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Hanford v. J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc.

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

November 4, 2019




         Before the court are Defendants' motions for summary judgment. The court heard oral argument on October 28, 2019, and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motions are denied.


         Plaintiff Jennifer Hanford slipped and fell at a J.C. Penney store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hanford worked for U.S. Vision, an optical store located within J.C. Penney. J.C. Penney contracts with Defendant Diversified Maintenance Systems (“Diversified”) for janitorial services.

         On February 9, 2015, sometime between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m., Hanford was walking with Nicole Fitzgerald to the breakroom, in an employee-only area of the store. As Hanford walked down the hall to the breakroom, she did not observe water on the floor, a wet floor sign, or any cleaning supplies. She purchased a candy bar in the breakroom and then began walking down the same hallway in the opposite direction. Hanford slipped and fell forward, landing on her wrist and stomach. She then rolled over and sat on the floor. She did not see any water on the floor, but noticed “moisture” on the sole of her shoe and that her rear end was wet. Neither her hands nor the front of her clothing were wet. Hanford injured her ankle and broke her wrist as a result of her fall.

         In her declaration, Nicole Fitzgerald stated that when Hanford fell, the “floor was definitely damp like it had just been mopped.” ECF No. 29-5. She also stated that, later that day, “I recall talking to an older African-American male who was one of the custodians. He was an elderly man and had curly black hair. He asked if Jennifer was okay. He said he hoped she didn't fall because he was cleaning and hoped she was okay.” Id.

         Approximately one week after Hanford's fall, her boyfriend, Mark O'Bryan, was waiting for Hanford to get off work. He ran into Darryl Richardson, a Diversified employee, in the restroom. According to O'Bryan, Richardson said that he was “sorry about Jennifer, I forgot to leave the wet floor sign out, I just mopped the floors basically in them areas.” ECF No. 29, Ex. 2 at 24. O'Bryan, who had also worked for Diversified, testified that Richardson often slept on the job, then clocked out and finished his tasks.

         Plaintiff's complaint alleges claims of negligence and premises liability against J.C. Penney and Diversified. Defendants seek summary judgment in their favor.


         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must determine “‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Amway Dist. Benefits Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). The facts and any reasonable inferences drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In response to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence showing there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. A “mere scintilla” of evidence is insufficient to meet this burden; the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         II. Negligence/Premises Liability

         Michigan law governs Plaintiff's negligence/premises liability claims in this diversity case. See Chandler v. Specialty Tires of Am. (Tenn.) Inc., 283 F.3d 818, 823 (6th Cir. 2002). To establish a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must establish that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty; (2) defendant breached its duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages. Case v. Consumers Power Co., 463 Mich. 1, 6 (2000). The common law “imposes on every person engaged in the prosecution of any undertaking an obligation to use due care, or to so govern his actions as not to unreasonably endanger the person or property of others.” Riddle v. McLouth Steel Prods. Corp., 440 Mich. 85, 95 (1992) (citation omitted).

         With respect to premises liability, “[i]t is well settled in Michigan that a premises owner must maintain his property in a reasonably safe condition and has a duty to exercise due care to protect invitees from conditions that might result in injury.” Id. at 90. See also Stitt v. Holland Abundant LifeFellowship, 462 Mich. 591, 596-97 (2000). As an employee working within its store, Hanford was an invitee of J.C. Penney. See Id. ...

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