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Green v. Bradley Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

September 12, 2017

Shameka Green, Plaintiff,
v.
The Bradley Company[1] and HMU, LLC, [2] Defendants. The Bradley Company, Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
Hignite Enterprises, LLC, Third-Party Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Shameka Green ("Plaintiff or "Green") filed the instant warranty/products liability action against Defendants D.J. Bradley Company, Inc. d/b/a The Bradley Company ("TBC" or "Bradley") and Open Plan Systems, LLC f/k/a HMU, LLC ("OPS" or "HMU") (together "Defendants") seeking damages as a result of injuries she sustained when a desk collapsed on her while working for Teleperformance Group, Inc. ("TGI").[3] (ECF No. 1-1 at 3 ¶ 9.)

         This matter is before the court by way of OPS's Motion for Exclusion of Plaintiffs Expert based on the applicable Federal Rules of Evidence and Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 75.) Plaintiff opposes both Motions asserting that they should be denied. (ECF No. 97 at 11.) For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS OPS's Motion for Exclusion of Plaintiff s Expert and GRANTS OPS's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. JURISDICTION

         The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) based on OPS's allegations that the action is between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy is in excess of $75, 000.00, exclusive of costs and interest. (ECF No. 1 at 1 ¶ 2-2 ¶ 3.)

         II. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO THE PENDING MOTION

         OPS sold TBC remanufactured systems furniture stations for office installation. (ECF No. 76-2at24:21-25:ll.) In January and February of 2009, [4] OPS shipped parts to build systems furniture stations to TGI's facility located at 300 St. Andrews Road, Columbia, South Carolina 29210. (Id. at 27:19-30:18; see also ECF No. 76-3 at 3-8.) After the furniture stations were assembled and installed by Third-Party Defendant Hignite Enterprises, LLC[5] ("HEL") at the St. Andrews Road facility, TGI experienced problems with the top of the desk assembly "coming up off of the cantilevers." (ECF No. 76-2 at 39:8-40:10.) During the weekend of June 29, 2009, HEL examined the furniture stations at TGI's St. Andrews Road facility and tried to address the problem of "worksurfaces coming displaced" by drilling 2 screws into them. (ECF No. 76-4 at 3.) In October of 2009, TGI was still complaining to OPS about problems with the furniture stations. (Id. at 1-2.) On November 12, 2009, OPS inspected the worksurface of every furniture station and made corrections to 25 stations by replacing cantilevers. (Id. at 1.) OPS believed the problem to be related to paint that was placed on the cantilevers during the remanufacturing process. (ECF No. 76-2 at 53:7-56:15.) On November 24, 2009, TGI notified OPS that 3 more worksurfaces had detached. (ECF No. 76-4 at 4.)

         On or about September 23, 2011, Plaintiff was employed by TGI at its St. Andrews Road facility. (ECF No. 97-7 at 1.) On that date, Plaintiff suffered injuries while sitting at her furniture station when the worksurface collapsed onto her legs. (Id.) On June 3, 2014, Plaintiff filed a warranty/products liability action against Defendants Herman Miller, Inc. and TBC in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County, South Carolina. (ECF Nos. 12 at 1-2 & 75-1 at 2.) On May 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint wherein she replaced Herman Miller, Inc. with OPS and asserted claims against Defendants for (1) negligence, (2) breach of the implied warranty of merchantability under S.C. Code Ann. § 36-2-314 (2015), and (3) breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose under S.C. Code Ann. § 36-2-315 (2015). (ECF No. 1-1 at 3 ¶ 9-6 ¶ 15.) In support of her causes of action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to (1) "properly refurbish, repaint and reconstruct the desk in question"; (2) "properly assemble, install and set-up and support the desk in question"; (3) "monitor, maintain or otherwise take reasonable measures to assure the integrity and stability of the desk in question"; and (4) "adhere to applicable standards, guidelines, and regulations for the construction, transportation, installation, assembly, marketing and maintenance of the desk in question." (Id at 4 ¶¶ 11a-11d.)

         On June 26, 2015, OPS removed the matter to this court (see ECF No. 1) and then moved to dismiss the action (ECF No. 4) on July 2, 2015, which Motion was granted by the court on reconsideration as to the negligence cause of action on July 7, 2016. (ECF No. 51.) OPS next moved for summary judgment on September 12, 2016, and TBC moved for summary judgment on September 29, 2016. (ECF Nos. 54 & 56.) On November 14, 2016, the court denied Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment without prejudice in the following Text Order:

In their Motions, Defendants first move to exclude the testimony of Plaintiffs expert, Bryan Durig ("Durig") of Summit Engineering, on the basis that "it fails to meet the requirements of Rules 702, 703, 402, and/or 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence." (ECF No. 54-1 at 9.) If the court agrees with Defendants, they argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because "Plaintiff cannot establish the desk was in a defective condition" or "determine the cause of the desk collapse." (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff opposes Defendants' Motions arguing that they are "patently premature at best and likely to become completely unwarranted when further evidence is developed." (ECF Nos. 55 at 2, 58-1 at 2.) Upon review, the court observes that the premise of Defendants' Motions is that because neither the desk at issue nor an exact replica are available for Durig to inspect, Plaintiffs expert cannot demonstrate "the desk in question was defective, much less, that OPS caused a defective condition to exist or sold the desk in a defective condition and/or any that [sic] defect in the desk caused Plaintiffs injuries." (ECF No. 54-1 at [3].) In considering Defendants' position, the court acknowledges its awareness of a principal found in the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability that applies where a product was destroyed thus prohibiting an expert from conducting the necessary testing to determine causation. Specifically, the indeterminate product defect test allows "the fact finder to draw an inference that a product is defective where the incident that harmed the plaintiff was (1) of a kind that ordinarily occurs as a result of a product defect; and (2) was not, in the particular case, solely the result of causes other than a product defect existing at the time of sale or distribution." Franklin Mut. Ins. Co. v. Broan-Nutone, LLC, Civil No. 10-04845(NLH)(JS), 2014 WL 2920622, at *5 (D.N.J. June 27, 2014) (citing Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability § 3 (Am. Law Inst. 1997)). Although the South Carolina Legislature has not definitively adopted the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability, this court has previously observed that the South Carolina Supreme Court has embraced the treatise. See Quinton v. Toyota Motor Corp., C/A No. 1:10-cv-02187-JMC, 2013 WL 2470083, at *2 (D.S.C. June 7, 2013). Based on the foregoing, the court is not yet prepared to find that Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law regarding Plaintiffs warranty claims when the deadline for discovery has yet to expire. Accordingly, the court DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Defendants' Motions to Exclude and for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 54 & 56).

(ECF No. 62.)

         On July 8, 2016, Plaintiffs expert, Bryan Durig ("Durig") of Summit Engineering, LLP, filed his expert report in which he opined as follows about Plaintiffs accident:

Based on a review of available information, it is concluded, to a reasonable degree of engineering certainty, the desk portion of a workstation collapsed and struck Ms. Green while she was sitting in her office chair at the subject workstation. Limited discovery has occurred to date. However, there have been a few emails reviewed from 2009 that indicate there were problems with installing cantilevers (support brackets) at the Teleperformance facility in Columbia, South Carolina. One email mentions needed a hammer to knock the support brackets in the slotted channel. Another email stated one option to fix the cantilevers was to "shoot screws in the top of the slotted channel abode [sic] the cantilevers." Shooting screws into the rear wall to support the cantilevers is an improper method of attaching screws and they will pullout over time, especially if forces are applied in a fashion to create a pullout force against the improperly inserted screws. In this case, weight on the desk portion will place a pullout force on the screws, eventually causing them to fail and the desk to collapse. Additional discovery material and deposition testimony will need to be received and reviewed to continue to evaluate additional potential failure mechanisms, in addition to the improperly installed screws, that could have contributed and/or caused the desk portion collapse that injured Ms. Green.

(ECF No. 52-1 at 5-6.) Durig did not supplement his expert report with any additional information. On May 5, 2017, OPS filed Motions for Exclusion of Plaintiff s Proposed Expert and for Summary Judgment.[6] (ECF No. 75.) After the parties responded and replied to the Motion (ECF Nos. 97 & 102), the court heard argument from the parties at a motion hearing on August 31, 2017. (ECF No. 112.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Summary Judgment Generally

         Summary judgment should be granted "if 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). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123- 24 (4th Cir. 1990). The non-moving party may not oppose a motion for summary judgment with mere allegations or denials of the movant's pleading, but instead must "set forth specific facts" demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). All that is required is that "sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at ...


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