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Mock v. Wal-Mart Stores, East, L.P.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 23, 2014

MARILYN MOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, EAST, L.P., et al., Defendants/Third Party Plaintiffs,
v.
UNARCO INDUSTRIES, LLC, f/k/a UNARCO INDUSTRIES, INC., Third Party Defendant.

MCDONNELL & ASSOCIATES P.C. John M. McConnell, Esq., Counsel for Defendants/Third Party Plaintiffs.

MCDONNELL & ASSOCIATES P.C. Patrick J. McConnell, Esq., Counsel for Defendants/Third Party Plaintiffs.

GERMAN, GALLAGHER & MURTAGH Tiffany J. Giangiulio, Esq., Counsel for Third Party Defendant.

OPINION

JOSEPH E. IRENAS, District Judge.

This matter arises from Plaintiff Marilyn Mock's fall at a Wal-Mart store in Deptford, New Jersey.[1] Plaintiff alleges that Defendant/Third Party Plaintiff Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P. ("Wal-Mart") negligently maintained the premises, thereby causing her to trip on an unidentified, and since discarded, piece of debris. In response, Wal-Mart filed a Third Party Complaint against its shopping cart supplier, Unarco Industries, LLC ("Unarco"), alleging negligence, products liability, breach of warranty, and contractual and common law contribution and indemnification.

Presently before the Court is Unarco's motion for summary judgment on Wal-Mart's claims. Unarco argues it is entitled to such relief because Wal-Mart engaged in spoliation of the evidence when its employee discarded the debris that caused Plaintiff's injury. For the following reasons, the motion will be denied.

I.

On August 14, 2010, Plaintiff stepped on "a sharp, metal object" near the shopping cart section of a Wal-Mart store in Deptford, New Jersey. (Third-Party Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶¶ 1-3). Plaintiff cried out in pain, catching the attention of Brian Wright ("Wright"), a Wal-Mart Courtesy Associate and cart-handler. ( Id., Ex. F at 22). When Wright checked to see if Plaintiff was injured, she left the scene of the accident and continued to walk throughout the store. ( Id., Ex. F at 24-31).

Because Plaintiff immediately continued shopping, Wright did not believe her injury to be serious. ( Id. ) Consequently, he discarded the object on which Plaintiff stepped. Plaintiff's ankle subsequently swelled to thirty percent more than its normal dimensions. ( Id. Ex. B at 93). She filed an incident report with Wal-Mart hours after the fall.

Plaintiff filed an action for negligence against Wal-Mart soon thereafter. ( See Compl.) Wal-Mart consequently filed a Third-Party Complaint against Unarco for negligence, products liability, breach of warranty, and common law and contractual contribution and indemnification. (Third Party Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶¶ 11, 13-14). Wal-Mart alleges the "sharp metal object" was part of a shopping cart supplied by Unarco and Plaintiff's injuries were caused by Unarco's negligent conduct. ( Id. at ¶¶ 13-14).[2]

Unarco now moves for summary judgment based on Wright's throwing out of the metal object. ( See Third Party Def's Mot. Summ. J.). Unarco argues that Wright's conduct amounts to spoliation, and that the Court should either (1) rule in favor of Unarco's summary judgment motion and dismiss all of Wal-Mart's claims; or (2) dismiss Wal-Mart's claim for contractual contribution or indemnification ("Count IV") and impose an adverse jury instruction regarding the lost bumper piece. ( Id. at 5).

Because Unarco has failed to meet its burden proving spoliation occurred, its motion will be denied.

II.

Summary judgment is proper if "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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to ...


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