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Allphin v. Peter K Fitness, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 18, 2014

SONDRA J ALLPHIN, Plaintiff,
v.
PETER K FITNESS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT FULCO FULFILLMENT INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Re: ECF No. 90]

BETH LABSON FREEMAN, District Judge.

Defendant Fulco Fulfillment, Inc. ("Fulco" or "Defendant") brings this Motion for Summary Judgment ("Mot.") against Plaintiff Sondra Allphin ("Allphin" or "Plaintiff"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Allphin has brought a claim for strict products liability against Fulco and other Defendants due to injuries suffered from an allegedly defective fitness band. Fulco seeks summary judgment, arguing that it was merely a "passive conduit" in the distribution of the allegedly defective band, providing only "storage and shipping services, " and as such cannot be held liable to Plaintiff for her injuries under a theory of strict liability. (ECF 90 at 2)

Having reviewed the submissions and oral argument of the parties, as well as governing case law, the Court finds that there is a disputed issue of material fact as to whether or not Fulco is properly considered a part of the vertical distribution chain that supplied, distributed, and marketed the fitness band in question. As such, the Court DENIES the Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

On February 13, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the California Superior Court for Santa Clara County. (ECF 1-1 Exh. A) On March 25, 2013, Defendants Peter K Fitness and Peter Kofitsas removed the action to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. (ECF 1) That same day, Peter K Fitness filed a Crossclaim against Fulco, (ECF 5), which Fulco answered on May 24, 2013. (ECF 23) On December 20, 2013, Fulco filed its own Crossclaim against a number of Defendants, including Peter K Fitness. (ECF 58) Peter K Fitness timely answered on January 13, 2014. (ECF 65)

On May 29, 2014, Fulco filed the instant Motion. (ECF 90) Plaintiff filed her Opposition ("Opp. to Mot.") on June 12, 2014. (ECF 96) That same day, Defendant Peter K Fitness filed a Response ("Fitness Resp."), on the grounds that summary judgment on behalf of Fulco could adversely affect its ability to recover under its Crossclaim. (ECF 102) Fulco filed its Reply on June 19, 2014, (ECF 109), and the Court heard oral argument on July 17, 2014.

B. Factual Allegations

Plaintiff is an individual who resides in Santa Clara County, California. (Compl., ECF 1-1 ¶ 4) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Fulco is a New Jersey corporation. (Compl. ¶ 7)

On or around April 1, 2012, Plaintiff, then fifty-five years old, alleges that she was injured while using a product called the Peter K Fitness band ("the band"). (Compl. ¶ 4) Plaintiff alleges that she was using the band in the manner intended by Defendants when it "unexpectedly snapped and broke, causing lacerations to her left hand, " ( id. ), and brought suit against all Defendants, alleging a single cause of action for strict products liability and seeking general and special damages for her injuries. (Compl. at p. 4) Plaintiff alleges that Fulco was "engaged in the business of selling, supplying, distributing, marketing, and/or advertising the product that caused plaintiff's injuries." (Compl. ¶ 7)

Plaintiff alleges several facts in support of her claim against Fulco. Plaintiff states that Fulco operated as the "distributor of the exercise band, " (Opp. to Mot. at 1), and held itself to the public as being a company that both distributed and assembled products. ( Id. at 1-2) In 2009, Plaintiff alleges, Peter K Fitness began an exclusive distribution arrangement with Fulco for purposes of distributing the Peter K Fitness band. ( Id. at 2) As a part of this arrangement, Plaintiff alleges, Fulco would initially "assemble and package the kits that contained [the] exercise bands, along with the instructional DVD and other related materials" that were included in the package. ( Id. ) These bands, Plaintiff alleges, were shipped to Fulco from China, and the bands were in Fulco's possession from the time they were received from China until the time when they were shipped, "either directly to Peter Kofitsas for sale or directly to the consumer." ( Id. )

Fulco moves for summary judgment, arguing that "there is no factual dispute about what services Fulco provided in relation to the subject product.... Fulco did not play an integral role in the producing and marketing enterprise' of the product." (Mot. at 3)

In support of its Motion, Fulco submits evidence to demonstrate the following facts: (1) Plaintiff suffered a physical injury to her left hand on April 1, 2012, while using an exercise band; (2) Plaintiff alleges that Fulco is liable under a theory of strict products liability because it engaged in the business of selling, supplying, distributing, marketing, and/or advertising the exercise band that caused Plaintiff's injuries; (3) Fulco is a third-party logistics company that only provides storage and shipping for the product; and (4) Fulco did not play an integral role in the "producing and marketing enterprise" of the product.

Facts 1 and 2 are undisputed. Facts 3 and 4 are supported solely by the Declaration of Anthony Rossi, Fulco's President. ( See Declaration of ...


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