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Justices: no summary judgment for grocer in negligence suit

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The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the denial of a supermarket’s motion for summary judgment in a negligence case, finding the company failed to carry its burden in showing that criminal activity on its premises at the time a customer was assaulted wasn’t foreseeable.

In The Kroger Co. v. Lu Ann B. Plonski, No. 49S02-0907-CV-347, Kroger Co. appealed the denial of its motion for summary judgment in Lu Ann B. Plonski’s suit for damages as a result of the store’s negligence. Plonski left the store after shopping and was attacked and mugged by a man in the parking lot.

Kroger designated affidavits from the store’s risk manager, safety manager, and head cashier. The managers’ affidavits asserted that the Kroger store is located in a part of the city that has a reputation of low levels of criminal activity and in the two years before Plonski’s attack, there had only been one report of criminal activity on the store’s premises. The head cashier testified that the assailant wasn’t a guest or patron of the store.

Plonski was allowed to strike Kroger’s affidavits and argue the merits of Kroger’s summary judgment motion by including facts contained in 60 pages of police reports the two years prior that showed more than 30 responses to criminal activity on the store’s premises.

The trial court erred in granting Plonski’s motion to strike the Kroger affidavits and allowing her to introduce the police reports into evidence. The affidavits did not fail in some way to comply with Indiana Trial Rule 56.

“Affidavits submitted in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment may be stricken for a variety of reasons. But a difference of opinion about what the facts are alleged to be is not one of them,” wrote Justice Robert Rucker. “In essence, the answer to a competing claim about the facts is not to strike a party’s submissions. Instead, when the submissions show that material facts are in dispute then summary judgment should be denied.”

But the police reports are not admissible because they were not properly designated. After she received the reports, Plonski didn’t ask for additional time to conduct further discovery or respond to Kroger’s submissions, and she made no effort to explain why the police reports introduced at the summary judgment hearing supported her motion to strike.

The high court focused on whether the criminal assault on Plonski was not foreseeable, a burden Kroger must prove as the party moving for summary judgment. Kroger claimed it owed no duty to protect Plonski because her injuries were caused by someone who wasn’t a patron or guest of the store. The affidavits of the store managers tell the court nothing about the criminal activity or lack thereof occurring in the store or its parking lot.

Kroger also failed to show that the facts are not in dispute on the question of breach of duty. The fact that Plonski felt safe on the many times she visited the store in the past isn’t dispositive.

“Summary judgment is rarely appropriate in negligence actions,” wrote the justice. “In this case Kroger has persuaded us no differently.”
 

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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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