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McCloud v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America

December 11, 2006

TRISH LEE MCCLOUD, BY AND THROUGH HER LEGAL GUARDIAN, CANDY L. HALL, ET.AL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GOODYEAR DUNLOP TIRES NORTH AMERICA, LTD. AND THE GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY, DEFENDANTS,
WILLIAM BOOKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GOODYEAR DUNLOP TIRES NORTH AMERICA, LTD. AND THE GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy McDade United States District Judge

ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company's ("Goodyear") Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. #154]; Plaintiff, Trish Lee McCloud's ("McCloud") Suggestions in Opposition [Doc. #161]; Goodyear's Reply in Support of its Motion [Doc. #164]; and McCloud's Response to Defendants' Reply [Doc. #185]. For the reasons that follow, Goodyear's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. Background

The following facts are undisputed. On or about May 26, 2002, driver William Booker ("Booker") and passenger McCloud, were traveling on Booker's 1985 Honda Goldwing motorcycle, going northbound on Interstate 55 in Livingston County, Illinois, when an allegedly defective rear tire "suddenly and catastrophically deflated," resulting in personal injuries to both McCloud and Booker. As a result, on April 21, 2004, McCloud filed claims for strict liability and negligence against both Goodyear and Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd. ("Dunlop"), alleging that the rear tire of the motorcycle -- which was a Dunlop Qualifier K6278150/90B15M/C74H DOT. No. DAWVM711200 -- was defective and unreasonably dangerous in design and manufacture. Likewise, on May 18, 2004, Booker also filed a complaint against Goodyear and Dunlop alleging the same claims as McCloud.

In turn, Goodyear has filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, alleging that it was not involved in the design, manufacture, assembly, advertising, selling, or distribution of the subject tire in this case. See [Doc. #154, pg. 5].

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment should be granted where "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). The moving party has the responsibility of informing the Court as to portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by demonstrating "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325.

Once the movant has met its burden, to survive summary judgment the "non-movant must show through specific evidence that a triable issue of fact remains on issues on which [s]he bears the burden of proof at trial." Warsco v. Preferred Tech. Group, 258 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2001); see also Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-24. "The non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations in the pleadings or upon conclusory statements in affidavits; it must go beyond the pleadings and support its contentions with proper documentary evidence." Chemsource, Inc. v. Hub Group, Inc., 106 F.3d 1358, 1361 (7th Cir. 1997).

This Court must nonetheless "view the record and all inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party]." Holland v. Jefferson Nat. Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1312 (7th Cir. 1989). In doing so, this Court is not "required to draw every conceivable inference from the record -- only those inferences that are reasonable." Bank Leumi Le-Isreal, B.M. v. Lee, 928 F.2nd 232, 236 (7th Cir. 1991). Therefore, if the record before the court "could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party," then no genuine issue of material fact exists and, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. McClendon v. Indiana Sugars, Inc., 108 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). However, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court may not weigh the evidence or resolve issues of fact; disputed facts must be left for resolution at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986).

III. Analysis

The Court first points out the there is a dispute between the parties as to which legal theory should apply in assessing Goodyear's liability in the underlying action. McCloud argues that Goodyear should be liable for any defects regarding the tire in question, because Goodyear held itself out to the public and its investors as controlling the manufacturing processes and sales at the Tonawanda plant in New York -- where the subject tire was manufactured. See Aebischer v. Stryker Corp., No. 05-2121, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1619; 2006 WL 44307 (C.D. Ill. Jan. 9, 2006) (applying the "holding out theory"). Goodyear, on the other hand, argues that Aebischer does not apply to the instant matter but, instead, the Van Dorn test should apply because McCloud is attempting to pierce the corporate veil.

A review of McCloud's complaint against Goodyear reveals a factual basis to analyze Goodyear's liability under both the "holding out" theory and the Van Dorn test. In her Complaint, McCloud asserts both strict liability and negligence theories of recovery against Goodyear. Both theories of recovery, however, have different applicable legal standards. See Bittler v. White and Co., Inc., 560 N.E.2d 979, 982 (Ill. App. Ct. 1990).

In cases where a plaintiff attempts to hold a parent company liable for the acts of its subsidiary under a negligence theory, the plaintiff must establish that either one corporation was the mere instrumentality of the other, or that one corporation was simply a dummy or sham and that failing to impose liability would justify a wrong or perpetuate a fraud. See Main Bank of Chicago v. Baker, 427 N.E.2d 94, 101 (Ill. 1981). This standard was later named the "Van Dorn" test, after the Seventh Circuit adopted this approach in Van Dorn Co. v Future Chemical & Oil Co., 753 F.2d 565 (7th Cir. 1985). In Baker, the Illinois Supreme Court explained that:

[B]efore the separate corporate identity of one corporation will be disregarded and treated as the alter ego of another, it must be shown that it is so controlled and its affairs so conducted that it is a mere instrumentality of another, and it must further appear that observance of the fiction of separate existence ...


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