and fell on a piece of clothing that had been left underneath a merchandise rack, allegedly causing injuries to Joseph's neck, back, chin, and tooth. Plaintiff claims the slip was caused by Defendant's negligence in failing to adequately maintain the premises of its store. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1441, Defendant removed to federal court based on diversity of citizenship.

Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. # 17). Having reviewed and considered the parties' briefs and supporting documents and the entire record of this matter, the Court has determined that the pertinent allegations and legal arguments are sufficiently addressed in these materials and that oral argument would not assist in the resolution of this motion. Accordingly, the Court will decide the parties' motions "on the briefs." See L.R. 7.1(f)(2). This Opinion and Order sets forth the Court's ruling.

II. PERTINENT FACTS

On June 11, 2012, Plaintiff Jamila Bell was shopping at Defendant's T.J. Maxx store in Allen Park, Michigan, with three of her children: Bryendon Fuquay, Andrew Fuquay, and Joseph Mason. Dep. of Jamila Bell, Dkt. # 17-3, at 31-32. Plaintiff and her family were frequent shoppers in the store. Id. at 32. At the time of the events at issue here, Bell and her children were shopping in the dress section of the store. Id. at 33. Bell's children were walking "in [her] vicinity, " approximately one foot away from her while she stood near a corner between two aisles, when her youngest son, 4-yaer-old Joseph Mason, "slipped over some unretrieved dresses that [were] under the 4-way metal rounder." Id. at 34-35. Joseph "hit his chin" on the base of the clothing rack as he fell.[1] Id. at 34-35, 37. Bell testified at her deposition that she did not notice the dresses prior to Joseph's fall, but she did not believe that her children placed the dresses on the floor or were otherwise misbehaving. Id. at 34-36. Bell testified that she did not know how long the dresses had been on the floor prior to Joseph's fall.[2] Id. at 37, 39.

Plaintiff's daughter, Amira Bell, was also present at the time of Joseph's fall. Amira, an employee at Defendant's Allen Park store, worked that day at the cash register and walked around the dress section with her mother and brothers while taking a break from work. In her deposition, Amira provided inconsistent testimony as to how the family walked through the dress section. At one point, Amira testified that she walked next to her mother while at least two of her brothers, including Joseph, followed closely behind. Dep. of Amira Bell, Dkt. # 17-4, at 22. However, Amira later testified that either she or her mother held Joseph's hand as they walked through the dress section. Id. at 24-25. Regardless of how the family walked through the dress section, neither Amira nor her mother saw anything unsafe or unusual before Joseph fell. Id. at 25; Dep. of Jamila Bell, at 18, 26, 35.

Amira corroborated her mother's testimony regarding Joseph's fall, stating that he slipped on some dresses that where on the floor of the store. Dep. of Amira Bell, at 18.[3] Amira's testimony was inconsistent, however, regarding the extent to which she saw the fall: at one point she stated that she "didn't see him actually slip, " id. at 27, but in other testimony, she implied she actually did see the fall, id. at 27-33. Like her mother, Amira noted that she did not notice the dresses prior to Joseph's fall, that she did not know how long the dresses had been present on the floor, and that she did not know how many dresses were there. Id. at 19. Amira did state that the dress department was messy that day, and that in general, the store was "discombobulated" with "things... on the floor" and "things... all over the run." Id. at 26. However, Amira never complained about the cleanliness of the store during her employment there, and on the day Joseph fell, Amira did not notice that the dress section was "in that bad of condition" until after Joseph fell. Id. at 34.

Following the fall, Jamila Bell filed this suit on October 4, 2013, in Wayne County Circuit Court, court on behalf of Joseph. Dkt. # 1. The complaint alleges that "Defendant TJX knew or by exercise of reasonable care would have discovered the bunched up clothes stuffed under the clothing rack and protruding into the aisle ways, and [should have] realize[d] that it involved an unreasonable risk of harm to... invitees." Id. at 3. Accordingly, Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated its duty to Plaintiff "[b]y failing to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition." Id. Defendant removed the case to this court, and subsequently moved for summary judgment. Dkt. ## 1, 17.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Rule 56 Standard

Through their present motions, both parties seek summary judgment in their favor pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under that Rule, Summary judgment is proper if the moving party "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). As the Supreme Court has explained, "the plain language of Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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 that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In addition, where a moving party seeks an award of summary judgment in its favor on a claim or issue as to which it bears the burden of proof at trial, this party's "showing must be sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party." Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986) (emphasis and citation omitted).

In deciding a motion brought under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Pack v. Damon Corp., 434 F.3d 810, 813 (6th Cir. 2006). Yet, the nonmoving party may not rely on mere allegations or denials, but must "cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record" as establishing that one or more material facts are "genuinely disputed." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). But, "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence that supports the nonmoving party's claims ...


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