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Marshon v. The Fresh Market Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

January 5, 2017




         THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendant The Fresh Market, Inc.'s ("Fresh Market") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint or Alternatively, for a More Definite Statement ("Motion"), filed on October 27, 2016. (DE 10). Plaintiff Paula Marshon ("Marshon") filed a Response in opposition on November 14, 2016 (DE 15), to which Fresh Market replied the next day, November 15, 2016 (DE 16). For the reasons stated below, the Motion is denied.


         Marshon's claim arises out of a slip-and-fall that occurred on Fresh Market's premises. Marshon is an individual citizen of Florida. (Amended Complaint, hereinafter "Complaint" or "Compl." at ¶ 5). Fresh Market is a corporation, and allegedly a citizen of Delaware, [1] that does business in Florida. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 5). Marshon's Complaint alleges that on November 17, 2014, she was a business invitee at a Fresh Market store located at 1727 South Federal Highway in Delray Beach, Florida. (Id. at ¶ 8). While she was near the shopping carts at the store's entrance, Marshon allegedly "slipped on a liquid, water-like substance, " causing her to "fall to the ground and sustain severe and permanent personal injuries." (Id. at ¶ 9). Marshon avers further that the substance was "not readily apparent to business invitees" because it was "located on the ground and blended in with characteristics of the floor." (Id. at ¶ 11). She thus characterizes the substance as a "dangerous and hazardous condition." (Id.). In addition, Marshon states that this condition existed for long enough that Fresh Market knew or should have known of its existence. (Id. at ¶ 14).

         The Complaint sets forth a single cause of action against Fresh Market for negligence. Tracking the elements of a common law negligence claim, Marshon alleges that Fresh Market owed her a duty of care, both to "maintain the [p]remises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn [her] of concealed perils" of which it knew or should have known. (Id. at ¶ 12). Fresh Market supposedly breached this duty by a) allowing the liquid substance to accumulate on the floor; b) failing "to instruct its employees to maintain a clear and safe area" for customers; c) failing to protect customers by taking remedial steps such as putting down mats, creating warning signs, or cleaning up the liquid; and d) failing to warn customers about the hazard. (Id. at ¶ 13)- Marshon claims that by virtue of this breach, Fresh Market directly and proximately caused her injuries. (Id. at ¶ 15).

         Marshon initially filed a complaint against Fresh Market in Florida state court on September 12, 2016. (DE 1-2 at 5-8).[2] Fresh Market filed a timely notice of removal to this Court on September 20, 2016. (DE 1). In its notice, Fresh Market stated that subject matter jurisdiction existed because of diversity of citizenship between the Parties. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Specifically, Fresh Market contended that it, the corporation, was incorporated in Delaware and had its principal place of business in North Carolina, making it a citizen of the latter.[3] (DE 1 at 5). Marshon, on the other hand, is a citizen of Florida, and so Fresh Market claimed that the two parties were diverse. (Id.). In addition, Fresh Market maintains that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, based on a comparison between the nature of Marshon's alleged injuries and jury verdicts awarded for similar injuries in previous tort cases. (Id. at 4-5). The instant Motion is based on Marshon's failure to state a claim for relief under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (DE 10 at 2).


         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In assessing the legal sufficiency of a complaint's allegations, the Court is bound to apply the pleading standard articulated in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, the complaint "must.. . contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "Dismissal is therefore permitted when on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action." Glover v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 459 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Marshall Cty. Bd of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993)).

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must construe plaintiffs complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff and take the factual allegations stated therein as true. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007); Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406 (2002); Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997). However, pleadings that "are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009) (stating that an unwarranted deduction of fact is not considered true for purpose of determining whether a claim is legally sufficient).

         Generally, a plaintiff is not required to detail all the facts upon which he bases his claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rather, Rule 8(a)(2) requires a short and plain statement of the claim that fairly notifies the defendant of both the claim and the supporting grounds. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. However, "Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a 'showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Id. at 556 n.3. Plaintiffs "obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555 (citation omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise [plaintiffs] right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true." Id.


         A. Rule 8(a)(2)

         Fresh Market primarily argues that Marshon's allegations do not meet the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It cites to several "key deficiencies" in the Complaint. (DE 10 at 6). First, Fresh Market insists that Marshon's description of the liquid substance and the circumstances of her fall were not sufficiently precise. Second, it faults Marshon for not labeling the substance "concealed" or "hidden." Third, it claims that Marshon cannot adequately allege Fresh Market's constructive knowledge of the substance without offering some supporting factual assertions about how it would have been on notice, such as by specifying the amount of time the dangerous condition existed before Marshon slipped on it. Marshon responds that her factual allegations suffice to raise a reasonable inference that Fresh Market is liable for negligence under Florida law. She also advances the theory that where a complaint's supporting facts are at least as detailed as the form allegations provided in the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, see Fla. R. Civ. P. Form 1. 951 ("Fall-Down Negligence Complaint"), the complaint's allegations are enough to provide adequate notice of the claim.

         Marshon's ancillary argument relating to Florida procedural rules is inconsistent with the standard governing the relationship between federal and state law in diversity cases. It is elementary that when federal jurisdiction arises through the parties' diversity of citizenship, substantive issues are controlled by state law and procedural issues by federal law. Brown v. Nichols,8 F.3d 770, 773 (11th Cir. 1993); see generally Hanna v. Plumer,380 U.S. 460 (1965). Pleading requirements are procedural in nature and so are determined by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, not by the rules of the state where the federal court sits. Brown, 8 F.3d at 773 ("federal law governs pleading requirements"); accord. F.D.LC. v. Dawson,4 F.3d 1303, 1308 (5th Cir. 1993) ("the pleading requirements in federal court are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 rather than by state law"); Muzikowski v. Paramount Pictures Corp.,322 F.3d 918, 926 (7th Cir. 2003) (Illinois pleading rule "of course does not apply in federal court"); Ridgway v. Ford Dealer Comput. Serv., Inc., 114 F.3d 94, 98, n.5 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing Dawson). Thus, just as "a state's heightened pleading standards do not apply to [a] [p]laintiff s state law claims", Palm Beach Golf Ctr.-Boca, Inc. v. John G. Sarris, D.D.S., P.A.,781 F.3d 1245, 1250, n.4 (11th Cir. 2015); see also Caster v. Hennessey,781 F.2d 1569, 1570 (11th Cir. 1986), so too would a state's more permissive pleading standard - incorporated through a model form - not usurp the pleading ...

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