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McLelland v. Ridge Tool Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

August 13, 2018



          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Ridge Tool Company's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 36). Plaintiff Bubba McLelland filed a response. (ECF No. 43). Defendant filed a reply. (ECF No. 49). The Court finds the matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 15, 2014, Plaintiff, a master plumber with thirty years' experience, arrived at Burge's Sandwich Shop in Lewisville, Arkansas, to clear a clogged drain line located behind the restaurant. To accomplish this, he brought his Ridgid K-750 Drain Cleaning Machine (“K-750”), a drum-style cleaning machine manufactured by Defendant that is used by professionals for cleaning drain pipes.

         The K-750 is powered by an induction motor that rotates a covered drum and cable, allowing the cable to be fed down a drain line to clean the drain. The operator's manual for the K-750 instructs users to operate the K-750 by kneeling next to the machine and grasping the exposed cable with gloved hands to control and support the cable as it is fed into and out of the drain. The manual warns that the cable could twist, kink, or break if the cable is not controlled and if certain procedures are not followed. The manual also instructs users to wear protective eyewear when operating the K-750. The K-750's on-product warning label features similar instructions and warnings.

         After arriving on location, Plaintiff set up the K-750, knelt, and began feeding the cable down the line using the machine's “auto-feed” feature, which deploys the cable using the machine's motor. Plaintiff placed a cutting tool on the end of the cable because he suspected that tree or grass roots might have caused the drain stoppage. Plaintiff was not wearing eye protection and did not grasp the cable as it went into the drain, but he had his open hand close to the cable. Plaintiff could see the cable move as it encountered obstructions in the drain. After roughly fifteen to twenty minutes of continuously feeding the cable into the drain, the cable suddenly broke without warning. The cable struck Plaintiff in the face, causing injuries.

         On February 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed the case at bar, asserting three strict product liability claims against Defendant: failure to warn, manufacturing defect, and design defect. On June 11, 2018, Defendant filed the instant motion, arguing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that it is entitled to summary judgment on all claims. Plaintiff opposes the motion.

         II. STANDARD

         The standard for summary judgment is well established. When a party moves for summary judgment, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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); Krenik v. Cnty. of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). This is a “threshold inquiry of . . . 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 reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Id. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Id. at 252.

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must consider all the evidence and all reasonable inferences that arise from the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Nitsche v. CEO of Osage Valley Elec. Co-Op, 446 F.3d 841, 845 (8th Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The nonmoving party must then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik, 47 F.3d at 957. However, a party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion “may not rest upon mere allegations or denials . . . but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 256.


         As an initial matter, the Court must address the parties' statements of fact. Defendant's statement of undisputed facts contains seventy-one purported statements of fact. Plaintiff's statement of disputed facts disputes four of Defendant's statements of fact. Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to controvert Defendants' statements of undisputed fact, and accordingly, the Court should treat Defendants' statements of fact as admitted.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) states that a court may deem undisputed a party's asserted fact if it is not properly controverted by the other party pursuant to Rule 56(c). Similarly, Local Rule 56.1(c) states that all material facts asserted in the moving party's statement of facts shall be deemed admitted if they are not controverted by the nonmoving party's own statement of facts. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1) provides that a party asserting a genuine dispute of material fact must support the assertion by either citing to materials in the record or by showing that the cited materials do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute.

         The Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to controvert Defendant's statements of undisputed fact. Plaintiff's statement of facts largely fails to satisfy Rule 56(c)(1) because it contains no citations to the record and does not show that Defendant's cited materials fail to establish the absence of a genuine dispute. The sole exception is Plaintiff's first disputed fact, which disputes Defendant's statement that Plaintiff could hear a change in the K-750's motor sounds as the cable encountered obstructions. A review of Defendant's citations to the record in support of this statement reveals that Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he sometimes can hear a change in motor ...

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