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Mercury Casualty Co. v. Char-Broil

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


April 28, 2009

MERCURY CASUALTY COMPANY, A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION, AS SUBROGEE OF RICHARD AND KATHRYN SCHLENKER; RICHARD SCHLENKER, INDIVIDUALLY; AND KATHRYN SCHLENKER, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CHAR-BROIL, A DIVISION OF W.C. BRADLEY COMPANY, A GEORGIA CORPORATION; TARGET CORPORATION, A MINNESOTA CORPORATION; AND DOES 1-100, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER

In bringing this action, Defendants seek damages resulting from a residential fire that occurred on or about July 26, 2005 when a barbecue ignited and burned portions of a home owned by Defendants Kathryn and Richard Schlenker and insured by Defendant Mercury Casualty Group. Defendant Char-Broil was sued as the manufacturer of the allegedly defective barbecue.

Defendant Char-Broil now moves, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 14(a),*fn1 to file a Third Party Complaint against S.H. Leggitt Company, a Michigan Corporation which purportedly does business under the assumed name of Marshall Gas Controls, Inc. ("Leggitt"). According to Char-Broil, it recently ascertained through discovery responses that Plaintiffs attribute the fire to a failure of the diaphragm at the pressurized side of the barbecue's regulator valve. Because Char-Broil claims it purchased the regulator valve used in the barbecue at issue from Leggitt, it now seeks to bring Leggitt into this litigation as an additional potentially responsible party for the damages sought by Plaintiffs in their lawsuit.

Rule 14 permits parties to bring a lawsuit against, or "implead," a third party who is not already a party to the lawsuit in order to transfer liability being asserted against it in the underlying lawsuit. Specifically, Rule 14 provides:

"at any time after commencement of the action, a defending party, as a third-party plaintiff, may cause a summons and complaint to be served upon a person not a party to the action who is or may be liable to the third-party plaintiff for all or part of the plaintiff's claim against the third-party plaintiff." (F.R.C.P. Rule 14(a)).

The District Court has broad discretion in determining the propriety of a third-party claim under Rule 14. Sw. Admin., Inc. v. Rozay's Transfer, 791 F.2d 769, 777 (9th Cir. 1986). Rule 14 is to be construed liberally in favor of allowing impleader. Lehman v. Revolution Portfolio L.L.C., 166 F.3d 389, 393 (1st Cir. 1999).

Given Plaintiffs' contention that a regulator valve manufactured by Leggitt contributed to the barbecue fire that caused the damages claimed through this lawsuit, Char-Broil would have grounds to file a separate lawsuit against Leggitt for contribution and indemnity. Accordingly, a third-party complaint against Leggitt is proper, and Char-Broil's Motion for Leave to File Third Party Complaint is GRANTED.*fn2 Char-Broil is directed to file and serve its proposed Third Party Complaint not later than ten (10) days following the date this Order is electronically filed with the Court.

Given the impending inclusion of a new party to this lawsuit, the Pretrial (Status) Scheduling Order, filed on October 28, 2008, is hereby vacated, along with all the dates and deadlines contained therein, pending Leggitt's appearance in the litigation. Within twenty (20) days following such appearance, the parties are directed to submit a new Joint Status Report. A new Scheduling Order will be issued thereafter.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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