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Tucker v. United States

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 3, 2017

BLANCHE TUCKER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. 30]

          Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Blanche Tucker (“Plaintiff” or “Tucker”), brings this negligence suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671, et seq., for a slip-and-fall that occurred in a United States Post Office in West Haven, Connecticut. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On August 23, 2013, Tucker took the day off from work and went to the Allingtown Post Office in West Haven, Connecticut to buy stamps or get a money order. [Dkt. 30-1 (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement), ¶¶ 1-2; Dkt. 33-2 (Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement), ¶¶ 1-2; Dkt. 30-2 (Pl.'s Dep.) at 25:21-22]. When she entered the premises, she spotted her friend from church, Delores McQueen (“McQueen”), who worked at the Post Office as a Postal Clerk. [Dkt. 30-1, ¶ 3; Dkt. 33-2, ¶ 3]. The people in the Post Office were abuzz with excitement over a “huge” bug that was annoying the customers. [See Dkt. 30-3 (McQueen Dep.), at 22:11-25 (“It looked like a bee as big as our heads. It was huge.”); Dkt. 30-1, ¶ 4; Dkt. 33-2, ¶ 4]. Tucker alleges that McQueen asked her to spray the bug, although McQueen does not recall doing so. [See Dkt. 30-1, ¶ 5; Dkt. 33-2, ¶ 5; Dkt. 33-5 (McQueen Dep.), at 23:21-22]. Tucker obtained a spray bottle containing unknown liquid, sprayed the bug, and attempted to step on the bug when it came closer to the ground. [Dkt. 30-1, ¶¶ 5-10; Dkt. 33-2, ¶¶ 5-10]. In the process of stepping on the bug, Tucker slipped and fell on the ground. [Dkt. 30-1, ¶ 11; Dkt. 33-2, ¶ 11].

         Tucker did not notice any wet spots on the floor prior to stepping on the bug. [Dkt. 30-1, ¶ 12; Dkt. 33-2, ¶ 12]. Tucker testified that the area of the floor with which she came into contact when stomping on the bug was in fact dry. [Dkt. 30-1, ¶ 13; Dkt. 33-2, ¶ 13]. After getting up, Tucker did not notice any other wet spots. [Dkt. 30-1, ¶ 16; Dkt. 33-2, ¶ 16]. McQueen had not asked Tucker to step on the bug. [Dkt. 30-1, ¶ 17; Dkt. 33-2, ¶ 17]. Kevin Love (“Love”), the custodian, indicated there was a “liquidy” spot about “[t]he size of a soccer ball” that he was to mop during the time when Tucker was present, but it is unclear when the substance on the floor came to exist. [See Dkt. 30-4 (Love Dep.) at 38:1-16]. Three days later, Tucker received an x-ray and treatment to her leg. [See Dkt. 30-2, at 41:2-25].

         On May 7, 2014, Tucker filed a claim for administrative settlement with the United States Postal Services in the amount of $450, 000, which the United States Postal Service Tort Claims Examiner/Adjudicator denied on September 18, 2014. [Dkt. 18-1 (Standard Form 95 Claim for Damage, Injury, or Death); Dkt. 18-2 (Administrative Letter)]. As required under 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b), Tucker has filed an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency within two years of the time the claim accrued and filed this action within six months of the date mailing of the notice of final denial of her claim, thereby conferring jurisdiction upon this Court.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment should be granted if “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). The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine factual disputes exist. See Vivenzio v. City of Syracuse, 611 F.3d 98, 106 (2d Cir. 2010). “In determining whether that burden has been met, the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and credit all factual inferences that could be drawn in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). Where, as here, “a motion for summary judgment is unopposed, the district court is not relieved of its duty to decide whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Vt. Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 242 (2d Cir. 2004). “If the evidence submitted in support of the summary judgment motion does not meet the movant's burden of production, then ‘summary judgment must be denied even if no opposing evidentiary matter is presented.'” Id. at 244 (emphasis omitted) (quoting Amaker v. Foley, 274 F.3d 677, 681 (2d Cir. 2001)).

         “In order to defeat a summary judgment motion that is properly supported by affidavits, depositions, and documents as envisioned by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), the opposing party is required to come forward with materials envisioned by the Rule, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact to be tried.” Gottlieb v. Cty of Orange, 84 F.3d 511, 518 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal citation omitted). A plaintiff may not rely solely on “the allegations of the pleadings, or on conclusory statements, or on mere assertions that affidavits supporting the motion for summary judgment are not credible. Id. (internal citations omitted). “At the summary judgment stage of the proceeding, [a plaintiff is] required to present admissible evidence in support of her allegations; allegations alone, without evidence to back them up, are not sufficient.” Welch- Rubin v. Sandals Corp., No. 3:03CV481 (MRK), 2004 WL 2472280, at *1 (D. Conn. Oct. 20, 2004) (citing Gottlieb, 84 F.3d at 518); see Martinez v. Conn. State Library, 817 F.Supp.2d 28, 37 (D. Conn. 2011).

         II. FTCA Negligence Claim

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b), the United States is liable for its employee's torts “in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1); see Caban v. United States, 728 F.2d 68, 72 (2d Cir. 1984); Davis v. United States, 430 F.Supp.2d 67, 73 (D. Conn. 2006) (“The Supreme Court has, on numerous occasions, read the FTCA to mean that the United State's [sic] liability is determined by state substantive tort law.”). Connecticut law applies to Tucker's claims because it would have applied if Tucker had brought a negligence action against a private defendant.

         “The essential elements of a cause of action in negligence are well established: duty; breach of that duty; causation; and actual injury.” Baptiste v. Better Val-U Supermarket, Inc., 262 Conn. 135, 138 (Conn. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The existence of a duty is a question of law. Gordon v. Bridgeport Hous. Auth., 208 Conn. 161, 171 (Conn. 1988); Dubuis v. U.S., 3:06CV01443(DJS), 2008 WL 410429, at *4 (D. Conn. Feb. 12, 2008). “Only if such a duty is found to exist does the trier of fact then determine whether the defendant violated that duty in the particular situation at hand.” Gordon, 208 Conn. at 171. The status of a person entering onto a possessor's land determines the duty owed by the possessor to such person: thus, an ascending degree of duty is owed to a trespasser, a licensee, and an invitee. Considine v. City of Waterbury, 279 Conn. 830, 859 (Conn. 2006). Tucker, who was a regular patron of the Allingtown Post Office, was a business invitee on that day because she went to buy stamps or get a money order, both of which were offered for sale at the Post Office at the time of her visit. [Dkt. 30-2, at 25:21-22]; see Corcoran v. Jacovino, 161 Conn. 462, 465 (Conn. 1971) (“A business invitee ‘is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land.'”) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 (Am. Law Inst. 1965)); Gomes v. United States, No. 3:11-CV-01825, 2012 WL 5869801, at *4 (D. Conn. Nov. 19, 2012) (where the parties did not ...


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