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Bell v. Circle K Stores Inc.

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

October 15, 2019

CIRCLE K STORES INC., a foreign profit corporation, Defendant.



         This cause is before the Court upon Circle K Stores Inc.'s (“Defendant') Motion for Final Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (Doc. 32), and Angenette Bell's (“Plaintiff”) response in opposition (Doc. 34). Upon consideration, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.


         On December 21, 2016, Plaintiff slipped and fell on the floor of Defendant's convenience store in Polk City, Florida. Plaintiff testified that on the date of the accident, she was driving with some friends when she asked them to stop at Defendant's convenience store to use the restroom. Dep. Bell at 30:17-24. She then walked into the store and asked a customer for the location of the restrooms. Dep. Bell at 31:13-14, 32:2-9. After Plaintiff left the restroom, she turned a corner, and then slipped and fell on a large puddle of soda, ice, and water near the fountain drink machine. Dep. Bell at 6:1-3, 7:2-8:8; Doc. 32 at 6. Plaintiff further testified that the puddle was there a long time because it had been “trampled through, ” and that no wet floor cones or warning signs were visible. Dep. Bell at 9:3-15; 6:16-20. Plaintiff testified that as a result of her slip and f all, she suffered injuries to her ankle, back, and neck. Dep. Bell at 23:9-14.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if all the pleadings, discovery, affidavits, and disclosure materials on file show there is no genuine disputed issue of material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) and (c). The existence of some factual disputes between the litigants will not defeat an otherwise properly supported summary judgment motion; “the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). A fact is material if it may affect the outcome of the case under the governing law. Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could decide an issue of material fact for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the court must read the evidence and draw all factual inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve any reasonable doubts in the non-movant 's f av or. Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1136 (11th Cir. 2007).

         The non-moving party, however, “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and “identify affirmative evidence, ” which creates a genuine dispute of material fact. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 600 (1998). “[M]ere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mtn. Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 836 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). “A mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).


         To establish a claim of negligence under Florida law, Plaintiff must allege: (1) a duty, (2) breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) dam ages. See Virgilio v. Ryland Group, Inc., 680 F.3d 1329, 1339 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Curd v. Mosaic Fertilizer, L.L.C., 39 So.3d 1216, 1227 (Fla. 2010) (quotations omitted)). “[E]stablishing the existence of a duty under [Florida's] negligence law is a minimum threshold legal requirement that opens the courthouse doors . . . and is ultimately a question of law for the court rather than a jury.” Williams v. Davis, 974 So.2d 1052, 1057 n. 2 (Fla. 2007) (citing McCain v. Florida Power Corp., 593 So.2d 500, 502 (Fla. 1992)). To determine the duty of care a defendant owes a plaintiff in slip and fall cases, it is first necessary to establish the plaintiff's status under the doctrine of premises liability. See Barrio v. City of Miami Beach, 698 So.2d 1241, 1243 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997)). Where material facts are not disputed, the Court may determine a plaintiff's status as a matter of law. Id.

         I. Plaintiff's Status on Defendant's Premises

         Under Florida common law, visitors on the property of another “fall within one of three classifications: they are either trespassers, licensees, or invitees.” Post v. Lunney, 261 So.2d 146, 147 (Fla. 1972) (citing St. Petersburg Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Cuccinello, 44 So.2d 670 (Fla. 1950)). At issue here is whether Plaintiff was an “uninvited licensee” on Defendant's premises at the time of the accident, as argued b y Defendant, or a “public invitee, ” as argued by Plaintiff.

         Under Florida law, “an uninvited licensee is a person ‘who chooses to come upon the premises solely for his or her own convenience.'” Barrio, 698 So.2d at 1243 (citing Wood v. Camp, 284 So.2d 691, 695 (Fla. 1973)). An uninvited licensee's presence is neither sought nor forbidden, but merely permitted or tolerated by the owner. Bishop v. First National Bank, 609 So.2d 722, 725 (Fla. 5th DCA 1972); Iber v. R.P.A. Intern. Corp., 585 So.2d 367, 368 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991). An uninvited licensee lies somewhere between an invitee and a trespasser. Id. On the other hand, “‘[a] public invitee is a licensee on the premises by invitation, either express or reasonably implied, of the owner or controller of the property.'” Post, 261 So.2d at 148 (quoting Restatement Second of Torts § 332). The key distinction between a public invitee and an uninvited licensee is the existence of an express or reasonably implied invitation to enter the defendant's premises. See Wood, 284 So.2d at 695 (stating that an uninvited licensee does not have either an express or implied invitation of a landowner to enter the premises); Post, 261 So.2d at 148 (abandoning “the ‘mutual benefit test' or the ‘economic benefit test'” and adopting the “invitation test” to determine an invitee status). An “invitation” to enter land or premises exists when:

the occupier by his arrangement of the premises or other conduct has led the entrant to believe that the premises were intended to be used by visitors for the purpose which this entrant was pursuing, and that such use was not only acquiesced in by the owner or possessor, but that it was in accordance with the intention and design with which the way or place was adopted or prepared.

Smith v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 232 So.2d 195, 198 (Fla. 4th DCA 1970); Iber, 585 So.2d at 369 (an “ invitee status turns upon the coexistence of two factors . . .: (1) The landowner must so conduct his activities on his property, by way of carrying out his business or arranging his premises, that (2) it reasonably appears to the person coming onto them that he has been welcomed or invited there for the visitor's intended purpose and is therefore entitled to expect t hat t he owner has taken reasonable care for his safety ”) (citation omitted)). An invitation may ...

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