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Gracia v. Volvo Eurpoa Truck

April 24, 1997

NANCY GRACIA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

VOLVO EUROPA TRUCK, N.V., A FOREIGN CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 87 C 10005 Paul E. Plunkett, Judge.

Before BAUER, COFFEY, and FLAUM, Circuit Judges.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED DECEMBER 6, 1996

DECIDED APRIL 24, 1997

Appellant Nancy Gracia brought a diversity action against Volvo Europa Truck, N.V. ("Volvo") under Illinois common law for personal injuries sustained during a collision while riding in a truck manufactured by Volvo. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), the district court judge referred this case to a magistrate judge, without the consent of the parties, for all matters up to and including the filing of the final pretrial order. (R. 151; R. 346 at 3.) After completion of discovery, Volvo filed a motion for summary judgment relying on preemption by a federal safety standard. The magistrate judge recommended denying Volvo's motion. The district court rejected the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, and granted Volvo's motion for summary judgment. Gracia appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Gracia worked for Brook Furniture Rental, which leased a 1986 Volvo FE6/13 truck from Ryder Truck Rental. On August 12, 1987, Gracia was riding with two of her co-workers in the cab of the Volvo truck. The truck was a forward control vehicle, with its windshield installed flush with its front end, as contrasted with the recessed windshield on a passenger car. Gracia was seated on the engine cover (often referred to as the "doghouse" or "engine bonnet") located in the front of the vehicle and between the two seats occupied by the driver and another passenger, both co-workers of Gracia. The seats of the driver and passenger are equipped with seat belts, however, because there is no passenger seat on the engine cover it was not equipped with a seat belt or any other restraining device. Neither of Gracia's co-workers had their seat belts buckled. The truck was traveling on the Kennedy Expressway when it rear-ended a salvage truck traveling in the same direction. Upon impact the Volvo's windshield was dislodged as designed and fell to the pavement. Gracia was catapulted through the windshield opening onto the pavement in front of the truck and sustained a spinal injury. Neither of the other two occupants were ejected from their seats, nor did they sustain serious injuries.

As a result of her injuries, Gracia was admitted to a hospital and received medical treatment. Gracia was unable to work from the date of the injury, August 12, 1987, until March 1,1988. Thereafter, Gracia returned to part-time employment and a short time later resumed full-time employment assigned to different duties.

Gracia filed suit against Volvo, the truck's manufacturer, alleging that the vehicle was defective under Illinois common law for the windshield retention system was unreasonably dangerous and inadequate to prevent the windshield from ejecting during foreseeable impacts. *fn1

B. District Court Proceedings

On November 19, 1987, Gracia filed a product liability suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Thereafter, Volvo after establishing diversity jurisdiction had the case removed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Volvo moved for summary judgment arguing that Gracia's strict liability claim is preempted by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. sec. 30103(b)(1), which provides that when a federal motor vehicle safety standard is in effect, any non-identical state safety standard is not applicable and is therefore, not binding on manufacturers. The magistrate judge found that the relevant federal safety standard regarding windshield retention requirements did not apply to the type of truck at issue in this case and recommended denial of the motion for summary judgment. The magistrate judge reasoned that the agency had excluded trucks like the one at issue from the standard's requirements, not because of an affirmative decision that there should be no regulation, but because of a lack of data demonstrating the need for that type of vehicle to be covered by the standard. (Report and Recommendation of March 6, 1996, at 7.) The district court rejected the magistrate judge's report and recommendation and granted the motion for summary judgment finding federal preemption. If it was the agency's intent to specifically exclude vehicles such as the one at issue from having to meet windshield retention requirements and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act's preemption clause precludes common law claims, then the granting of this motion was proper.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary ...


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