United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE
a slip and fall case. Defendant Louis Dreyfus Company LDAI
Holdings has moved for summary judgment. [DE 26.] It does so
on a narrow basis. Its sole argument is that plaintiff Ken
Napier has failed to provide any evidence that Louis Dreyfus
had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous
conditions which allegedly caused Napier to slip and fall
while on Louis Dreyfus's property. But in opposition,
Napier has offered just enough evidence to create a triable
issue of material fact as to whether Louis Dreyfus had notice
of the hazardous condition (biodeisel fuel on the ground).
Accordingly, I will deny the motion.
time of the accident, Napier was working as truck driver,
transporting biodeisel for a company called SJA
Transportation. He would pick up his truck in the morning,
drive to Louis Dreyfus's property (a biodeisel terminal
or storage facility it seems), fill his tanker, and then
deliver the biodeisel to filling stations near the
Ohio/Indiana border. [DE 40-1 (Deposition of K. Napier) at
14:11-18:4.] He did this approximately three times a day,
five days a week, over the course of several months in 2015.
morning of November 9, 2015, Napier was engaged in his
regular work routine when he slipped and fell while on Louis
Dreyfus's property. According to Napier, he did not see
biodiesel on the ground when he exited his truck, but as he
walked towards the back of the tanker, he stepped on the
liquid and slipped. [Id. at 36:5-37:14.] He fell
between the curb and his truck and landed on his backside,
hitting his head against the cub. [Id. at
39:24-40:8.] Napier further testified at his deposition that
while he personally did not see the spill prior to his fall,
he was told by an employee of Louis Dreyfus at the
“guard shack” near the loading area that there
had been a spill the day before and that it had not been
cleaned up. [Id. at 50:1-51:6.] As a result of the
fall, Napier suffered personal injuries and has claimed other
damages, the extent of which are not relevant for purposes of
the present motion.
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs a motion for summary
judgment. Summary judgment will be granted “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). To prevail, a party
can either point to undisputed facts supported by evidence or
point to an absence of evidence as to some element of the
other party's claim or affirmative defense. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (holding that
summary judgment is appropriate “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”). Louis Dreyfus has moved under the latter
deciding a motion for summary judgment, I must review the
evidence presented and construe all facts and draw all
inferences from those facts “in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party.” Zuppardi v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 770 F.3d 644, 649 (7th Cir.
2014). In order for the non-moving party to prevail,
“all that is required is that sufficient evidence
supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a
jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions
of the truth at trial.” First Nat. Bank of Ariz. v.
Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).
and fall case is a type of negligence suit. “The tort
of negligence has three elements: (1) a duty owned by the
defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty; and
(3) injury to the plaintiff resulting from the
defendant's breach.” Christmas v. Kindred
Nursing Ctrs. Ltd. P'ship, 952 N.E.2d 827, 878
(Ind.Ct.App. 2011). Under Indiana law, the scope of the duty
owed in a premises liability case is dictated by the status
of the individual who is on the property. There are three
status groups: trespassers, licensees, and invitees.
Burrell v. Meads, 569 N.E.2d 637, 639 (Ind. 1991).
Here, the parties agree that because Napier was on Louis
Dreyfus's land in connection with business and was duly
authorized to be there, he has the status of an invitee.
landowner owes the highest duty to an invitee: a duty to
exercise reasonable care for his protection while he is on
the landowner's premises.” Burrell, 569 at
639 (citing Hammond v. Allegretti, 311 N.E. 821
(Ind. 1974)). The duty to an invitee is breached by a
condition on the land when the landowner “(a) knows or
by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the
condition, and should realize that it involves an
unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and (b) should
expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or
will fail to protect themselves against it, and (c) fails to
exercise reasonable care to protect them against the
danger.” Id. at 640 (quoting Restatement
(Second) of Torts § 343 (1965)).
this all means is that, when considering a summary judgment
motion in a premises liability case, the defendant need not
present evidence affirmatively showing a lack of notice of
the dangerous condition. Instead, the burden is on the
plaintiff to present evidence that shows that the defendant
was aware of the dangerous condition. And as noted above,
evidence of either actual notice or constructive notice will
do. Failure by the plaintiff to point to evidence of the
property owner's actual or constructive knowledge of an
unreasonable dangerous condition will result in a grant of
summary judgment in favor of the property owner. Austin
v. Walgreen Co., 885 F.3d 1085, 1089 (7th Cir. 2018).
Evidence of Louis Dreyfus's Constructive or Actual
distilled the legal framework governing the claim, it's
time to assess the facts. The key piece of evidence is
Napier's deposition testimony. Napier testified that on
the morning of the accident, an employee of Louis Dreyfus
(whose name Napier did not recall) told him that there had
been a biodiesel spill the day before. [DE 40-1 at 48:18-19.]
Thus, according to Napier, the spill was present for several
hours and was known by at least one of Louis Dreyfus's
employees at the time Napier entered the property.
[Id. at 50:10-24.] Napier says ...