Walmart Stores East, LP v. Howell et al.

Georgia Court of Appeals Finds That a Trial Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion in Finding a Change in Circumstances That Would Set Aside an Order of Judicial Estoppel


After suffering injuries from a slip and fall, Plaintiff sued Walmart in state court for $56,000 in addition to Walmart’s gross negligence, loss of consortium, pain and suffering, and permanent disabilities. Walmart removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. However, Walmart failed to meet its burden to prove that the amount in controversy was over $75,000. 

The federal court remanded the case to state court and determined that Plaintiff was judicially estopped from recovering over $75,000 unless the trial court found a change in circumstances after Plaintiff filed its motion to remand. At the close of discovery, it became apparent that Plaintiff would suffer lingering injuries that would prevent her from performing work, there was a factual dispute about whether a third party was the cause of the slip and fall or a Walmart employee was the cause, and there were post-suit settlement offers that were exchanged between the parties. After Walmart moved to limit any judgment against it to $75,000 or less, the trial court determined that the aforementioned factors were sufficient changes in circumstances to allow for a judgment exceeding $75,000. At the end of the trial, the jury awarded Plaintiff $300,000. 

Walmart moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict that was denied by the trial court. Walmart then appealed.  

Issues and Holdings

The issue in this case is whether the trial court abused its discretion in finding that judicial estoppel did not preclude an award in excess of $75,000. 

In short, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.


The doctrine of judicial estoppel is intended to prevent parties from manipulating the court through calculated assertions of inconsistent pleadings. Naturally, whether a party should be judicially estopped is a question of fact and must be examined under the totality of the circumstances. 

  1. The lingering effects of Plaintiff’s injuries constituted a change in circumstance. Even though Plaintiff’s injuries were known at the time of its motion to remand, the lingering effects were not apparent until after discovery had been conducted. The lingering effects were so severe that Plaintiff qualified for a Department of Labor sedentary physical demand work category. 
  2. The post-suit settlement demands exceeded the $75,000 limitation imposed by the federal court. As such, the trial court cited that Walmart had the opportunity to remove the case to federal court once the Plaintiff demanded an amount in excess of $75,000, but Walmart failed to do so within the one-year timeframe to seek removal. 
  3. The trial court’s weighting of the factual dispute regarding liability was within its discretion in examining the totality of the circumstances and ultimately was not an abuse of discretion. 


This case illustrates the doctrine of judicial estoppel and how it may be overcome by a trial court’s wide latitude in examining the change of circumstances. Further, it emphasizes the duty of a party to seek discovery regarding claimed damages in the context of satisfying the amount in controversy requirement for a federal diversity case when the defendant seeks to remove the case to federal court.

Citation: Walmart Stores East, LP v. Howell, et al., No. A23A1198 (Ga. Ct. App. March 12, 2024)

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The Champion Firm is a full-service personal injury law firm serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. Our award-winning team of attorneys specializes in car accidents, wrongful death, premises liability, and slip-and-fall cases. Learn more about our team here.