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Alcala v. Emhart Industries

December 15, 2005

ISIDRO ALCALA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EMHART INDUSTRIES, INC., BLACK & DECKER CORPORATION, UNITED SHOE MACHINERY CORPORATION, USM INTERNATIONAL AND USM CORPORATION,*FN1 DEFENDANTS.
EMHART INDUSTRIES, INC., THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
LAKIN GENERAL CORPORATION, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On April 23, 2003, Plaintiff Isidro Alcala ("Alcala") filed a products liability action based on negligence against Defendant Emhart Industries, Inc. ("Emhart") in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois seeking damages for personal injuries. On November 21, 2003, Emhart filed a Third-Party Complaint against Alcala's employer, Defendant Lakin General Corporation ("Lakin") for contribution under the Illinois Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act. See 740 ILCS 100/1 et seq. On January 1, 2004, Emhart removed this action to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) based on diversity jurisdiction. Before the Court is Emhart's Motion for Summary Judgment against Alcala pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) and Emhart's Motion to Strike certain portions of Alcala's expert witness' affidavit. Also before the Court is Lakin's Motion for Summary Judgment against Emhart also pursuant to Rule 56(c). For the following reasons, the Court denies Emhart's Motion for Summary Judgment and grants in part and denies in part Emhart's Motion to Strike. The Court also denies Lakin's Motion for Summary Judgment.

BACKGROUND

On April 24, 2001, Lakin employed Alcala as a machine operator. (R. 41-1, Emhart's Local Rule 56.1 Stmt., intro. ¶.) Emhart is a corporation which has succeeded to the liabilities, if any, of Turner Tanning Machinery Company ("Turner Tanning") with respect to the design and manufacture of a belt knife splitting machine which Alcala was operating at the time of his injury. (R. 28-1, Stipulation of Facts.) Turner Tanning was in the business of making various machines for the tanning of leather, including the splitter machine at issue. (R. 60-1, Pl.'s Local Rule 56.1 Addl. Stmt. ¶ 1.) The Turner Tanning splitters' basic design was for leather, and Turner Tanning converted that design into rubber splitters. (Id. ¶ 2.)

At the time of his injury, Alcala was operating a machine bearing a nameplate of the Turner Tanning Machinery Company, Class R, serial number 149 (hereinafter the "Turner 149").

(R. 41-1, Emhart's Stmt. Facts ¶ 1.) The exact date that Turner Tanning manufactured the Turner 149 is unknown, although according to undisputed deposition testimony, the splitter was made around the First World War. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 3; R. 60-1, Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 13.) After Turner Tanning manufactured and sold the Turner 149, it underwent some modifications. (R. 41-1, Emhart's Stmt. Facts ¶ 5.) The first purchaser of the Turner 149 is unknown. (Id. ¶ 4.) Lakin, the present owner of the Turner 149, purchased the splitter sometime before 1971. (R. 52-1, Emhart's Rule 56.1 Addl. Facts, ¶ 7.) Lakin designed and installed the splitter's pin guarding system that was present at the time of Alcala's injury. (R. 52-1, Emhart's Addl. Facts ¶ 7.)

Lakin is in the business of converting used tires into rubber parts and owns fourteen Turner Tanning splitters in its Chicago plant. (R. 60-1, Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 4.) At the time Alcala was using the Turner 149, he was splitting rubber tires. (R. 41-1, Emhart's Stmt. Facts ¶ 10.) On April 24, 2001, Alcala was feeding a tire tread into the Turner 149 when his hand was injured. (R. 60-1, Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 5.) Specifically, earlier in the day Alcala had been feeding tire treads that were greasy and some of the grease had gotten into the splitter's in-feeding rollers. (Id. ¶ 6.) At some point, a tire tread did not go through the rollers. (Id.) After the tire tread stopped moving, Alcala attempted to push the tire tread through the splitter. (Id. ¶ 7.) As Alcala pushed, the rollers gripped the tread and pulled his fingers, hand, and forearm into the rollers and knife. (Id. ¶ 8.)

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court construes the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255. The existence of a factual dispute alone is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion, instead the non-moving party must present definite, competent evidence to rebut the summary judgment motion. Butts v. Aurora Health Care, Inc., 387 F.3d 921, 924 (7th Cir. 2004).

ANALYSIS

I. Emhart's Motion for Summary Judgment

Alcala's products liability action sounds in negligence, not strict liability.*fn2 Because this is a negligent defective design and manufacture case, the Court focuses on the manufacturer's conduct, in this case Turner Tanning. Blue v. Environmental Eng'g, Inc., 215 Ill.2d 78, 95, 293 Ill.Dec. 630, 828 N.E.2d 1128 (2005). To establish a negligence claim for the defective design and manufacture of a product, Alcala must show either that (1) Turner Tanning "deviated from the standard of care that other manufacturers in the industry followed at the time the product was designed," or (2) Turner Tanning "knew or should have known, in the exercise of ordinary care, that the product was unreasonably dangerous" and yet "failed to warn of its dangerous propensity." Id. at 96 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 398, at 336 (1965)); see also Carrizales v. Rheem Mfr. Co., 226 Ill.App.3d 20, 36-37, 168 Ill.Dec. 169, 589 N.E.2d 569 ...


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