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Scantlin v. General Electric Co.

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 22, 2014

MICHAEL SCANTLIN AND ORA SCANTLIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, et al., Defendants

For Michael Scantlin, Ora Scantlin, Plaintiffs: James R Traut, Traut Law Offices, Santa Ana, CA.

For General Electric Company, Essco Wholesale Electric, Defendants: Clement L Glynn, Glynn and Finley, Walnut Creek, CA; James M Hanlon, Jr, Covington & Burling, San Francisco, CA; Maureen Anne Rodgers, Glynn & Finley, LLP, Walnut Creek, CA.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND THE PRETRIAL CONFERENCE ORDER (DOC. NO. 231) AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 238)

VIRGINIA A. PHILLIPS, United States District Judge.

On October 8, 2014, Plaintiffs Michael Scantlin and Ora Scantlin (" Plaintiffs") filed a " Motion to Proceed to Trial Under the Risk-Benefit Test, " which the Court has construed as a motion to amend the Pretrial Conference Order (" Amend Motion"). (Doc. No. 231.) On October 27, 2014, Defendant General Electric Company (" GE") filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (" MSJ"). (Doc. No. 238.) These matters came before the Court for a regular hearing on December 8, 2014. After considering the papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the motions, and the arguments made by counsel at the hearing, Court DENIES the Amend Motion and GRANTS the MSJ.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The First Trial, Remand, and Plaintiffs' Change of Theory

Plaintiffs filed this action on March 10, 2009 in California Superior Court. (Notice of Removal (Doc. No. 1) Ex. A.) Plaintiffs allege that Michael Scantlin was seriously injured in an explosion while he was installing an industrial switchboard. Plaintiffs contend that the switchboard, which was manufactured by GE, was defectively designed.

GE removed the action to this Court on March 4, 2010. (Not. of Removal.) Plaintiffs elected to proceed solely under the risk-benefit test theory of design defect at trial. (First Trial Pretrial Conference Order (Doc. No. 106) at 2-3.)

A jury trial began on April 12, 2011. (Doc. No. 98.) After Plaintiffs rested their case, GE filed a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. (Doc. No. 95.) The Court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of GE, finding Plaintiffs had failed to prove the element of causation in their case in chief. (Doc. No. 105.) The Ninth Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial. (Doc. No. 145; see also Scantlin v. Gen. Elec. Co., 510 F.App'x 543, 544 (9th Cir. 2013).)

Before the first trial, Plaintiffs filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence that the switchboard was approved by the Underwriters' Laboratories (" UL"), and had complied with the National Electric Code (" NEC"), and other regulations and safety rules. (Doc. No. 34.) The Court denied that motion, finding that evidence of compliance with industry standards is relevant and admissible. (April 8, 2011 Order (Doc. No. 91) at 4).

On remand, a second trial was scheduled for February 25, 2014.[1] For this second trial, Plaintiffs announced their intention to proceed under a different theory of design defect: the consumer expectation test. (Plaintiffs' Updated Memorandum of Contentions of Fact and Law (Doc. No. 173) at 1-2.) Based on this change of theory, Plaintiffs requested the Court reconsider its previous ruling regarding the admission of evidence that the switchboard was approved by UL and complied with the NEC. (Doc. No. 176.) As the introduction of industry customs or safety standards is " reversible error" when trying a case on a consumer expectation test theory, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration and excluded any evidence that the switchboard was approved by UL or complied with the NEC or any other industry standards. (Minute Order Ruling on Additional Pretrial Matters (Doc. No. 203) at 2-4.)

B. The Pretrial Conference Order

At the pretrial conference on September 22, 2014, GE noted flaws in Plaintiffs' Updated Memorandum of Contentions of Fact and Law -- which also appeared in Plaintiffs' section of the proposed Pretrial Conference Order -- namely, that issues related to product design under the risk-benefit test were present, despite Plaintiffs' election to proceed solely under the consumer expectation test. The Court noted that the inclusion of anything in the Pretrial Conference Order related to the risk-benefit test appeared to be an editing error, and the discussion thereafter focused on issues related to the consumer expectation test. Counsel for Plaintiffs did not contend that they were proceeding under the risk-benefit test.[2] (See September 22, 2014 Transcript (Doc. No. 240) at 19:9-23:22.)

Additionally, after Plaintiffs announced their election of the consumer expectation theory, GE filed a brief arguing that Plaintiffs' case suffered from a fatal defect: they were required to have expert testimony to state a prima facie case but had retained no such expert. (" Def. Br. 1") (Doc. No. 208). Plaintiffs filed a brief arguing that no expert testimony was necessary. (" Pls'. Br. 1") (Doc. No. 210). The Court discussed this issue with the parties at the pretrial conference; ultimately, the Court ordered the parties to submit further briefing on the issue. (See Doc. Nos. 212 (" Def. Br. 2."), 220 (" Pls.' Br. 2"), 223.)

C. The Court Vacates the Trial Date

On October 6, 2014, the Court issued an order with respect to GE's contentions regarding the necessity of expert testimony. The Court agreed with GE that Plaintiffs were required to have expert testimony to support their theory of the case, but lacked such an expert. (" Expert Order") (Doc. No. 227). The Court invited the parties to submit a stipulated judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) in order that Plaintiffs could appeal this ruling immediately if they were so inclined. (Expert Order at 6-7.)

Later that day, the Court conducted a telephonic status conference with the parties regarding the Expert Order and the possibility of entering a stipulated judgment. (Doc. No. 232.) Also on that day, in response to the Expert Order, Plaintiffs submitted a " Second-Amended Proposed Final Pretrial Conference Order, " noting their desire to change their theory of the case from a consumer expectation theory back to a risk-benefit theory. (Doc. No. 228.)

A further telephonic status conference was held the next day. (Doc. No. 233.) At that status conference, Plaintiffs' counsel reported that his clients would not agree to a stipulated judgment. Instead, Plaintiffs' counsel suggested that the Court sign the Second-Amended Proposed Final Pretrial Conference Order and allow Plaintiffs to proceed on a risk-benefit theory, rather than a consumer expectation test theory. After considering the arguments made by the parties, the Court declined to permit Plaintiffs to amend the Pretrial Conference Order, finding that Plaintiffs had not satisfied the " manifest injustice" standard for changing the theory of the case on the eve of trial. The Court allowed GE to file this motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 233.)

Plaintiffs filed the Amend Motion on October 8, 2014.[3] (Doc. No. 231.)

D. GE's Motion for Summary Judgment

GE filed the MSJ on October 27, 2014.[4] Along with the MSJ, GE filed a Statement of Uncontroverted Facts and Conclusions of Law (Doc. No. 238-7), as well as the Declaration of Clement L. Glynn (Doc. No. 238-1). Glynn's Declaration, in turn, attached as exhibits four transcripts of court proceedings (Doc. Nos. 238-2 to 238-5), and excerpts of GE's Answering Brief in the previous Ninth Circuit appeal (Doc. No. 238-6).

Plaintiffs filed their Opposition (" Opp'n") to the MSJ on November 17, 2014. (Doc. No. 244.) Along with the Opposition, Plaintiffs filed: (1) the Declaration of James R. Traut (Doc. No. 244-1); (2) the Declaration of Richard Hornick, Ph.D. (Doc. No. 244-2); (3) Plaintiffs' Statement of Genuine Disputes (Doc. No. 244-3); and a Request for Judicial Notice (Doc. No. 244-4).

GE filed its Reply on November 24, 2014. ...


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