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Mathis v. Milgard Manufacturing, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 7, 2018



          Hon. Roger T. Benitez United States District Judge


         Plaintiffs Brock Mathis and Michelle Mathis[1] bring this products liability action to recover damages arising out of injuries Mr. Mathis sustained during an accident involving the failed installation of an “Ultra Fiberglass 123” x 60” clear tampered [sic] window” (hereinafter “the Subject Window”) manufactured by Defendant Milgard Manufacturing, Inc. (“Milgard”). (Docket No. 1-2, Compl. at p. 5.)[2] Plaintiffs assert Milgard is liable for Mr. Mathis's injuries under California state-law theories of strict liability, negligence, and breach of implied warranty, as well as Mrs. Mathis's alleged resulting loss of consortium.


         On November 30, 2016, Defendant removed Plaintiffs' lawsuit from the Superior Court of California to this Court. (Docket No. 1.) Now pending is Defendant's motion for summary judgment, or in the alternative, partial summary judgment.[3] (Docket No. 36.) The motion is fully briefed.[4] For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND [5]

         Mr. Mathis is the owner of BPM Builders, Inc. (“BPM”). (Docket No. 36-11, Def.'s Notice of Lodgment in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (“DNOL”), Ex. G, Dep. of Brock Mathis (“Mathis Dep.”) at pp. 29:15-18, 31:11-18.) Since 2002, Mr. Mathis has been a California licensed general contractor, either individually or through BPM. (Id. at pp. 29:4-30:1, 31:2-4.) For the past four years, BPM's business has primarily involved upscale residential remodeling construction. (Id. at pp. 3:5-23, 50:20-51:3.)

         On April 18, 2016, Mr. Mathis authorized BPM's purchase of the Subject Window from a Dixieline Lumber Co. sales representative. (Id. at pp. 40:11-18, 51:16-52:21 & Mathis Dep. Ex. 4.) The Subject Window was intended to be installed on the second floor addition as part of a remodel of Mr. Mathis's father's home, which also served, and continues to serve, as Plaintiffs' present residence and BPM's address. (Mathis Dep. at pp. 7:21-24, 31:19-25, 34:3-39:4.)

         On May 31, 2016, Mr. Mathis attempted to install the Subject Window with his two general laborer employees, Denis and Walter. (Id. at pp. 25: 6-2, 58:21-59:5.) In essence, Plaintiffs allege that during the attempted installation, the Subject Window frame bent, flexed, buckled and/or bowed such that it fell into the intended window opening, and its flanges folded, buckled, and/or got unintentionally locked into the opening, at which point the Subject Window became stuck. Ultimately, as Mr. Mathis, Denis, and Walter tried to dislodge the Subject Window, it swung back and knocked them off the scaffold they were standing on. (Id. at pp. 116:7-119:20, 136:2-24, 138:3-139:24; see also DNOL Ex. D, Mr. Mathis's Resp. to Interrog. No. 1; Ex. E, Mr. Mathis's Supp. Resp. to Interrog. No. 1 (“The [Subject Window] was structurally unsound, did not maintain its form during installation resulting in its collapse, thereby pushing [Mr. Mathis] and this co-workers off the scaffold.”).)


         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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 Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. A dispute is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. In considering a summary judgment motion, the evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his or her favor. Id. at 255.

         The moving party bears the initial burden of showing there are no genuine issues of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can do so by negating an essential element of the non-moving party's case, or by showing that the non-moving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case, and on which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. As a general rule, the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” will be insufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. There must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Id.


         A. Products Liability Claims

         In California, “[p]roducts liability may be premised upon a theory of design defect, manufacturing defect, or failure to warn.” Trejo v. Johnson & Johnson, 13 Cal.App. 5th 110, 125 (2017) (citing Anderson v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 53 Cal.3d 987, 995 (1991)). Each of these theories in turn may be advanced under a theory of strict liability or negligence (or both), which require a plaintiff to prove that a defect caused the plaintiff's injury. Id., 13 Cal.App. 5th at 125 (citations omitted in original).

         A plaintiff seeking recovery for a manufacturing or design defect under a theory of negligence must also prove an additional element: “that the defect in the product was due to negligence of the defendant.” Id. (quoting Anderson, 53 Cal.3d at 995-96) (internal citations omitted in original). However, this additional element is not required in the context of a failure to warn claim, where “there is little functional difference between the two theories.” Johnson v. Am. Standard, Inc., 43 Cal.4th 56, 71-72 (2008) (citing Cupp & Polage, The Rhetoric of Strict Products Liability Versus Negligence: An EmpiricalAnalysis, 77 N.Y.U. ...

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