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Victor Zavala, et al v. Wal-Mart Stores

April 7, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brown, Chief Judge



This matter comes before the Court upon the motion for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative, for partial summary judgment filed by Defendant Wal-Mart ("Wal-Mart"). (Doc. No. 246) Plaintiffs Petr Zednik and Teresa Janos ("Plaintiffs") oppose Wal-Mart's present motion. (Doc. No. 247) The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decided this motion without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Wal-Mart summary judgment on Plaintiffs' false imprisonment claims.


Wal-Mart's present motion was filed after nearly eight years of complex litigation. As the Court writes only for the parties, who are familiar with this case's lengthy procedural history and factual background, the Court will summarize only that information relevant to the Court's resolution of the present matter. Because the Court will address the merits of Wal-Mart's request for partial summary judgment, in discussing the following relevant facts, the Court will draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiffs, the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Plaintiffs allege that they worked as part of overnight cleaning crews at Wal-Mart stores in Monroe, Georgia, and Bristol, Connecticut, in 2002 and 2003. (Def's L. Civ. R. 56 1 Statement "Def's Statement") ¶ 1; Pl.'s L. Civ. R. 56 1 Resp. ("Pls.' Statement" ¶ 1.) Plaintiffs further allege that Wal-Mart managers locked the storefront doors during Plaintiffs' overnight shifts. It appears undisputed that the stores in question were closed to the public overnight. Based upon these allegations, Plaintiffs assert that their confinement in the Monroe and Bristol stores constitutes the common law tort of false imprisonment. (Def's Statement ¶¶ 9-10; Pls.' Statement ¶¶ 9-10).

Wal-Mart asserts that managers lock the storefront doors overnight to "to provide security for personnel and the merchandise in the facility." (Def.'s 56(1) Statement ¶ 5; Wright Supp. Decl. ¶ 2; McDaris Supp. Decl. ¶ 2.) It appears undisputed that both stores contain several emergency exits through which personnel can exit safely if the front doors are locked. (Def.'s Br. at 12). Further, it appears both undisputed and indisputable that these emergency exits are required by law to be "clearly marked, easily accessible, and unobstructed." (Def.'s Br. at 13); see 29 C.F.R. § 1910.36. Indeed, Wal-Mart asserts that there are four emergency exits at the Monroe store, and fifteen emergency exits at the Bristol store. Plaintiffs have produced no evidence that effectively rebuts the existence of these exits, or that they were at any time in violation of the applicable regulations. As such, Plaintiffs have produced no evidence that indicates these exits were unmarked, inaccessible, or obstructed. (Def.'s 56(1) Statement ¶ 12- 13.)

In their present motion, Wal-Mart seeks judgment on the pleadings and alternatively, requests leave under FED.R. CIV. P. 6(b) to seek partial summary regarding Wal-Mart's liability to Plaintiffs for false imprisonment pursuant to FED. R.CIV. P. 56(a). Plaintiffs oppose WalMart's motion on the ground that various disputed material facts preclude summary judgment on the false imprisonment claim. Having considered the parties' submissions, the Court will grant Wal-Mart partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' false imprisonment claims.


A. Summary Judgment is Procedurally Appropriate

Wal-Mart has filed this motion pursuant to both Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 and 56. The Court expresses no opinion regarding the sufficiency of Plaintiffs' pleadings under the recently evolved Rule 12 pleading standards. Instead, the Court will assume arguendo that Plaintiffs' claims are sufficiently plead, and consider Wal-Mart's motion as one for partial summary judgment. To that end, the Court concludes that Wal-Mart has shown adequate grounds for "excusable neglect" pursuant to the analysis established in Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380 (1993). Namely, there clearly is no prejudice to Plaintiffs, who have had nearly a decade to prepare their case, and the Court concludes that this motion would have been wasteful if filed sooner by Wal-Mart, because: (1) class-certification issues were pending; (2) settlement negotiations were ongoing (and were ultimately successful as to all but these Plaintiffs); and (3) until shortly before this motion was filed, Plaintiffs' claims were potentially subject to dismissal pursuant to an order to show cause issued by the Court. As such, Wal-Mart's motion for partial summary judgment will be considered.

B. Legal Standard

A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (noting that no issue for trial exists unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict in its favor). The moving party carries the burden of showing "the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In countering a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must support its opposition by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" or "show that the materials cited to not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) ("[nonmoving party] must do more than simply show ...

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