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Magnum Press Automation, Inc. v. Thomas & Betts Corporation

November 08, 2001

MAGNUM PRESS AUTOMATION, INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-COUNTERDEFENDANT-APPELLANT
v.
THOMAS & BETTS CORPORATION, A MAINE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-COUNTERPLAINTIFF-APPELLEE



Appeal from Circuit Court of Jersey County No. 99LM20 Honorable Thomas G. Russell, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

Ordered published January 2, 2002.

MAGNUM PRESS AUTOMATION, INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-COUNTERDEFENDANT-APPELLANT
v.
THOMAS & BETTS CORPORATION, A MAINE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-COUNTERPLAINTIFF-APPELLEE

Appeal from Circuit Court of Jersey County No. 99LM20 Honorable Thomas G. Russell, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

Plaintiff Magnum Press Automation, Inc. (Magnum), appeals an adverse verdict on its claim against defendant Thomas & Betts Corporation (T&B) and also a verdict in favor of T&B on T&B's counterclaim, both rendered after a bench trial commencing May 17, 2000. Magnum's brief is difficult to follow, to say the least. A verbatim reprint of its recitation of the standard of review is illustrative:

"The standard of review of the issues ruled on by the trial court is based on findings of fact by the trial court and require findings by this reviewing court of such findings being against the manifest weight of the evidence or no evidence on which the trial court based its finds. Authority as this standard are contained in the argument."

Magnum manufactures industrial presses. T&B purchased three presses from Magnum. Press 1 was satisfactory. T&B encountered problems with the power unit of press 2. At the time, Magnum was in the process of completing press 3. Magnum replaced power unit 2 with the unit originally meant for press 3. Magnum brought power unit 2 back to its plant, performed maintenance on it, and in turn sent it out again with press 3.

Press 3 was shipped on July 31, 1998, and arrived at T&B's plant on August 6. Press 3 quickly began having problems. T&B's lead maintenance mechanic, Mark Parent, called Magnum's chief engineer, Pat DeStefano, on September 3, 1998, regarding problems with the unit. Specifically, the valves of the power unit appeared to be clogged with debris. DeStefano told Parent the power unit needed to be cleaned. Parent cleaned the power unit but problems again soon developed. According T&B, it next called DeStefano on September 15. DeStefano again recommended cleaning and Parent again complied but again unit 3 would not function properly. T&B tried to contact DeStefano on September 24, but according to T&B, DeStefano was not available. T&B also states that around this time it asked DeStefano to come to T&B's plant to fix the unit but that DeStefano merely continued to make suggestions over the telephone. According to DeStefano, throughout this time he would be contacted by Mark Parent of T&B, give Parent directions, then not hear from Parent for two weeks or more. During these interims he claimed to assume that the press was running properly. On or before October 12, 1998, T&B decided to discontinue using press 3.

Some discussions regarding the problems with press 3 had also occurred at senior levels of management. Mike Hamilton, the president of Magnum, testified that in late September he talked to Paul Burbank, manufacturing manager of T&B. Burbank told Hamilton that press 3 was not operating correctly, apparently due to contamination in the system. Hamilton informed Burbank that this presented a maintenance issue and was therefore not a warranty issue. Hamilton was of the opinion that any debris found in the system would eventually work its way into the unit's filters or would be removed during routine maintenance. Hamilton also claims that he verbally offered to take the press back in order to work on it. Burbank denies this offer was made. (Burbank also believes that this conversation took place closer to October 16.)

In the meantime, T&B was withholding payment of the final two-thirds of its payment on the press. Hamilton then sent a series of letters to T&B. In a letter of November 16, 1998, he again asserted that the problem must be one of a continuing nature, noting that Magnum had flushed the power unit twice and that T&B had assumably done so at least once. On December 4, Magnum's attorney wrote T&B, again denying that Magnum's workmanship was causing the problems with the unit.

Unbeknownst to Magnum, by early November T&B had hired a third party, Northland-Willette (Northland), to work on press 3. Northland flushed and cleaned power unit 3, discovering debris in the oil reservoir. The unit was filled with clean oil but again failed. More contamination was found in the reservoir. The unit was operational after this debris was removed, but it was feared that some contamination may have worked its way in the cylinders of the power unit. Press 3 was therefore shipped to Northland for further maintenance.

Northland disassembled the press, removing a handful of metal drill chips as well as performing other tasks, but could not get it to operate properly. Northland again dissembled the machine, cleaned it again, and performed other work. Northland was again unsuccessful. T&B eventually told Northland to cease its efforts.

At some unspecified point, certain facets of the press' computer programming had been altered. Specifically, it appears that a safety feature required the operator to press certain buttons during each pressing. T&B admitted that one of its employees had altered the program to bypass this procedure. According to T&B, this was done so as to allow continuous testing of the machine without the necessity of constant attention. T&B also claims that DeStefano or other employees of Magnum told T&B how to change the program. For its part, Magnum did not deny T&B's allegations but nonetheless ...


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