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Clifford v. UAP Distribution

January 4, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge


In March 2008, Plaintiff John Clifford III filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Champaign County, Illinois, against Defendant UAP Distribution, Inc., alleging breach of implied warranty and negligence. In April 2008, Defendant removed the case to federal court. (Notice of Removal, #1.) Federal jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge.

In September 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#29). In October 2009, Plaintiff filed a Response to Motion for Summary Judgment (#33). In November 2009, Defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#34). With leave of court, in December 2009, Plaintiff filed a Reply to Reply Response to Motion for Summary Judgment (#35). After reviewing the parties' pleadings and memoranda and the evidence presented, this Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#29).

I. Standard

A court will grant summary judgment "if 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must decide, based on admissible evidence, whether any material factual dispute exists that requires a trial. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that no such issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

The Court must draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations in the pleadings or upon conclusory statements in affidavits; rather, he must go beyond the pleadings and support his contentions with proper documentary evidence. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. A scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is not sufficient to oppose successfully a summary judgment motion; "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of any element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. "In such a situation there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id.

II. Background

The following facts are presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Plaintiff farms approximately 2000 acres in Champaign County, Illinois. Defendant Crop Production Services, Inc. (hereinafter "CPS"), formerly known as UAP Distribution, Inc., is located in Sidney, Illinois. CPS uses the Kahler System to mix custom herbicide blends that it provides to its customers.

In 2007, Plaintiff contracted with Monsanto to grow seed corn. He planted his fields in late April. The crop appeared healthy, but the field contained some weeds. As a result, Plaintiff decided to spray the field with herbicide to kill the weeds. Following his normal practice, Clifford contacted Monsanto to find out if the seed corn strains in his field had any known sensitivity to particular chemical families. Monsanto representative Cindy Reis told Plaintiff that there were no sensitivity issues.

Plaintiff then contacted Craig Bush, a CPS certified crop advisor. Mr. Bush recommended that Plaintiff use a custom blend of chemicals (hereinafter "Blend"). One of the components of the Blend was Steadfast, a sulfonylurea herbicide. CPS mixed the Blend in four separate loads and delivered the loads to Plaintiff, who subsequently sprayed each load of the Blend on his field. Approximately six days after he sprayed the field, Plaintiff observed visual signs of damage to the seed corn crop. He immediately called Craig Bush from CPS and Cindy Reis from Monsanto. Mr. Bush contacted a Steadfast manufacturing representative.

Ms. Reis eventually called Pat Geneser, her supervisor at Monsanto. The Steadfast representative and Mr. Geneser observed and investigated the damaged seed corn. Mr. Geneser found that the damaged corn contained glyphosate, also known as Round-up. This chemical was not supposed to be in the Blend. Monsanto eventually decided to destroy the corn.

In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges claims of (1) breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose and (2) negligence. Both claims are based on the premise that the Blend contained Round-up and that, instead of killing the weeds, the Blend eventually damaged the seed corn crop. Plaintiff has abandoned the warranty claim. (#33, p. 3.) The negligence claim alleges that CPS had a duty to provide only those chemicals Plaintiff ordered and CPS breached that duty by providing Plaintiff with the Blend, a product that was tainted with other chemicals and not compatible with its intended use. As a result of CPS's failure to provide the Blend free of any other chemical residue, Plaintiff suffered significant economic loss because Monsanto destroyed the seed corn crop in the affected fields.

III. Analysis

Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Plaintiff cannot establish Defendant's duty, its breach of that duty, or causation. In addition, Defendant ...

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