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Castellanos v. Target Department Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, Second Circuit

August 8, 2013

JEANNETTE CASTELLANOS, Plaintiff,
v.
TARGET DEPARTMENT STORES, INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

GABRIEL W. GORENSTEIN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jeannette Castellanos brings this action against defendant Target Department Stores, Inc. ("Target") alleging that defendant's negligence caused her to fall and injure herself. Target now moves for summary judgment and dismissal of the complaint pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P."). For the following reasons, Target's motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Castellanos commenced an action in the Supreme Court of New York, Bronx County, by filing a verified complaint dated October 29, 2011. See Complaint, dated Oct. 29, 2011 (annexed to Notice of Removal, filed Apr. 10, 2012 (Docket # 1) ("Removal")) ("Compl."). Target answered and filed a Notice of Removal based on diversity jurisdiction on April 10, 2012. See Removal. The parties consented to having this matter decided by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). On April 3, 2013, Target made the instant motion for summary judgment.[1]

B. Facts

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise stated.

On October 1, 2011, Castellanos entered a Target store located at 40 West 225th Street in the Bronx, New York. Plaintiff's Affidavit, dated Apr. 23, 2013 (annexed as Ex. 1 to Markovits Decl.) ("Castellanos Aff."), at 1. She arrived at the store accompanied by her fiance, Gustavo Lopez. Pl. 56.1 Stat. ¶ 2; Deposition of Gustavo Lopez, dated Aug. 7, 2012 (annexed as Ex. F to Crowley Decl.) ("Lopez Dep."), at 7:21-8:3. She was wearing dark pants, a light colored shirt, and shoes with wedge heels that were approximately two inches high. Deposition of Jeannette Castellanos, dated Aug. 7, 2012 (annexed as Ex. E to Crowley Decl.) ("Castellanos Dep."), at 35:21-36:3.

After entering the store, Castellanos and Lopez were proceeding directly to the pharmacy. Id. at 35:15-20; Lopez Dep. at 8:4-6. Castellanos was walking to the left of Lopez, Castellanos Dep. at 38:9-11; Lopez Dep. at 10:5-6, and was looking forward, Castellanos Dep. at 38:6-8; Castellanos Aff. at 1. As they passed the jewelry counter, they parted and Castellanos "stood [to the] left to walk around some people" as "[t]here was a crowd" and "people were standing in the way." Castellanos Dep. at 38:14-17. Right after she moved to the left, she slipped and fell on the floor. Id. at 38:18-19.

Castellanos alleges that she tripped on an 8-½ by 11 inch hard plastic display sign that was on the floor, which was normally used by Target on clothing racks to display information about sales. Id. at 39:17-40:7; Castellanos Aff. at 1. She did not see the display sign before she fell, but saw it immediately after falling. See Castellanos Dep. at 41:3-4; Castellanos Aff. at 1. According to Castellanos, the plastic display was "somewhere between see-through and white" in color, Castellanos Dep. at 40:24-41:2, and it had no signage within it, id. at 43:21-23. Castellanos described the floor as "light colored." Id. at 37:10-15. Immediately before falling, she observed a store manager fixing a display ahead of her and to the left. Id. at 41:9-22. After she fell, the manager and other employees came to assist her. Castellanos Aff. at 2. She informed the manager that she fell on a plastic sign. Id . The manager then ordered another employee to remove the sign. Id .; Castellanos Dep. at 41:3-7. The employee picked up the sign off the floor and took it away. Castellanos Dep. at 41:7-8; Castellanos Aff. at 2; see also Lopez Dep. at 15:10-16:12 (stating that employees removed "pieces" of plastic from floor). After the incident, the manager stated to Lopez that the store was busy and that another customer had fallen in a different part of the store earlier in the day. Lopez Dep. at 18:7-16.

A surveillance video dated October 1, 2011 depicts the area in question. See Video of the Incident, dated Oct. 1, 2011 (annexed as Ex. G to Crowley Decl.) ("Video"). Starting at 3:40 p.m., the video shows dozens of people - many who were pushing shopping carts - walking through the area. Id .; Pl. 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 4, 6. The video shows some individuals walking or running over the precise area where plaintiff fell. See, e.g., Video at 3:55:55 p.m., 3:58:32 p.m., 4:00:04 p.m., 4:02:10 p.m., 4:03:59 p.m. It also shows Target employees - who wore red shirts and khaki pants, Pl. 56.1 Stat. ¶ 12 - standing in the area at 3:49:04 p.m., 3:55:51 p.m., 4:00:14 p.m., and 4:04:07 p.m. See Video. In the 25 minutes prior to the incident, no person that walked through the area fell on the floor. Pl. 56.1 Stat. ¶ 7. Nor did any of them seem to have their movements impeded by anything on the floor. See Video. At 4:04:20 p.m., a person wearing dark pants, a light shirt, and black shoes - indisputably the plaintiff - walked across the top of the video picture from the right to the left. See id. at 4:04:20 p.m. At 4:04:27 p.m., the video shows plaintiff slipping and falling on the floor while walking past a clothing rack located near a jewelry counter. Id. at 4:04:27 p.m.; Pl. 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 1, 5.

Following the incident, Jeremy Hernandez, who was employed as an Executive Team Leader for Guest Experience ("ETL") at the store, spoke with Castellanos. See Deposition of Jeremy Hernandez, dated Sept. 19, 2012 (annexed as Ex. 4 to Markovits Decl.) ("Hernandez Dep."), at 5:14-16, 59:16-19. Hernandez completed a Guest Incident Report and an Investigation Report, see Guest Incident Report, dated Oct. 1, 2011 (annexed as Ex. D to Crowley Decl.) ("Incident Report"); LOD Investigation Report, dated Oct. 14, 2011 (annexed as Ex. I to Crowley Decl.) ("Investigation Report"). The Incident Report noted that Castellanos reported tripping on plastic on the floor. See Incident Report. In the Investigation Report, Hernandez stated that the floor was clean and dry at the time of the incident and that he could not determine the source or substance of the condition that caused the fall. See Investigation Report. Hernandez testified that as an ETL, he supervised Brand Attendants, who were responsible for sweeping and cleaning the floor. Hernandez Dep. at 11:14-12:4, 14:23-15:2. The Brand Attendants' duties included continuously inspecting the floor for hazardous conditions. Id. at 15:24-16:3, 28:12-19.

Hernandez testified that Target had a practice of placing display signs on clothing racks. Id. at 41:13-20. The displays were 7 by 11 inch pieces of plastic which attached to the top of the middle part of the clothing rack. Id. at 41:21-43:6. Paper signage could be placed into the plastic display. Id. at 43:20-44:25. Castellanos, who had shopped for clothing at the store in question on numerous occasions, stated that in her past visits "each and every clothing rack fixture inside the store had an 8 ½ by 11 inch plastic display sign placed on it." Castellanos Aff. at 2. She further claimed that on the date of her injury "[t]he clothing rack near the jewelry counter in the area of [the] accident did not have any ...


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