Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Summary Judgment Motion Filed by Store Denied In Part In Case Involving Altercation Between Two Customers

In the case of Cimbat v. Old Navy LLC, No. 21-2657 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 31, 2022 Beetlestone, J.), the court ruled that a Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment would be denied as to the negligence claims in a premises liability case where the Plaintiff presented issues of fact regarding whether the store had sufficient protection in place for the Plaintiff after she accused another customer of shoplifting.  The summary judgment motion was granted with respect to the claims asserted of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. 

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff was assaulted by another customer at an Old Navy store after the Plaintiff approached that customer when she observed the customer attempting to shoplift.

Thereafter, the Plaintiff went to a store employee to report to the attempting shoplifting. That employee informed the store manager, after which the accused shoplifting customer when into the fitting room area. The Plaintiff, believing that the issue was being handled, continued to shop.

However, shortly thereafter, the manager later heard the Plaintiff exclaim, “How are you just going to let her take that stuff where I have to pay for it?”

The record also indicated that the Plaintiff was informed by another employee that the accused shoplifting customer was tampering with a price tag gun in the fitting room and also appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Shortly thereafter, the alleged shoplifting customer approached the Plaintiff in the checkout line and spat in her face. The Plaintiff reacted by throwing a punch to get the customer out of her personal space. The alleged shoplifting customer then connected with a punch to the Plaintiff and then began kicking the Plaintiff after she fell to the ground.

In reviewing the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Old Navy store, the court granted the Defendant’s Motion relative to the Plaintiff’s claims of intention infliction of emotional distress. The court stated that the record was insufficient to demonstrate that the employees of the store were deliberately indifferent by failing to take further precautions after discovering that the other customer was attempting to shoplift and appear to be under the influence.

However, the court declined to dismiss the Plaintiff’s premises liability negligence claims. The court found that there was no sufficient facts in the records to support a jury finding that the store had failed to exercise reasonable care in protecting the Plaintiff from harm from the accused shoplifter. The court noted that there was evidence that the store employees suspected that the shoplifter was under the influence and thereby posed a risk of starting an altercation. There was also conflicting evidence as to whether or not the employees of the store were trained to handle intoxicated customers or customer-on-customer altercations.

The court rejected the defense contention that the Plaintiff’s own actions, including falsely representing that she was a store employee and swinging a fist at the shoplifter contributed to the assault that the Plaintiff suffered. The court found that these actions by the Plaintiff were too remote in time to conclusively establish that they were a contributing factor to the assault.

As such, overall, the court concluded that the record contained facts that could allow to conclude that the store was negligent in failing to protect the Plaintiff from an assault on the premises of the store.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  The companion Order can be viewed HERE.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Nov. 18, 2022).

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