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Stroud v. Walmart, Inc.

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

May 16, 2019

CHARLES STROUD, SR., Individually and as wrongful death representative of Charles Stroud, Jr. PLAINTIFF



         Before the Court is the [67] Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Walmart, Inc. in this products liability case.[1] The Motion has been fully briefed, and after due consideration, the Court finds that there is no question of material fact for the jury. Summary judgment will be granted and this case dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that his fifteen-year-old son died after intentionally inhaling a keyboard cleaning product called Ultra Duster, which another adult in the family purchased from Wal-Mart. Plaintiff alleges that Wal-Mart “is the manufacturer/designer/seller” of Ultra Duster. (Am. Compl. 1, 10, ECF No. 44.) He alleges that Wal-Mart knows that young people “huff” the product, but has attempted to reduce this misuse only by the inadequate measure of adding a bitterant.

The defendants have chosen profit over safety and chosen keyboard cleaning over young human life. In so doing the defendants have manufactured and sold a product that is defective in design, is inherently dangerous and have violated their obligation to adequately warn of the dangers of the Ultra Duster product, have failed to take measures to keep it out of the hands of children, and have taken safety steps that are designed to provide a defense to liability claims rather than recognize the reality that the product is not worth the harm that it causes, can never be made safe, and is a sham of a product that exists without adequate or legitimate reason save for the profit it brings to the defendants.

(Am. Compl. 4, ECF No. 44.) Plaintiff's claims against Wal-Mart are for defective design and failure to warn under the Mississippi Products Liability Act, and negligence in designing, testing, manufacturing, marketing, and selling the Ultra Duster product.[2]

         Wal-Mart moves for summary judgment, claiming that 1) as an innocent seller under the Mississippi Products Liability Act it is immune from liability;[3] 2) Plaintiff cannot show that the proximate cause of the decedent's death was any action by Wal-Mart; and 3) by failing to deny Wal-Mart's requests for admissions, Plaintiff has admitted that Wal-Mart is not liable for the decedent's death. Plaintiff responded to Wal-Mart's Motion, but he addressed only the matter of his admissions, arguing that he should be allowed to set them aside as requested in his [64] Motion to Withdraw or Amend Admissions and Request for Oral Argument. In an April 11, 2019 [75] Order, the Magistrate Judge denied Plaintiff's motion to withdraw or amend his admissions. As a result, the Court is left with no substantive opposition to Wal-Mart's summary judgment motion.


         A. The Legal Standard

         A motion for summary judgment may be filed by any party asserting that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law on any claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The movant bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery on file, together with any affidavits, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the movant carries its burden, the burden shifts to the non-movant to show that summary judgment should not be granted. Id. at 324-25. The non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations or denials in its pleadings but must set forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256-57 (1986).

         A motion for summary judgment cannot be granted simply because there is no opposition, even if the failure to oppose violated a local rule. Factual controversies are resolved in favor of the non-moving party, but only when there is an actual controversy; that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). Ultimately, the movant has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and, unless it has done so, the court may not grant the motion, regardless of whether any response was filed. Hibernia Nat. Bank v. Administracion Cent. Sociedad Anonima, 776 F.2d 1277, 1279 (5th Cir. 1985).

         B. Plaintiff's Admissions

         A full account of the events leading to denial of Plaintiff's motion to have his admissions set aside is set out in the Magistrate Judge's [75] Order. In short, Plaintiff failed to comply with his Rule 36 obligations on multiple occasions, and did not show diligence in seeking or good cause for obtaining relief from his admissions. Plaintiff's admissions are therefore conclusively established. Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(b). Wal-Mart relied on Plaintiff's admissions as a basis for its summary judgment motion.

         As noted above, a court can grant summary judgment when the record, including “admissions” establish that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R, Civ. P. 56. In the Fifth Circuit, admissions can establish “a broad range of matters, including ultimate facts, as well as applications of law to fact.” In re Carney, 258 F.3d 415, 419 (5th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). “[I]f the requests for admissions concern an essential issue, the failure to respond to requests for admission can lead to a grant of summary judgment ...

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