United States District Court, S.D. California
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Doc. No.
MARILYN L. HUFF, DISTRICT JUDGE
3, 2019, Defendant United States of America
(“Defendant”) filed a motion for summary
judgment. (Doc. No. 38.) On June 17, 2019, Plaintiff Minerva
Chavez (“Plaintiff”) opposed the motion. (Doc.
No. 39.) On June 24, 2019, Defendant filed a reply. (Doc. No.
41.) On July 19, 2019, the Court held a telephonic hearing on
the motion. (Doc. No. 45.) Andy Van Le appeared on behalf of
Plaintiff and Valerie Torres appeared on behalf of Defendant.
(Id.) For the reasons below, the Court denies
Defendant's motion for summary judgment.
24, 2013, Plaintiff, a third-party bread distributor, stocked
bread at Defendant's commissary store. (Doc. Nos. 38-4 at
7-9; 38-5 at 7.) At the store, an employee pushed a
wheel-based cooler filled with drinks from the
commissary's warehouse section to the sales floor. (Doc.
No. 38-5 at 7-9.) The employee pushed the cooler through
double doors that divided the warehouse section and the sales
floor. (Doc. No. 38-4 at 15; 38-5 at 10-12, 15.) At the
double doors, the wheels of the cooler caught on a threshold
metal strip. (Doc. Nos. 38-4 at 15; 38-5 at 15-16.) The
cooler tipped over and struck and injured Plaintiff above her
right knee. (Doc. No. 38-4 at 18.)
Legal Standards for Summary Judgment
judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56 if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine
issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material
when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect
the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Fortune Dynamic,
Inc. v. Victoria's Secret Stores Brand Mgmt., Inc.,
618 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2010). “A genuine issue
of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Fortune Dynamic, 618 F.3d at 1031
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted); accord
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “Disputes over
irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of
summary judgment.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac.
Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir.
seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of
establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party can
satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence
that negates an essential element of the nonmoving
party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving
party failed to establish an essential element of the
nonmoving party's case that the nonmoving party bears the
burden of proving at trial. Id. at 322-23; Jones
v. Williams, 791 F.3d 1023, 1030 (9th Cir. 2015). Once
the moving party establishes the absence of a genuine issue
of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to
“set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in
Rule 56, ‘specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.'” T.W. Elec.
Serv., 809 F.2d at 630 (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(e)); accord Horphag Research Ltd. v. Garcia, 475
F.3d 1029, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). To carry this burden, the
non-moving party “may not rest upon mere allegation or
denials of his pleadings.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 256; see also Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299,
309 (1996) (“On summary judgment, . . . the plaintiff
can no longer rest on the pleadings.”). Rather, the
nonmoving party “must present affirmative evidence . .
. from which a jury might return a verdict in his
favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Questions
of law are well-suited to disposition via summary judgment.
See, e.g., Pulte Home Corp. v. Am. Safety Indem.
Co., 264 F.Supp.3d 1073, 1077 (S.D. Cal. 2017).
ruling on a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the
facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris,
550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The Court should not weigh the
evidence or make credibility determinations. See
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “The evidence of the
non-movant is to be believed.” Id. Further,
the Court may consider other materials in the record not
cited to by the parties, but it is not required to do so.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); Simmons v. Navajo
Cnty., 609 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010).
argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because the
defect at issue is trivial. (Doc. No. 38 at 5-9.) Plaintiff
argues that the trivial defect doctrine does not apply, that
the defect was a dangerous condition, and that Defendant had
notice of the defect. (Doc. No. 39-1 at 11-17.) The Court
concludes the issue of whether the trivial defect doctrine
applies is better resolved once all the evidence is before
the trivial defect doctrine, “a property owner is not
liable for damages caused by a minor, trivial or
insignificant defect in property.” Caloroso v.
Hathaway, 122 Cal.App.4th 922, 927 (2004). The plaintiff
has the burden to plead and prove that the defect was not
trivial. Id. Whether a defect is dangerous depends
not on the size alone, but also “all of the
circumstances surrounding the accident.” Id.
With respect to walkways, “[m]any decisions have held
that sidewalk defects greater than [half an inch] were
trivial as a matter of law.” Id.
Defendant notes that the threshold defect had an elevation
defect of one-half inch and provides a list of California
cases finding a trivial defect where the defect is up to
one-inch in height. (Doc. No. 38 at 7-9.) However, Defendant
does not specify at what stage in the proceedings the
doctrine was applied in the cited cases. Plaintiff presents
evidence that the threshold defect caused prior incidents,
and that caulking material had previously been used to fill
the gap, but had curled away or deteriorated. (Doc. No. 38-6
at 9-10.) In addition, Plaintiff provides a report from her
expert witness who concludes that the threshold defect was an
unnecessary hazard on the premises, which violated industry
standards, the California Building Code, and Occupational
Safety and Health Administration regulations. (Doc. No. 39-7
at 12-13.) Plaintiff also argues that the incident differs
from typical slip-and-fall cases because the area where the
incident occurred was heavily trafficked by employees and
vendors moving heavy loads. (Doc. No. 39-1 at 10.) Given that
the parties have provided conflicting evidence, the Court
concludes that the issue of ...