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May v. Fluor Federal Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

January 12, 2018

TANYA MAY, Plaintiff,
v.
FLUOR FEDERAL SOLUTIONS, LLC, a Foreign Limited Liability Company, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN United States District Judge.

         This personal injury action is before the Court on: (1) Defendant Fluor Federal Solutions, LLC's Motion for Final Summary Judgment (Doc. 37), to which Plaintiff Tanya May filed a response (Doc. 38); and (2) May's Motion to Invalidate the Settlement Agreement (Doc. 44), to which former Defendant United States of America filed a response (Doc. 45).

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         May alleges that she went to the Naval Station Mayport, Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida (“Mayport”) on November 18, 2014 to play bingo as an invitee of the United States. May alleges that while at Mayport, she tripped and fell on an unpainted parking curb in a parking lot without lighting and sustained bodily injury. Fluor was allegedly responsible for maintaining the lighting at Mayport.

         On May 12, 2016, May filed a complaint against the United States of America under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), alleging one count of negligence based on premises liability. (Doc. 1). She amended her complaint (Doc. 13) after the United States filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 7). The United States filed a second motion to dismiss, arguing that independent contractor Fluor was solely responsible for the maintenance of the lights in the parking lot at Mayport, and therefore the United States was not liable based on an exception to FTCA liability. (Doc. 14).

         On September 9, 2016, May and the United States notified the Court that they had reached an agreement in principle to settle the claims against the United States (Doc. 20), and on September 15, 2016, the Court entered an Order directing the parties to file dismissal papers or other papers to close out the file by November 11, 2016 or the case would be dismissed (Doc. 21). Neither party did so, and the case was automatically dismissed without prejudice as to the United States on November 11, 2016. The parties filed a joint stipulation of dismissal with prejudice on February 6, 2017 (Doc. 28), and the Court entered an Order dismissing the action against the United States with prejudice that same day (Doc. 29).

         Following her settlement with the United States, on September 23, 2016, May filed the SAC, naming Fluor as the sole defendant and alleging one count of negligence based on premises liability.[2] (Doc. 22). Fluor filed an answer. (Doc. 26). The parties filed the pending motions for summary judgment and to invalidate the settlement agreement (Docs. 37 and 44), which are ripe for review.

         II. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         A. Material Question of Fact Regarding Negligence

         To prevail on her negligence claim, May must prove four elements: duty of care, breach of that duty, causation, and damages. Schwartz v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 155 So.3d 471, 473 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2015). The existence of a duty of care is generally a question of law to be determined by the court, while breach, causation, and damages are generally questions to be decided by the trier of fact. Id.

         Fluor argues that May cannot establish a material question of fact concerning Fluor's negligence because the parking bumper was an “open and obvious” condition. (Doc. 37 at 4); see Ramsey v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 124 So.3d 415, 419 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2013) (“trial court properly granted summary judgment to Home Depot in this negligence case because the Ramseys failed to establish that Home Depot had a duty to warn of the presence of a wheel stop that was located in an open and obvious place”). May had visited Mayport three times before her accident (Doc. 40-1 at 22:2-5), so according to Fluor, she was aware of the location of the parking bumpers. To that end, Fluor also submits a daytime photograph of the Mayport parking lot showing the parking bumpers at each parking space. (Doc. 37-2). In addition, Fluor argues that May cannot prove that it failed to maintain the parking lot in a reasonably safe condition because she testified that she did not look around the parking lot to see whether the lights were on, and she does not know whether any lights were malfunctioning on the night she fell. (Doc. 40-1 at 30:8-20).

         In response, May argues that the evidence precludes summary judgment because she testified that it was dark when she was walking through the parking lot and not “lit up.” (Doc. 40-1 at 30:11-16). In addition, May's daughter, Jenjer Sawyer, who was with May on the night of the accident, testified that there was no lighting near where May fell and that the lights were off. (Doc. 42-1 at 36:2-10).

         While the Court may find that a parking bumper is an open and obvious condition in certain circumstances, see Ramsey, 124 So.3d at 419, here, it was allegedly dark, and the parties dispute the state of the lighting in the parking lot. Under these circumstances, the Court finds that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to Fluor's alleged negligence. See Aaron v. Palatka Mall, L.L.C., 908 So.2d 574, 579 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2005) (“We believe that the dark and rainy conditions and the inadequate lighting may have prevented [plaintiff] from observing, with the use of her ordinary senses, any danger posed by the bumper. In other words, we think that under these facts and circumstances, a jury ...


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