E-Alert Case Updates
District Court Granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment Where Plaintiffs Abandoned Claims by Failing to File Timely Responses
Uribe, et al., v. Aaron’s, Inc.
In Uribe, et al., v. Aaron’s, Inc., the United States District Court for the Southern District of Maryland reinforced the importance of adhering to court mandated filing deadlines and granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment where Plaintiffs failed to respond to both the motion and a show cause order.
Plaintiffs, Jessica and Ann Uribe (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), filed a complaint against Defendant, Aaron’s, Inc. (“Defendant”) for negligence and violations of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. When the Defendant moved for summary judgment, Plaintiffs did not file an opposition. In response, the court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause by no later than December 23, 2014, explaining why the court should not grant the Defendant’s motion. The court explicitly warned the Plaintiffs that failure to respond to the show cause order “may result in the immediate dismissal of [the] lawsuit;” however, the Plaintiffs did not heed the warning. Plaintiffs ignored the show cause order, and the court granted the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
By way of background, the Defendant was in the business of selling and leasing home goods, including furniture, electronics, appliances and accessories to residential customers. The Plaintiffs purchased three (3) mattresses from the Defendant’s store. After delivery of the mattresses several weeks later, the Plaintiffs claimed that the mattresses had been infested with bedbugs. Further, Plaintiffs contended that the infestation caused injuries to Plaintiff Anne Uribe.
In the complaint, Plaintiffs asserted that the Defendant was negligent by (i) failing to maintain and sell clean and usable furniture; (ii) failing to inspect the mattresses after Plaintiffs called Defendant to give notice of the bedbugs; (iii) failing to take any remedial action to eradicate the bedbugs or to correct the situation; (iv) failing to train critical staff on how to identify the signs of bedbug infestations; and (v) failing to retain a properly licensed and trained pest control professional.
In addition to negligence, Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendant’s misrepresentation of the quality of the mattresses at the time of the sale amounted to a violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. As aforementioned, the Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment to which the Plaintiffs failed to respond. After the Plaintiffs failed to respond to the court’s show cause order, the court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
In order to survive a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must present more than a “scintilla of evidence” that a genuine dispute of any material fact exists. Where, after the submission of pleadings, discovery, and affidavits, there is still no genuine dispute as to any material fact, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. While the burden is initially imposed on the party seeking the summary judgment, after that party has demonstrated that no genuine dispute exists, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to put a material fact back in contention. The court noted that it must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, yet it reiterated that the non-moving party may not build inference upon inference to support that there is a genuine dispute for trial. In other words, the non-moving party cannot rely on speculation and mere inferences.
Here, the court identified two (2) reasons for granting the motion for summary judgment, on procedural grounds and on the merits. On a procedural note, the court granted the motion due to the Plaintiffs’ failure to respond to the court in a timely manner on two (2) occasions. First, the Plaintiffs missed their deadline by which they were to respond to the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Next, when the court afforded the Plaintiffs an opportunity to explain their failure to respond by issuing a show cause order, the Plaintiffs failed to avail themselves of it. The court expressly warned the Plaintiffs that a failure to respond to the show cause order could yield a dismissal of the case. The warning, however, fell on deaf ears. The court considered the Plaintiffs’ failure to respond to both the motion and the order as an abandonment of their claims.
While the case was dismissed on procedural grounds, the court also noted that the case could be dismissed on the merits. The court found that the Plaintiffs had not produced any admissible evidence to support that the Defendant’s mattresses were infested with bedbugs. Even if the Plaintiffs’ evidence suggested that the mattresses did contain bugs, the Plaintiffs failed to prove that the bugs were bedbugs and that they could be linked to the Defendant’s store. Without evidence of actual bedbugs and a nexus to the Defendant, the Plaintiffs could not prove that the Defendant breached its duty or that he violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.
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