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Averbach v. Rival Manufacturing Co.

filed: January 20, 1987.

SYLVIA AVERBACH, APPELLANT
v.
RIVAL MANUFACTURING CO.



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Author: Gibbons

Before: GIBBONS and BECKER, Circuit Judges and BROWN, District Judge.*fn*

GIBBONS, Circuit Judge :

Sylvia Averbach appeals from an order dismissing, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b), her complaint seeking relief from a judgment. The judgment from which she seeks relief was entered in favor of the defendants in a product liability action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Averbach v. Rival Manufacturing Company, Civil No. 78-1350, following a jury verdict on June 5, 1981. No appeal was taken from that judgment. On September 28, 1984 Averbach filed a Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion seeking a new trial. That motion was denied because it was filed more than a year after the judgment from which relief was sought, and this court affirmed on November 1, 1985. While the appeal was pending this separate action was filed in May, 1985. It pleads two counts: violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. ยง 1961, et seq. (1982 & Supp. III 1985) (RICO), and common law fraud. We hold that the RICO count fails to state a claim upon which Averbach may obtain relief from a judgment. We also hold that the common law fraud count would permit proof of facts which could afford relief from a judgment, that there was subject matter jurisdiction of that count, and that it should not have been dismissed at the pleading stage.

I.

In the underlying action Averbach sought to recover damages resulting from a fire in her home which, she claimed, was caused by a defective Rival electric can opener. During discovery in that action Averbach served on Rival Manufacturing Company an interrogatory asking:

If the Defendant has within the past five years received any complaints of an occurrence similar to that allegedly experienced by the Plaintiff, please state for each such complaint:

(a) Its date;

(b) Its substance, including a description of the factual circumstances;

(c) The name and address of the person making the complaint.

Plaintiff's Interrogatories, Civ. No. 78-1350 at 10. Rival Manufacturing Company, on July 1, 1979, responded:

(a) December 7, 1976.

(b) The claim was for property damage to a house. It was alleged that a Rival Model 731/1 Can Opener/Knife Sharpener caused a fire. The evidence did not support the claimant's allegations, the claim was denied by the Company and dropped by the complaint.

(c) This was a subrogation claim by State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, 5725 Foxridge Drive, Shawnee Mission, Kansas 66202.

Defendant Rival's Answer to Plaintiff's Interrogatories, Civ. No. 78-1350 at 5-6. No other occurrence was disclosed. A similar interrogatory served on Rival Manufacturing Company by a cross-claimant, the retail seller of the can opener, S. Klein Department Stores, was answered identically. Thus Averbach was informed of a single fire damage claim, made on behalf of a fire insurer, which that insurer apparently dropped after inquiry. At trial the jury decided in favor of the defendant.

In the instant action the complaint alleges that in August, 1983 Averbach's counsel learned that the Consumer Products Safety Commission had information about Rival electric can openers causing fires. Counsel obtained copies of the Commission's records which disclosed that between 1968 and 1974 Rival Manufacturing Company received 23 complaints of fires, 22 of which involved Rival electric can openers. In 1975 two more fires were brought to Rival's attention and in 1976 two others were reported. In addition, after the date of the answer to the interrogatory but before trial Rival received reports of fires started by can openers in California, Chicago, and Philadelphia. All of these ...


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