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Mildemont, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

January 13, 2017

MILDEMONT, INC. d/b/a BIG BRAKE of MS PLAINTIFF
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT FORD MOTOR COMPANY'S MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [49] [51]

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant Ford Motor Company's Motion for Summary Judgment [49] filed July 1, 2016. This Motion is fully briefed. Also before the Court is Defendant Ford Motor Company's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Punitive Damages [51] filed July 1, 2016. No responsive pleading has been filed to this Motion. Having considered the parties' submissions, the record as a whole, and relevant legal authority, the Court is of the opinion that Defendant's Motions [49] [51] should both be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Relevant Background

         This case arises out of a fire that occurred at Plaintiff Mildemont, Inc. d/b/a Big Brake of MS's (“Plaintiff”) place of business on May 5, 2012. Compl. [1-2] at 1-2. At the time of the fire, a 2001 Ford F-150 Super Crew four-door pickup truck owned by Strickland Motors was parked in the garage of Plaintiff's business, Compl. [1-2] at 1-2, for “unspecified repairs and maintenance, ” Pl. Mem. in Opp'n [55] at 5. The fire damaged Plaintiff's “building, business, and equipment.” Pl. Mem. in Opp'n [55] at 5.

         B. Procedural History

         On May 4, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint [1-2] in the Circuit Court of Harrison County, Mississippi, First Judicial District, advancing claims of negligence, product liability, and punitive damages against Defendant Ford Motor Company (“Defendant”). The Complaint alleges that the May 5, 2012, fire was caused by a “an electrical short or failure of the speed control deactivation switch” in the truck while it was parked in the garage of Plaintiff's business. Compl. [1-2] at 1-2. Plaintiff asserts that the fire spread from the truck to “the structure of the business” causing damage to the building's structure and equipment and a loss of business income. Id.

         Defendant removed the case to this Court on July 1, 2015. Notice of Removal [1]. On July 1, 2016, Defendant filed its first Motion for Summary Judgment [49]. In this Motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claim under the Mississippi Products Liability Act, Mississippi Code § 11-1-63 (“MPLA”), fails for a lack of expert testimony and based upon the fact that the F-150 was materially altered by a third party prior to the fire. Mem. in Supp. [50] at 1-12. Defendant further asserts that Plaintiff's state common law claims are subsumed by the MPLA. Id. at 2, 14-15. Also on July 1, 2016, Defendant filed a second Motion for Summary on Plaintiff's Punitive Damages Claim [51], arguing that Plaintiff has failed to produce any “clear and convincing” evidence that Defendant acted fraudulently or with gross negligence. Mem. in Supp. [52] at 1.

         On July 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed its Response in Opposition [54] to Defendant's first Motion for Summary Judgment [49] maintaining that genuine issues of material fact exist concerning the following questions:

a. Whether the speed control deactivation switch in the subject vehicle constitutes a defective product?
b. Whether Ford designed the vehicle?
c. Whether the vehicle was designed in a defective manner?
d. Whether Ford Motor Company knew or should have known that the speed control deactivation switch was defectively designed at the time the subject vehicle left Ford's control?
e. Whether as a result of the defective condition, the vehicle failed to function as expected by an ordinary consumer with ordinary knowledge common to the community?
f. Whether a feasible design alternative existed which would have to a reasonable probability prevented the harm suffered by the Plaintiff without impairing the utility, usefulness, practicality, or desirability of the vehicle to users and consumers?
g. Whether a defective condition rendered the vehicle unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer?
h. Whether the speed control deactivation switch was the actual and proximate cause of the fire responsible for damaging the Plaintiff's building, business, and equipment?
i. Whether Ford Motor Company's speed control deactivation switch through a course of conduct, and/or through resjudicata (sic), has admitted ...

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