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Binning v. Louisville Ladder, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 27, 2014

CHRISTOPHER R. BINNING, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUISVILLE LADDER, INC.; and DOES 1-50, inclusive, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MORRISON C. ENGLAND, Jr., Chief District Judge.

In this product liability case, Defendant Louisville Ladder, Inc. ("Louisville") moves for summary judgment, or alternatively for summary adjudication, on grounds that Plaintiff has failed to proffer sufficient evidence to support his claims. Jurisdiction is premised on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1441(b). As set forth below, Louisville's Motion is GRANTED.[1]

BACKGROUND

On June 16, 2009, Plaintiff Christopher Binning ("Plaintiff") was injured while installing a steel rolling curtain overhead door at a residence located in Groveland, California. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Fact ("SUF") No. 4. Plaintiff was working as an overhead door installer for Barton Overhead Door, Inc. Id. at No. 1. In that capacity, he used ladders every day and considered himself an experienced ladder user. Id. at No. 2.

The door being installed by Plaintiff and his fellow installer, Tom Oliva, on the day of the incident was a Janus Model 2000 door which measured some 8 feet tall by 9 feet wide and weighed approximately 90 pounds. Id. at 9. In performing the installation, Plaintiff was using a 6 foot fiberglass step ladder manufacturer by Louisville that he had used without incident every day for about a year and a half. Id. at 5-6. It is undisputed that Plaintiff realized that installing overhead doors could be dangerous. Id. at No. 3.

In preparing to place the door, Plaintiff and Oliva installed "L-brackets" on either side of the door opening from which to hang the steel curtain door. Id. at No. 8. After affixing those brackets, both Plaintiff and Oliva positioned their ladders on either side of the door opening so that the door could be lifted onto the brackets. Id. at No. 10. Once they lifted the door such that it was sitting on the top of both ladders, Plaintiff climbed to the third step of the ladder and both men picked up the door so that they could it hoist it to the brackets. Id. at 12-13. Plaintiff was not holding on to the ladder as he lifted the door forward to a point about three feet above the top of the ladder and approximately six inches over his head in order to access the brackets. Pl.'s Dep., Ex. A. to the Decl. of Jonathan R. Murphy in Support of Summ J., 62:22-63:25. According to Plaintiff, he was looking up at the brackets where the door was going to be placed when he felt the door "give way." Id. at 15-16. As the ladder tipped, Plaintiff went left and the ladder went right, towards the door opening. Id. at 17. He grabbed the truss to the left of the door opening with his left arm, and remained suspended in that manner until Oliva helped him down. Id. at 20. Neither Plaintiff nor Oliva observed the ladder "break." Id. at 16. Plaintiff also did not see whether the steel door hit the ladder as both items fell to the ground. Pl.'s Dep., 17:4-6.

After the incident, Plaintiff observed that one of the legs of the ladder was bent, and a support brace was broken. Id. at 21. Plaintiff claims to have suffered a separated shoulder as a result of the accident and filed suit in state court on June 14, 2011, alleging causes of action for strict product liability, negligence, and breach of implied warranty. As indicated above, Louisville subsequently removed the action to this Court on diversity grounds.

Plaintiff propounded no discovery on Louisville before the discovery period closed. Nor did he designate any expert witness to opine with regard to any alleged defects in the ladder that caused or contributed to the accident. Louisville, for its part, designated Thomas Schmitt, its Director of Product Safety and Engineering, as an expert witness. Schmidt inspected the damage to the ladder at the accident site on June 25, 2013, and subsequently prepared an expert report dated November 17, 2013. See Report, Ex. 1 to Louisville's Expert Witness Disclosure, Ex. E to Murphy Decl. Schmitt noted that one of the ladder's rear legs had bent inward, causing a support brace to snap. He opined that this damage could not have occurred during normal use of the ladder, when any force exerted is transferred down the rails and to the ground, without any lateral force exerted on the ladder's legs. Id. at 38-39. Instead, according to Schmitt, the damage he observed could only have resulted from a force striking the outside of the rear leg of the ladder, such as the overhead door falling on the ladder as it tipped and fell forward towards the door opening. Id. at 40.

Louisville now moves for summary judgment, or alternatively for summary adjudication as to Plaintiff's various claims, on grounds that Plaintiff has failed to identify any triable issues of material fact to counter Louisville's showing that the accident was not caused by any design defect.

STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure[2] provide for summary judgment when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex , 477 U.S. at 325.

Rule 56 also allows a court to grant summary judgment on part of a claim or defense, known as partial summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) ("A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought."); see also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Madan , 889 F.Supp. 374, 378-79 (C.D. Cal. 1995). The standard that applies to a motion for partial summary judgment is the same as that which applies to a motion for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); State of Cal. ex rel. Cal. Dep't of Toxic Substances Control v. Campbell , 138 F.3d 772, 780 (9th Cir. 1998) (applying summary judgment standard to motion for summary adjudication).

In a summary judgment motion, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying the portions in the record "which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co. , 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

In attempting to establish the existence or non-existence of a genuine factual dispute, the party must support its assertion by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits[, ] or declarations... or other materials; or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Owens v. Local No. 169, Assoc. of W. Pulp and Paper Workers , 971 F.2d 347, 355 (9th Cir. 1987). The opposing party must also demonstrate that the dispute about a material fact "is genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. In other words, the judge needs to answer the preliminary question before the evidence is left to the jury of "not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson , 81 U.S. 442, 448 (1871)) (emphasis in original). As the Supreme Court ...


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