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Johnson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Supreme Court of Idaho

August 3, 2018

MICHAEL JOHNSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC., a Delaware corporation, doing business as Wal-Mart Super Center and Wal-Mart; WAL-MART ASSOCIATES, INC., a Delaware corporation; and WAL-MART STORE NO. 2508, Defendants-Respondents.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Honorable Jason D. Scott, District Judge.

         The district court's grant of summary judgment is affirmed.

          Jones & Swartz, PLLC, Boise, for appellant. Eric B. Swartz argued.

          Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley, LLP, Boise, for respondents. Mindy M. Muller argued.

          BRODY, Justice.

         This is a premises liability case concerning whether a retailer is negligent for failing to warn a customer about potential spills. The case began when Michael Johnson suffered injuries after he slipped and fell on a liquid while walking in the housewares department of a Wal-Mart store. Johnson knew neither the source of the substance, nor how long it had been on the floor. Additionally, none of Wal-Mart's surveillance cameras captured the initial spill or Johnson's fall. Johnson filed a complaint alleging Wal-Mart, which has issued an internal statement to its employees that spills are largely responsible for slip/trip/fall accidents in its stores, was negligent for failing to warn him of the potential for spills. Johnson claims that the store's business practice of allowing patrons to carry liquids throughout the store should have put Wal-Mart on notice that spills were foreseeable anywhere. Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment based on its lack of actual or constructive notice of the spill. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart. We now affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 30, 2015, Michael Johnson slipped on a liquid while walking in Wal-Mart Store 2508 on Overland Road in Boise. The aisle where Johnson slipped was in the housewares department near a display of trash cans. Johnson did not know the liquid's origin or how long it had been on the aisle floor. Wal-Mart's surveillance cameras did not capture either the spill or Johnson's slip.

         Store practice permitted customers to carry liquids throughout the store-whether brought from outside or purchased in the store-without restriction. Wal-Mart did not warn its customers, including Johnson, of the danger they might encounter with spilled liquids while shopping. As a large retailer, Wal-Mart has institutional knowledge that spills occur and that those spills can lead to slip-and-fall accidents. Wal-Mart issued an internal message to employees acknowledging this, which stated, "Spills are largely responsible for slip/trip/fall accidents in the store. Slip/trip/fall accidents are included in the Big 3 accident focus and require additional focus to reduce these accident claims." However, Wal-Mart had no record of this particular spill and no record of any prior spills or accidents on the aisle where Johnson fell.

         Johnson filed a complaint against Wal-Mart, alleging negligence and premises liability for failure to warn and for failure to keep the store in a safe condition. After engaging in discovery, Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment which was granted. Johnson timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court reviews a grant of summary judgment under the same standard of review the district court originally applied in its ruling. Conner v. Hodges, 157 Idaho 19, 23, 333 P.3d 130, 134 (2014) (citing Arregui v. Gallegos-Main, 153 Idaho 801, 804, 291 P.3d 1000, 1003 (2012)). 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." I.R.C.P. 56(a). "When considering whether the evidence in the record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the trial court must liberally construe the facts, and draw all reasonable inferences, in favor of the nonmoving party." Liberty Bankers Life Ins. Co. v. Witherspoon, Kelley, Davenport & Toole, P.S., 159 Idaho 679, 685, 365 P.3d 1033, 1039 (2016). The moving party has the burden of establishing there is no genuine issue of material fact. Wattenbarger v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 150 Idaho 308, 317, 246 P.3d 961, 970 (2010).

         "If the moving party has demonstrated the absence of a question of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate an issue of material fact that will preclude summary judgment." Id. (citations omitted). The nonmoving party must present evidence contradicting that submitted by the movant, and which demonstrates a question of material fact. Kiebert v. Goss, 144 Idaho 225, 228, 159 P.3d 862, 865 (2007). However, "[a] mere scintilla of evidence or only slight doubt as to the facts is not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact for the purposes of summary judgment." Wright v. Ada Cnty., 160 Idaho 491, 495, 376 P.3d 58, 62 (2016) (citing Finholt v. Cresto, 143 Idaho 894, 897, 155 P.3d 695, 698 (2007)).

         III. ...


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