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Murray v. Dollar Tree Stores

September 10, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert F. Kelly, Sr. J.


Presently pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. ("Dollar Tree"). For the following reasons, Dollar Tree's Motion will be granted with regard to all claims.


On February 29, 2009, Plaintiff Renee Murray ("Murray") filed a Complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Dollar Tree, alleging personal injuries from a slip and fall inside a Dollar Tree store. On March 24, 2009, the matter was removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. On August 10, 2009, Dollar Tree filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment.

Murray's claims stem from an incident that occurred on May 15, 2007 inside a Dollar Tree store located at 39 North Lansdowne Avenue, Landsdowne, Pennsylvania. Murray alleges that on this date, at approximately 4:45 p.m., she slipped and fell on liquid on the floor of a store aisle while she was shopping. Murray contends that her fall and subsequent alleged injuries were directly and proximately caused by Dollar Tree's negligence and carelessness.

At her deposition, Murray testified that she was shopping in other aisles in the Dollar Tree store for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes prior to the incident. (Murray Dep. 42:9-42:15; 51:2-51:16.) Murray stated that she was pushing a shopping cart and slipped on "some kind of liquid on the floor, nice size, probably the size of a laundry basket or so, yellowish, maybe." (Murray Dep. 42:23-43:1.) She testified that she did not know how long the liquid was on the store floor. (Murray Dep. 50:17-51:20.) Notably, there is no evidence in the record concerning how the spill materialized.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) states that summary judgment is proper "if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Hines v. Consol. Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1991). The Court asks "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether... one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit after applying the substantive law. Further, a dispute over a material fact must be 'genuine,' i.e., the evidence must be such 'that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.'" Compton v. Nat'l League of Prof'l Baseball Clubs, 995 F. Supp. 554, 561 n.14 (E.D. Pa. 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 that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party has produced evidence in support of summary judgment, the non-moving party must go beyond the allegations set forth in its pleadings and counter with evidence that presents "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am. Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1362-63 (3d Cir. 1992). "More than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" must be presented by the non-moving party in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Tziatzios v. United States, 164 F.R.D. 410, 411-12 (E.D. Pa. 1996). If the court determines that there are no genuine issues of material fact, then summary judgment will be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.


A. General Premises Liability Law

The parties agree that Pennsylvania substantive law applies in this diversity case. Murray's negligence action is based on Pennsylvania premises liability. Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, the elements of negligence are: (1) the existence of a duty or obligation recognized by law; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a casual connection between the breach of duty and the resulting injury; and (4) actual loss or damage. Krentz v. Consol. Rail Corp., 910 A.2d 20, 27 (Pa. 2006).

The nature of any duty hinges upon the relationship of the parties at the time of plaintiff's injury. Pittsburgh Nat'l Bank v. Perr, 637 A.2d 334, 336 (Pa. Super. 1994). In premises liability cases, the duty of care that a possessor of land owes to an entrant upon the land depends on whether the entrant is a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. Gutteridge v. A.P. Green Servs., Inc., 804 A.2d 643, 655 (Pa. Super. 2002). Here, there is no dispute that Murray was a business invitee in the Dollar Tree store.

Pennsylvania courts have adopted the Second Restatement of Torts to determine the duty owed by a possessor of land to an invitee on that land. Kirschbaum v. WRGSB Assoc., 243 F.3d 145, 152 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Carrender v. Fitterer, 469 A.2d 120, 123 (Pa. 1983)). As outlined in the Restatement of Torts, a possessor of land is subject to liability for ...

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