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Martin v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

November 20, 2017


          Edwin G. Torres, U.S. Magistrate Judge Counsel of record.



         Plaintiff Leidys Martin (“Plaintiff) brings this negligence action against Defendant United States of America (“Defendant”) pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, see 28 U.S.C. § 2671, et seq.; 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1), because of a fall she suffered at the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami (“FCI-Miami”) while visiting her husband. Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 31). Included in its Motion is its Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. Id. Plaintiff filed her Response in Opposition (ECF No. 32), which also includes within it a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. Defendant has filed its Reply (ECF No. 37) and the matter is now ripe for review. After careful review of the parties' briefs, the record, and the relevant legal authorities, Defendant's Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs husband is currently serving a sentence at the FCI-Miami, where he has been since incarcerated October 31, 2013. Def's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“Def's SMF”), ECF No. 31, ¶ 1.[1] Since October 31, 2013, Plaintiffs husband has been allowed six visits a month. Id., at ¶ 2. As of the date of her deposition in May 2017, Plaintiff had visited her husband on each of his available visits except one. Id., at ¶ 3. During each of her visits, Plaintiff follows a routine. Id., at ¶ 4. For Saturday visits, Plaintiff arrives around 6:00 a.m. and waits in her car until right before 8:00 a.m., when the doors to the facility open. Id., at ¶ 5; Pl.'s Depo., ECF No. 31-1, 66:25-67:1. Plaintiff is usually one of the first in line to enter the facility to wait to be processed. Def.'s SMF, at ¶ 5. Once inside the doors, the visitors are processed and organized into groups of five for entry into the visiting area. Id., at ¶ 5. A Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) officer escorts each group of five visitors into the visiting room one group at a time. Id., at ¶¶ 7-8. Once inside the visiting room, Plaintiff follows her routine of taking her identification and form to the BOP desk, putting her things in the seating area assigned to her, and then going to the vending. Id., ¶ 10. According to Plaintiff, the visitors usually go to the vending machines first because the vending machines tend to run out of food. Pl.'s Depo., 85:21-22.

         Generally, after visits conclude for the day, BOP has orderlies clean and mop the visiting areas. Def.'s SMF, ¶ 27. After the orderlies have cleaned the room, a BOP officer does a general walkthrough of the area. Aguilar Depo., 15:5-8. It is part of the BOP officer's responsibility to make sure the visiting room is clean and inspected before going home. Andrews Depo., 9:7-14. In addition to checking the room in the evening, on the morning of a visiting day a BOP officer does a general walk-through of the visiting room before opening the room to visitors. Aguilar Depo., 11:11-12:14.

         On Saturday November 22, 2014, Plaintiff visited her husband at FCI-Miami. Def.'s SMF, ¶ 11. BOP Officer Aguilar and BOP Officer Andrews entered the visiting room at 7:30 a.m. that morning. Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“Pl.'s SMF”), ECF No. 32, ¶ 34-35. Officer Aguilar performed a general walk through soon after he arrived, including inspecting the area where Plaintiff later slipped. Aguilar Depo., 11:11-23. At about 8:40 a.m., BOP officers began processing visits. Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 36. Plaintiff was in the third visitor group processed for visits, but in the first group of visitors allowed into the visiting room. Def.'s SMF, at ¶ 13. Once inside the visiting room and after checking in with the BOP desk, Plaintiff went to the vending machine and purchased a pizza and sandwich. Def.'s SMF, at ¶ 14. She was the first person at the vending machine. Pl's SMF, ¶ 39. As she was going back to her assigned seating area, Plaintiff slipped and fell near the entrance of the visiting room. Def.'s SMF, at ¶¶ 14-15.[2] Plaintiffs slip occurred around 8:46 a.m. Aguilar Memo., p. 2. According to Plaintiff, she slipped on some water. Pl.'s Depo., 101:4-19. Plaintiff testified that the substance was clear and not dirty, and that she heard someone say the substance was water. Pl.'s Depo., 102: 17-23, 103:5-12. Ms. Rose Donahue, a fellow visitor, testified that she did not remember seeing any water on the floor where Plaintiff slipped. Donahue Depo., 28:7-12. According to Plaintiff, a BOP supervisor and some relatives wiped up the area where she fell. Pl.'s Depo., 103:5-10. Plaintiff recalls seeing the BOP supervisor with a wet paper towel. Pl.'s Depo., 104:5-15. BOP Officer Aguilar observed dry wet spots where Plaintiff fell, as well as two black skid marks from Plaintiffs shoes. Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 52. However, Officer Aguilar did not see any water or any indication that there had been water other than the spots. Aguilar Depo., 9:25-11:5.

         On Plaintiffs many weekend visits where she was in the first group allowed into the visiting room, she has not seen water on the floor where she slipped, nor has the visiting room been dirty. Pl.'s Depo., 117:22-118:9. Ms. Donahue also testified that the room always looked clean and she did not know why the floor would have been wet that morning. Donahue Depo., 45:3-7, 60:4.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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). The function of the trial court is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). “The moving party bears the initial burden to show the district court . . . that there is no genuine issue of material fact that should be decided at trial.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Only when that burden has been met does the burden shift to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Id. Any inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). However, “there is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citing First National Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)). “If the evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Id. (internal citations omitted).


         “Under the Federal Tort Claims Act [“FTCA”], the United States is liable for the negligent conduct of its employees ‘in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.'” Howell v. United States, 932 F.2d 915, 917 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2674; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)). “Congress's chief intent in drafting the FTCA was simply to provide redress for ordinary torts recognized by state law.” Id. As such, state law applies to determine whether Defendant is liable for negligence. Id. Under Florida law, “[t]he mere fact that a person falls in a store does not automatically mean that the store is liable.” Yaicel De La Caridad Sanchez v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 2015 WL 6599696, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 30, 2015) (citing Bucholtz v. City of Jacksonville, 72 So.2d 52, 53 (Fla. 1954)). To support a negligence action, a Plaintiff must show: “(1) duty, (2) breach of duty, (3) injury arising from the breach, and (4) damages caused by the injury as a result of the breach of duty.” Vallot v. Logan's Roadhouse, Inc., 567 F. App'x 723, 726 (11th Cir. 2014). Additionally, Florida statute provides, “[i]f a person slips and falls on a transitory foreign substance in a business establishment, the injured person must prove that the business establishment had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it.Id., at 725 (emphasis in original) (quoting Fla. Stat. § 768.0755(1)).

         Defendant's sole argument in its Motion is that Plaintiff's negligence claim fails because Plaintiff cannot show that Defendant had actual or constructive knowledge that there was allegedly a substance on the floor. Plaintiff does not contend that Defendant had actual knowledge; rather, Plaintiff maintains that the alleged substance was on the ground a sufficient time for Defendant to have constructive knowledge of its presence. “Constructive notice may be inferred from either: (1) the amount of time a substance has been on the floor; or (2) the fact that the condition occurred with such frequency that the owner should have known of its existence.” Delgado v. Laundromax, Inc., 65 So.3d 1087, 1090 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011) (citing Schaap v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., 579 So.2d 831, 834 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991)).

         In the instant case, there is an issue of fact as to whether there was water on the ground where Plaintiff fell. Plaintiff said she saw a clear substance on the ground after she slipped and that the visitors who wiped the floor where she fell had wet paper towels; however, neither Officer Aguilar nor Ms. Donahue saw any water. Taking this evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, I must conclude that there was some wet substance on the floor that was clear and could have been water. Nevertheless, “the mere presence of water on the floor is not enough to establish constructive notice[;] the record must contain additional facts in support of liability, to create a permissible inference upon which [Plaintiff] could rely in defense against [Defendant's] motion for summary judgment.” Delgado, 65 So.3d at 1090. “[A] person claiming that a store was negligent by not cleaning up a dangerous condition must present some evidence that the dangerous condition that caused her fall existed for such a ...

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