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Wise Co., Inc. v. Dixie-Narco

January 4, 2006

THE WISE COMPANY, INC. PLAINTIFF
v.
DIXIE-NARCO, INC. DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garnett Thomas Eisele United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Pending before the Court are numerous motions, all filed by Defendant Dixie-Narco, Inc. ("Dixie-Narco"). Said motions include: (1) Motion to Substitute Party; (2) Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony based on spoliation of evidence; (3) Motion for Summary Judgment; (4) Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony of Jimmy Powell; and (5) Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony of Roger Owens. The motions have been fully briefed. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Because the Court grants Dixie-Narco's summary judgment motion, it is unnecessary to address the other motions.

FACTS WITHOUT MATERIAL CONTROVERSY

Plaintiff The Wise Company, Inc. ("Wise") filed this action on December 9, 2004, therein seeking damages for a fire that destroyed its manufacturing plant located in Rector, Arkansas on September 6, 2002. Wise contends that a beverage vending machine manufactured by Dixie-Narco malfunctioned and caused the fire. The vending machine was located in the break room area of the plant.

Police officers on routine patrol discovered the fire at approximately 12:00 a.m. on the morning of September 6th when they observed flames at the rear of the plant. The plant was not operational at the time of the fire, but had been closed after its second shift ended at 10:00 p.m.

The fire caused extensive damage to Wise's plant. As a result, Wise's insurer, Lexington Insurance Company, paid approximately $4,800,000 to Wise for damages resulting from the fire.

Plaintiff initially asserted the legal theories of strict liability, warranty, and negligence to support its claims for money damages. In responding to the summary judgment motion, however, Plaintiff advises that it will withdraw its negligence and warranty claims and proceed solely on its theory of strict liability.*fn1 Accordingly, this Order only addresses the Plaintiff's remaining legal claim of strict liability.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only when, in reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial-- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit set out the burdens of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the party moving for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., '[to] point[] out to the District Court,' that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339 (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-74 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations ...


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