IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
June 30, 2008
HA L. HOANG AND NAM L. HOANG, PLAINTIFFS
FUNAI CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane
Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), or, alternatively, for partial summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). (Doc. No. 24.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.
This case was filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, on December 19, 2006, and timely removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a)(1) and 1441(a). In March 2007, the Eastern District transferred the action, and another with which it had been consolidated, to this Court.*fn1 (Doc. No. 1-13.)
By way of this action, the Hoangs seek to recover for personal injuries and property damage suffered when a residential fire broke out at 1008 Hudson Street in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on December 29, 2004. (Doc. No. 15-3, ¶ 42.) The home was owned by Plaintiff Nam Hoang, who resided there with his mentally disabled sister, Plaintiff Ha Hoang, and his elderly mother, Kien Tran. (Doc. No. 29, at 5; Nam Hong Dep. 4-5.) The Hoangs maintain that the fire was caused by a defect in a Sylvania combination television/video cassette recorder ("TV/VCR") that was manufactured and/or distributed by Defendants.*fn2 (Doc. No. 15--3; Doc. No. 27, at 2; Doc. No. 27-2, at 2.) According to the Hoangs, their brother Giang Hoang purchased the TV/VCR from a Sears store in Mays Landing, New Jersey, as a gift for his mother and/or sister, who then placed the TV/VCR in the Harrisburg home. (Giang Hoang Dep. 8-11, 21-23, 25; Nam Hoang Dep. 7-9; Kien Tran Dep. 5-7, 10-11.)
In addition to disavowing any basis for liability, Defendants dispute whether sufficient evidence exists to establish that the Hoangs had in their home a Sylvania TV/VCR combination unit that Defendants had manufactured and/or distributed. (Doc. No. 19, at 5.) Because there were serious factual questions whether Giang Hoang ever purchased a Sylvania TV/VCR at Sears and whether the TV/VCR was the one in Nam Hoang's residence, the Defendants requested that the Court limit the initial phase of discovery to matters relating to "product identification." The Court gave the parties a limited amount of time to engage in discovery tailored to this narrow issue.*fn3
Thereafter, on April 29, 2008, Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, or, alternatively, partial summary judgment, claiming that the Hoangs would be unable to prove that the TV/VCR in question was a Sylvania TV/VCR purchased at the Sears store in Mays Landing, New Jersey. (Doc. No. 24.) On May 14, 2008, the Hoangs filed a brief in opposition (Doc. No. 27), to which they attached a letter from Defendants' counsel acknowledging that Sears's records confirm that Giang Hoang purchased a Sylvania TV/VCR combination unit on September 18, 2003, in its Mays Landing store (Doc. No. 27-2, at 2). On April 29, 2008, Defendants submitted a reply brief. (Doc. No. 29.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate if the "pleadings, the discovery and disclosures on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, though the non-moving party must make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of each element of his case on which he will bear the burden of proof at trial." Huang v. BP Amoco Corp., 271 F.3d 560, 564 (3d Cir. 2001); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
"A factual dispute is material if it bears on an essential element of the plaintiff's claim, and is genuine if a reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Cloverland-Green Spring Dairies, Inc. v. Pa. Milk Mktg. Bd., 298 F.3d 201, 210 (3d Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). When determining if a material fact is in dispute, the court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. A court should not weigh the evidence, nor should a court determine the truthfulness of the evidence, but rather should "determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. Home Loan Mortgage Corp. v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 316 F.3d 431, 443 (3d Cir.2003).
Defendants maintain that the evidence submitted by the Hoangs is "too vague, inconsistent and speculative" to support a finding that a TV/VCR they manufactured and/or distributed was in the Hoang residence. (Doc. No. 24, ¶ 8.) After considering defense counsel's letter, the sales records from Sears, and the testimony of various Hoang family members, the Court concludes that summary judgment is inappropriate.
Defendants have admitted that a Sylvania TV/VCR was purchased by Giang Hoang on September 18, 2003, at a Sears store in Mays Landing, New Jersey. (Doc. No. 27-2, at 2.) Giang Hoang, who has suffered a series of strokes since 2003, stated that he believes the brand name of the TV/VCR he purchased started with "S-Y." (Doc. No. 25-3, at 10.) In addition, Nam Hoang claims that Giang Hoang (before the onset of his health conditions) stated that the TV/VCR was a Sylvania. (Doc. No. 25-2, at 13.) The testimony of these two individuals is bolstered by the records from Sears confirming that Giang Hoang did, in fact, purchase a 13" Sylvania TV/VCR in September 2003. (See generally Doc. No. 27-2.) Additionally, deposition testimony was elicited from Giang Hoang, Nam Hoang, and Kien Tran indicating that Giang Hoang briefly took the Sylvania TV/VCR he had purchased at Sears into his home before placing the unopened TV/VCR box into the vehicle driven by Nam Hoang transporting Nam, Kien Tran, and Ha Hoang back to Harrisburg. (Nam Hoang Dep. 7-10; Giang Hoang Dep. 9-11, 21-23; Kien Tran Dep. 4-5, 7, 10.) There is further testimony suggesting that the television was removed from that vehicle and set up in Nam Hoang's living room as a birthday present for Ha Hoang by either Ha herself or by Kien Tran. (Nam Hoang Dep. 9-10; Giang Hoang Dep. 23-25.) Giang Hoang maintains that the Sylvania TV/VCR combination unit was the only one he ever purchased for his mother and/or sister (Giang Hoang Dep. 10-11) , and Nam Hoang seemed to indicate that the TV/VCR was the only television in the residence (Nam Hoang Dep. 15). A fact finder presented with this evidence could reasonably conclude that the Giang Hoang bought a 13" Sylvania TV/VCR at Sears in Mays Landing, and that the same TV/VCR was the alleged cause of the Hoangs' apartment fire.
Because there is a genuine issue of material fact relating to whether the TV/VCR bought by Giang Hoang on September 18, 2003, was the same TV/VCR kept in the living room of Nam Hoang's residence, Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis of product identification will be denied.*fn4
An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 30th day of June, 2008, upon consideration of Defendants' motion for summary judgment or, alternatively, for partial summary judgment, and for the reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the motion (Doc. No. 24) is DENIED.
Yvette Kane, Chief Judge United States District Court