United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
FURLANDARE SINGLETON, et al. PLAINTIFFS
ARKANSAS HOUSING AUTHORITIES PROPERTY & CASUALTY SELF-INSURED FUND, INC., et al. DEFENDANTS
OPINION AND ORDER
Kristine G. Baker United States District Judge
the Court are a motion for summary judgment and supplemental
motion for summary judgment filed by separate defendant BRK
Brands, Inc. (“BRK”) (Dkt. Nos. 88; 179).
Plaintiff Marilyn Beavers filed a response to BRK's
motion for summary judgment and supplemental motion for
summary judgment (Dkt. No. 191). Separate plaintiffs
Furlandare Singleton and Clyde Hatchet filed a motion to
adopt and incorporate by reference Ms. Beavers' response
(Dkt. No. 194). BRK filed a reply to plaintiffs' response
(Dkt. No. 197).
Court grants Mr. Singleton and Mr. Hatchet's motion to
adopt (Dkt. No. 194). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c)
(“A statement in a pleading may be adopted by reference
elsewhere in the same pleading or in any other pleading or
early morning hours of March 22, 2012, Ms. Beavers and her
children, Haylee Singleton, Dequan Singleton, Emily Beavers,
and Syndi Singleton, died after a fire in the kitchen of
their apartment in Jacksonville. These events are
unimaginably tragic. This Court has studied carefully and
thoroughly the filings and record evidence in this case. For
the following reasons, the Court grants BRK's motion for
summary judgment and supplemental motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. Nos. 88; 179). The Court dismisses with prejudice all
claims against BRK.
preliminary matter, the Court notes that Ms. Beavers
requested a hearing on BRK's motion for summary judgment
and supplemental motion (Dkt. No. 191, ¶ 5). Through
informal communications between counsel and the Court, Ms.
Beavers withdrew her request for a hearing. Therefore, the
Court denies as moot Ms. Beavers' request for a hearing.
judgment is proper if the evidence, when viewed in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no
genuine issue of material fact and that the defendant is
entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence
could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either
party. Miner v. Local 373, 513 F.3d 854, 860 (8th
Cir. 2008). “The mere existence of a factual dispute is
insufficient alone to bar summary judgment; rather, the
dispute must be outcome determinative under the prevailing
law.” Holloway v. Pigman, 884 F.2d 365, 366
(8th Cir. 1989).
opposing a summary judgment motion may not rest merely upon
the allegations in their pleadings. Buford v.
Tremayne, 747 F.2d 445, 447 (8th Cir. 1984). The initial
burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477
U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to
establish that there is a genuine issue to be determined at
trial. Prudential Ins. Co. v. Hinkel, 121 F.3d 364,
366 (8th Cir. 1997).
nonmoving party “must respond by submitting evidentiary
materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial” and “must do more than
simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts.” Gannon Int'l, Ltd. v.
Blocker, 684 F.3d 785, 792 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing
Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042
(8th Cir. 2011) (en banc)). “The evidence of the
non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences
are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
following facts are taken from plaintiffs' response to
BRK's statement of material facts as to which there is no
genuine dispute (Dkt. No. 193). On March 22, 2012, Marilyn
Beavers and her children Haylee Singleton, Dequan Singleton,
Emily Beavers, and Syndi Singleton were in Ms. Beavers'
apartment (Id., at 2). At approximately 2:30 a.m.,
Ms. Beavers and all of the children spoke on the phone with
Furlandare Singleton. After that conversation ended, a fire
ignited in Ms. Beavers' apartment (Id.). Ms.
Beavers became aware of the fire and attempted to extinguish
it (Id., at 3). However, Ms. Beavers and the children
ultimately died from smoke inhalation suffered during the
fire (Id., at 4). When the fire occurred, a Model
1839WN smoke alarm, which was manufactured by BRK, was
installed in the hallway of Ms. Beavers' apartment
(Id., at 3).
Motion For Summary Judgment
Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett allege that Ms.
Beavers and the children died of smoke inhalation because the
BRK smoke alarm in Ms. Beavers' apartment failed to sound
an adequate alarm. They bring the following products
liability claims against BRK in their amended complaint: (1)
strict liability; (2) failure to warn; (3) defective design;
(4) negligence; (5) breach of express warranty; (6) breach of
the implied warranty of merchantability; and (7) breach of
the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose
(Dkt. No. 27, at 19-33). Ms. Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr.
Hatchett also allege wrongful death and survival damages
claims against BRK (Dkt. No. 27, at 16-17).
prevail on their products liability claims against BRK,
plaintiffs bear “the burden of proving both (1) that
the [smoke alarm] was defective when it left [BRK's]
control such that it was unreasonably dangerous and (2) that
the defect caused the injury.” Madden v.
Mercedes-Benz USA, Inc., 481 S.W.3d 455, 458-59 (Ark.
App. 2016), reh'g denied (Mar. 9, 2016)
(citations omitted). BRK argues that it is entitled to
summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims for two
reasons. First, BRK argues that plaintiffs cannot establish
that the smoke alarm was defective or unreasonably dangerous
(Dkt. No. 90, at 4-6). Second, BRK argues that, even if
plaintiffs could establish that the smoke alarm was
defective, they could not establish that the smoke
alarm's failure to sound a timely alarm proximately
caused the deaths of Ms. Beavers and the children
(Id., at 6-8).
Elements Of Causes Of Action
correct in that all products claims alleged by plaintiffs
require proof of a defect or unreasonably dangerous condition
of the product and that all claims require proof that the
alleged defect was a proximate cause of the decedents'
injuries. Further, proof of proximate cause is a requirement
for plaintiffs to succeed on their wrongful death and
survival damages claims. Scott v. Cent. Arkansas
Nursing Centers, Inc., 278 S.W.3d 587, 595 (Ark. App.
2008) (“In a wrongful-death case, the plaintiff must
show that the defendant's negligence was the proximate
cause of the decedent's death.”).
Strict Products Liability
plaintiff to recover under a theory of strict liability, he
or she must prove both: (1) that the product was in a
defective condition when it left the defendant's control
such that it was unreasonably dangerous and (2) that the
defective condition was a proximate cause of the
plaintiff's injury. Ark. Code Ann. § 4-86-102(a);
Southern Co. v. Graham Drive-In, 607 S.W.2d 677, 679
(Ark. 1980); Madden, 481 S.W.3d at 458-59); see
also Ark. Model Jury Inst., Civil 1008 (2017). There are
three general varieties of product defects: manufacturing
defects, design defects, and inadequate warnings. See
generally West v. Searle & Co., 806 S.W.2d 608 (Ark.
1991). Here, Ms. Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett
appear to allege strict liability claims based on defective
design and inadequate warnings (Dkt. No. 27, ¶ 113).
actionable, a plaintiff must present evidence of the type of
defect which renders the product not merely inadequate, but
one which poses an actual danger to persons or property. A
“defective condition” is one that renders a
product unsafe for reasonably foreseeable use and
consumption. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-116-102(2). A product
is “unreasonably dangerous” if it is dangerous to
an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the
ordinary and reasonable user, assuming the ordinary knowledge
of the community or similar users as to its characteristics,
propensities, risks, dangers, and proper and improper uses,
as well as any special knowledge, training, or experience
possessed by the user. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-116-102(7).
not necessary that a plaintiff prove the defect by direct
proof. However, in the absence of direct proof, the plaintiff
must negate other possible causes of the injury not
attributable to the defendant, thereby raising a reasonable
inference that the injury was caused by a defective product.
Southern Co., 607 S.W.2d at 679. Furthermore, it
must be proven that the product was defective while it was
still in the control of the defendant. Cockman v.
Welder's Supply Co., 580 S.W.2d 455, 457-58 (Ark.
1979); see also Chandler v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.,
498 S.W.3d 766, 770 (Ark. App. 2016), reh'g
denied (Oct. 5, 2016), review denied, 2017 Ark.
Arkansas Supreme Court discussed the issue of causation in
the context of strict products liability in Southern
Strict liability eliminates both privity and negligence; but
it still does not prove the plaintiff's case. He still
has the burden of establishing that the particular defendant
has sold a product which he should not have sold, and that it
has caused his injury. This means that he must prove, first
of all, not only that he has been injured, but that he has
been injured by the product. The mere possibility that this
may have occurred is not enough, and there must be evidence
from which the jury may reasonably conclude that it is more
probable than not . . . .
607 S.W.2d at 679 (quoting William L. Prosser, The Fall
of the Citadel (Strict Liability to the
Consumer), 32 ATL L.J., at 21 (1968)).
Chandler, plaintiffs argued that they were not
required to eliminate all other possible causes of the fire
because they supplied direct proof that defendants'
product-the serum-was supplied in a defective condition. 498
S.W.3d at 771. The court determined that, even assuming that
plaintiffs did supply direct proof, plaintiffs still had to
meet proof with proof on the issue of causation and show that
it was more than a mere possibility that the product caused
the alleged damages. Id.
As the Chandler court further explained:
Strictly speaking, since proof of negligence is not in issue,
res ipsa loquitur has no application to strict liability; but
the inferences which are the core of the doctrine remain, and
are no less applicable. The plaintiff is not required to
eliminate all other possibilities, and so prove his case
beyond a reasonable doubt. As on other issues in civil
actions, it is enough that he makes out a preponderance of
It is enough that the court cannot say that reasonable men on
the jury could not find it more likely than not that the fact
Id. (quoting Southern Co., 607 S.W.2d at
679 (quoting William L. Prosser, Handbook on the Law
of Torts § 102, at 672 (4th ed. 1971))). Thus,
causation cannot be based on mere conjecture and speculation.
Chandler, 498 S.W.3d at 771. Arkansas law requires
that plaintiff present “substantial evidence”
that “negates other possible causes of failure of the
product not attributable to the defendant.”
Madden, 481 S.W.3d at 459 (citing Higgins v.
Gen. Motors Corp., 699 S.W.2d 741 (Ark. 1985)).
“Substantial evidence is that which is of sufficient
force and character that it will compel a conclusion one way
or another. It must force or induce the mind to pass beyond
suspicion and conjecture.” Id.
Negligent Failure To Warn Claim
Arkansas law, a manufacturer of a product has a duty to give
a reasonable and adequate warning of dangers inherent or
reasonably foreseeable in its use, and a violation of this
duty is negligence. Ark. Model Jury Inst., Civil 1002 (2017).
As a general rule, there is a duty to warn the ultimate user
of a product of the risk of the product. See West,
806 S.W.2d at 613. This duty exists under either a negligence
theory or a strict-liability theory. Id.
as in the strict-liability claims discussed above, even
assuming that BRK had a duty to warn about the smoke detector
given its intended or foreseeable use, plaintiffs are still
required to show that this failure to warn was the proximate
cause of the decedents' alleged injuries. See
Hergeth, Inc. v. Green, 733 S.W.2d 409, 411-12 (Ark.
1987); see also Chandler, 498 S.W.3d at 772.
Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett specifically allege
that BRK failed to warn adequately “of the true risks
of their smoke detectors, including that the smoke detector
Model 1839-WN's electronic contacts could corrode and
fail to sound an audible warning in the presence of smoke
from a nearby fire . . . .” (Dkt. No. 27, ¶ 116).
Further, they allege that BRK provided “inadequate
post-marketing warnings and instruction because BRK knew, or
should have known, that there was reasonable evidence that
Defendant BRK's smoke detector's electrical contacts
would corrode and fail to provide an audible warning of a
nearby fire . . . .” (Id., ¶ 118).
strict liability is imposed for a design defect, the
plaintiff must show that the product was in a defective
condition which rendered it unreasonably dangerous. West
v. G.D. Searle & Co., 879 S.W.2d 412, 414 (Ark.
1994). Likewise, for liability to be imposed for negligent
design, the plaintiff must demonstrate negligence in the
design of the product that was the proximate cause of the
damages. See Forrest City Mach. Works, Inc. v.
Aderhold, 616 S.W.2d 720, 726 (Ark. 1981).
Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett claim that BRK's
“smoke detector Model 1839-WN is defective in design
because it lacks efficacy and poses a greater likelihood of
injury than other similar fire safety devices on the market
and is more dangerous than ordinary consumers could
reasonably foresee.” (Dkt. No. 27, ¶ 123).
and strict liability are not mutually exclusive claims. More
than one theory of liability is permissible in a products
liability claim. Nationwide Rentals Co. v. Carter,
765 S.W.2d 931, 933 (Ark. 1989); W.M. Bashlin Company v.
Smith, 643 S.W.2d 526, 529 (Ark. 1982), reh'g
denied Jan. 31, 1983. Here, Ms. Beavers, Mr. Singleton,
and Mr. Hatchett allege negligent “design, formulation,
testing, manufacture, marketing, sale, and
distribution” of the smoke detector (Dkt. No. 27,
¶ 131); negligent “advertising and sale” of
the smoke detector (Id., ¶ 132); negligent
“design, testing, manufacture, marketing, sale and
distribution” of the smoke detector (Id.,
¶ 133); and negligent labeling and issuing of
pre-marketing and post-marketing warnings (Id.,
¶ 134). These negligence claims require a showing of
duty, breach, and proximate cause. See Ark. Model
Jury Inst., Civil 1001, 1002, 1003 (2017).
Breach of Warranty Claims
of warranty and strict products liability claims are
“essentially the same” insofar as both require a
product defect attributable to the defendant.
Higgins, 699 S.W.2d at 742. A defendant may
demonstrate that it is entitled to summary judgment because
plaintiff failed to present evidence of a defect, and the
presence of a defect is a common element essential to both
claims. Madden, 481 S.W.3d at 460. A court is not
required to address or negate every element of a claim.
Golden Tee, Inc. v. Venture Golf Schs., Inc., 969
S.W.2d 625, 632-33 (Ark. 1998).
Beavers, Mr. Singleton, and Mr. Hatchett allege that BRK
created an express warranty that its smoke detector
“was safe and effective for use by individuals such as
the Decedents.” (Dkt. No. 27, ¶ 139). A failure to