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Graham v. All American Cargo Elevator

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

September 16, 2013




BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant All American Cargo Elevator, LLC's ("All American's") Motion [140] for Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs Sharon and Billy Bob Graham have filed a Response [150] and a Response Memorandum [151], and All American has filed a Reply [156]. After considering the pleadings on file, the record, and relevant legal authorities, the Court finds that All American's Motion [140] for Summary Judgment should be granted in part and denied in part. Sharon Graham's claims for breach of express warranty, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, and punitive damages should be dismissed. Ms. Graham's claims for defective design and failure to warn should proceed to trial, as should Billy Bob Graham's claim for loss of consortium.


In 2007, Defendant All American sold Plaintiffs Sharon and Billy Bob Graham a residential cargo elevator for use in their elevated home in Pearlington, Mississippi. Dep. of Sharon Graham [140-5] at p. 11-12, 19-20. All American installed the elevator and serviced it pursuant to a maintenance agreement purchased by the Grahams. Id. On October 18, 2010, the cargo elevator fell approximately ten feet to the ground when Ms. Graham stepped onto its platform to retrieve a three to four pound potted plant. Id. at pp. 48-53, 56, 78. Ms. Graham descended with the elevator and alleges that she crushed her heel and suffered other injuries upon impact. Id. at pp. 48-53, 56, 78. The Grahams assert that the shaft on the gearbox of the elevator's drawing mechanism sheared, causing the elevator to free fall. Pls.' Resp. [151] at pp. 1-2. They allege that All American is liable because "the cause of product failure was misalignment of the drum which was undisputedly welded on the Leeson [Electric Corporation] gear box shaft by All American." Id. at p. 2.

On October 26, 2011, the Grahams filed a Complaint against All American in the Circuit Court of Hancock County, Mississippi. Pls.' Compl. [140-1] at pp. 2-4. They filed an Amended Complaint on October 31, 2011, and a Second Amended Complaint, adding the gearbox manufacturer Leeson as a Defendant, on January 20, 2012. Pls.' Am. Compl. [140-2] at pp. 3-4; Pls.' Sec. Am. Compl. [140-3] at p. 1. The action was removed to this Court in February 2012. The Grahams allege

that the product which broke, was designed and/or manufactured in a defective manner and breached implied and express warranties and failed to conform to other factual representations, upon which the Plaintiffs (or Co-Defendant, All American) relied upon in electing to use said product and;
(1) The defective condition rendered the product unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer and;
(2) The defective and unreasonable condition of the product caused the damages to the Plaintiff which recovery is sought.

Pls.' Sec. Am. Compl. [140-3] at p. 2. The Grahams additionally assert "[t]hat the Defendants failed to adequately warn of possible failure and free fall potential." Pls.' Compl. [140-1] at p. 2; First Am. Compl. [140-2] at p. 2.

The Grahams' claims against Leeson (now known as RBC Manufacturing Corporation) have been dismissed. Agreed Order of Dismissal [160]. Now before the Court is All American's Motion [140] Summary Judgment.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is appropriate "[i]f the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The purpose of summary judgment is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Melton v. Teachers Ins. & Annuity Ass'n of Am., 114 F.3d 557, 560 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)).

To rebut a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must show, with "significant probative evidence, " that there exists a genuine issue of material fact. Hamilton v. Segue Software, Inc., 232 F.3d 473, 477 (5th Cir. 2000). In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court views facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. RSR Corp. v. Int'l Ins. Co., 612 F.3d 851, 858 (5th Cir. 2010). However, if the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment is appropriate. Cutting Underwater Techs. USA, Inc. v. ENI U.S. Operating Co, 671 F.3d 512, 516 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). "[M]ere conclusory allegations are not competent summary judgment evidence, and such allegations are insufficient, therefore, to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996).

"There is no material fact issue unless the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." RSR Corp., 612 F.3d at 858. "A fact is material' if its resolution in favor of one party might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law. An issue is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Hamilton, 232 F.3d at 477 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). "The court has no duty to search the record for material fact issues." RSR Corp., 612 F.3d at 858. "Rather, the party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely how this evidence supports his claim." Id.

B. Analysis

Sharon Graham is pursuing defective design, failure to warn, and breach of express warranty claims pursuant to the Mississippi Products Liability Act ("MPLA"), Mississippi Code section 11-1-63. She is asserting claims for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose pursuant to Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code governing the sale of goods, as codified in Mississippi Code sections 75-2-314 and 75-2-315. She seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Billy Bob Graham is pursuing a claim for loss of consortium. All American contends that summary judgment must be granted in its favor on all of the Grahams' claims for a variety of reasons.

1. Defective Design Claim

To prevail on an MPLA claim, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that at the time the product left the control of the manufacturer or seller, the product had a defective condition, which rendered it unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer, and the defective and unreasonably dangerous condition proximately caused the damages for which recovery is sought. Miss. Code Ann. ยง 11-1-63(f). A plaintiff pursuing a defective design claim must also establish that: (1) the manufacturer or seller knew, or in light of reasonably available knowledge or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, about the danger that allegedly caused the plaintiff damage; (2) the product failed to function as expected; and (3) there existed a feasible design alternative that would have in reasonable probability prevented the harm. Miss. Code ...

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