The opinion of the court was delivered by: Daniel L. Hovland, Chief Judge United States District Court
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT JLG INDUSTRIES' AND P-Q CONTROLS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING DEFENDANT MONTANA HARDWARE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Before the Court are defendant JLG Industries, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment filed on July 16, 2008, defendant P-Q Controls, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment filed on July 16, 2008, and defendant Dakota-Montana Hardware, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment filed on October 3, 2008. See Docket Nos. 23, 27, 43. The Plaintiffs filed responses in opposition to JLG Industries' motion and P-Q Controls' motion on August 18, 2008. See Docket Nos. 33, 36. JLG Industries and P-Q Controls filed reply briefs on August 25, 2008. See Docket Nos. 38, 39. The Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to Dakota-Montana Hardware's motion on November 12, 2008. See Docket No. 47. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants JLG Industries' motion for summary judgment, grants P-Q Controls' motion for summary judgment, and denies Dakota-Montana Hardware's motion for summary judgment.
The plaintiffs, Victor Krosch and Videll Krosch, reside on a ranch near Selfridge, North Dakota. Defendant JLG Industries, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation, manufactures mobile aerial work platforms (scissors lifts). Defendant P-Q Controls, Inc., a Connecticut corporation, produces and manufactures industrial controls, including level sensors. Defendant Dakota-Montana Hardware, Inc., a Minnesota corporation, was engaged in hardware retail sales and equipment rental through the operation of a True Value retail store located in Bismarck, North Dakota.
On October 17, 2003, the Plaintiffs rented a scissors lift from the True Value store. Before the Plaintiffs rented the scissors lift, they informed True Value employees that they intended to use the lift in its elevated position to paint their barn. The Plaintiffs also informed the True Value employees that the land surrounding the barn was compacted dirt and sloped away from the barn. The True Value employees assured the Plaintiffs that the scissors lift was safe to use for this purpose and would not tip over because it had a wide base.
On October 17, 2003, the Plaintiffs brought the scissors lift home and Victor Krosch moved the lift into a position parallel with the barn. Prior to painting, Victor Krosch intended to measure one of the barn's windows that was approximately twenty-two feet from the ground so that he could make a piece of cardboard to cover the window. Victor Krosch raised the scissors lift to a height at which he was approximately even with the window. It is alleged that the scissors lift tipped over before Victor Krosch was able to measure the window. He suffered serious injuries from the fall. Victor Krosch did not notice an alarm or light (level sensor) indicating that the lift was on a slope or that it was about to tip over.
The Plaintiffs contend that JLG Industries manufactured the scissors lift and that it was equipped with a level sensor manufactured by P-Q Controls. The Plaintiffs contend that the scissors lift was owned by Dakota-Montana Hardware, doing business as True Value, and was offered to the public as rental equipment. On March 3, 2004, counsel for the Plaintiffs sent a letter to Dakota-Montana Hardware's insurance adjuster requesting that the scissors lift be preserved.
On May 28, 2007, the Plaintiffs filed a complaint in North Dakota state court. On June 22, 2007, the action was removed to federal court. The Plaintiffs have brought strict products liability claims against JLG Industries and P-Q Controls, and a negligence claim against each of the Defendants. See Docket No. 1-2.
On August 17, 2007, the Court established April 2, 2008, as the deadline for the parties to disclose expert witnesses. The deadline was later extended to May 9, 2008, for the Plaintiffs and June 9, 2008, for the Defendants. On June 9, 2008, counsel for Dakota-Montana Hardware informed the Plaintiffs that the scissors lift had been sold to an unidentified third party and efforts to locate the lift were unsuccessful. The scissors lift has never been located or inspected. On November 14, 2008, the Plaintiffs filed a motion for an extension of time "to disclose additional experts in light of the Defendant Montana-Dakota's disclosure that the scissor lift has been lost," to perform discovery, and to file a motion regarding spoliation. See Docket No. 48.
Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, indicates no genuine issues of material fact exist and, therefore, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Davison v. City of Minneapolis, Minn., 490 F.3d 648, 654 (8th Cir. 2007); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Summary judgment is not appropriate if there are factual disputes that may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id.
The Court must inquire whether the evidence presents sufficient disagreement to require the submission of the case to a jury or if it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Diesel Machinery, Inc. v. B.R. Lee Industries, Inc., 418 F.3d 820, 832 (8th Cir. 2005). The moving party first has the burden of demonstrating an absence of genuine issues of material fact. Simpson v. Des Moines Water Works, 425 F.3d 538, 541 (8th Cir. 2005). The non-moving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).
This action is based on diversity jurisdiction. Therefore, the Court will apply the substantive law of North Dakota. See Paracelsus Healthcare Corp. v. Philips Med. Sys., 384 F.3d 492, 495 (8th Cir. 2004).
The Plaintiffs have brought strict products liability claims against JLG Industries and P-Q Controls, and a negligence claim against each of the Defendants. The North Dakota Supreme Court has "recognized that negligence and strict liability in tort are separate and distinct theories of products liability and that each theory has a different focus." Oanes v. Westgo, Inc., 476 N.W.2d 248, 253 (N.D. 1991). The doctrine of strict liability imposes liability on the manufacturer or seller, or both, for a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to a consumer or for a failure to provide an adequate and proper warning. Day v. Gen. Motors Corp., 345 N.W.2d 349, 352 (N.D. 1984). Strict liability focuses on whether a product is defective and unreasonably dangerous, whereas negligence focuses on whether the manufacturer's or seller's conduct fell below the standard of reasonable care. The essential difference between the two theories is that in negligence claims "the foreseeability of harm by the manufacturer or seller is a question of fact for the jury while in strict liability knowledge of the product's propensity to inflict harm is assumed regardless of whether the danger was foreseeable by the manufacturer or seller." Oanes, 476 N.W.2d at 253.
The North Dakota Supreme Court has described the necessary elements for a strict products liability claim as follows:
In order to recover for injuries sustained as a result of a defective condition in a product, unreasonably dangerous to a consumer, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence the product was defective in design or manufacture; the defect rendered the product unreasonably dangerous to the consumer; the defect existed when the product ...