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Alley v. MTD Products, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 20, 2017

MTD PRODUCTS, INC., et. al., Defendants.



         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion") filed by Defendants MTD Products, Inc., MTD Products Limited, MTD LLC, MTD Holdings, Inc., and MTD Consumer Group, Inc. (together "MTD") (ECF No. 26.) The Motion has been fully briefed (see ECF Nos. 27, 35, 37) and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the Court will DENY MTD's Motion.

         II. Jurisdiction

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The Court observes that Plaintiff omitted from his Amended Complaint any assertion that venue is proper before this Court. (See ECF No. 11.) However, MTD waived its defense of improper venue by failing to include it in its responsive pleading. (ECF No. 12.) See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(1)(B). Accordingly, venue is proper.

         III. Background

         The case arises from injuries that Plaintiff sustained while handling a snow thrower manufactured by MTD. (ECF No. 11 at 2.) Plaintiff alleges that, on or about January 19, 2015, when he was seating the bead of a tire onto the snow thrower rim and/or inflating the tire, the rim failed and burst, causing Plaintiff to suffer severe injuries. (Id. at 2-3.)

         The Court accepts as true the facts in the following two paragraphs for the sole purpose of deciding the instant Motion for Summary Judgment:

         1. Plaintiff is a Pennsylvania resident. (ECF No. 33 at ¶ 1.) Plaintiff purchased the snow thrower in Pennsylvania (Id. at ¶ 6) and only ever used it in Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Plaintiff's injury occurred in Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 8.)

         2. MTD has manufacturing, warehouse, and distribution facilities in four states and several foreign countries. (ECF No. 28 at ¶ 13.) MTD is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Ohio. (Id. at ¶ 5.) The snow thrower that injured Plaintiff was engineered, designed, manufactured, and tested by Defendant MTD in its Valley City, Ohio plant. (Id. at ¶¶ 6-11.) MTD produced the snow thrower in question on September 8, 2004, and shortly thereafter sold it to Lowe's, a national retailer, FOB MTD's manufacturing facility in Ontario, Canada. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Upon receiving the snow thrower, Lowe's shipped it to its distribution center located in Minersville, Pennsylvania, in September 2004. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint before this Court on January 10, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff subsequently amended his Complaint on February 2, 2017. (ECF No. 11.) Plaintiff asserts two claims against MTD: (1) strict products liability (Count I) and (2) negligence (Count II). (Id. at 3-8.) MTD filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on April 4, 2017. (ECF No. 26.)

         MTD asserts that Pennsylvania's choice of law rules mandate that Ohio law be applied in this case. (ECF No. 27 at 2.) Under § 2305.10(C)(1) of Ohio's Revised Code, Ohio's statute of repose bars a products liability claim brought more than ten years after the product was delivered to its first purchaser, subject to exceptions that do not apply here.[1] MTD contends that Plaintiff's claims are barred by Ohio's statue of repose because Plaintiff brought his claims in 2017, more than ten years after MTD delivered to snow thrower to Lowe's. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that Pennsylvania's choice of law rules require that the Court apply Pennsylvania law. (ECF No. 32 at ¶ 3; ECF No. 35.) Both parties agree that Pennsylvania law does not contain a statute of repose that would prevent Plaintiff from asserting his claims against MTD. (ECF No. 33 at 13-14; ECF No. 27 at 5.) Plaintiff asserts that this Court should deny MTD's Motion for Summary Judgment because Plaintiff's claims are not barred under Pennsylvania law. (ECF No. 35 at 6-19.) Alternatively, Plaintiff asks this Court to preclude MTD from arguing that Ohio law applies under the doctrine of judicial estoppel; Plaintiff avers that in similar litigation MTD previously took the inconsistent position that the law of other states should apply rather than the law of Ohio. (Id. at 19-23.)

         IV. Legal Standard

         "Summary judgment is appropriate only where . . . there is no genuine issue as to any material fact... and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Melrose, Inc. v. Pittsburgh, 613 F.3d 380, 387 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Ruehl v. Viacom, Inc., 500 F.3d 375, 380 n. 6 (3d Cir. 2007)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Issues of fact are genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). Material facts are those that will affect the outcome of the trial under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court's role is "not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009). "In making this determination, 'a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.'" Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir.2000) (quoting Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994).

         The moving party bears the initial responsibility of stating the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets this burden, the party opposing summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials" of the pleading, but "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 n. 11, (1986)). "For an issue to be genuine, the nonmovant needs to supply more than a scintilla of evidence in support of its position-there must be sufficient evidence (not mere allegations) for a reasonable jury to find for the nonmovant." Coolspring Stone Supply v. Am. States Life Ins. Co., 10 F.3d 144, 148 (3d Cir.1993); see also Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Sew., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005) (noting that a party opposing summary judgment "must present more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue.") (internal quotation marks omitted).

         V. Discussion

         A. Pennsylvania's Choice of Law Rules Apply

         "[T]he choice of law rules of the forum state, Pennsylvania, apply when a federal court is sitting in diversity." Specialty Surfaces Int'l, Inc. v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 609 F.3d 223, 229 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941)).

         This Court sits in diversity in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Therefore, Pennsylvania's choice of law rules apply.

         B. A Conflict Exists Between Pennsylvania Law and Ohio Law

         "[T]he first step in a choice of law analysis under Pennsylvania law is to determine whether a conflict exists between the laws of the competing states." Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Stevens & Ricci Inc., 835 F.3d 388, 404 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Budtel Assocs., LP v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 915 A.2d 640, 644 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2006)). "'If [the] two jurisdictions' laws are the same, then there is no conflict at all, and a choice of law analysis is unnecessary.'" Vac. Employers Ins. Co. v. Glob. Reinsurance Corp. of Am., 693 F.3d 417, 432 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Hammersmith v. TIG Ins. Co., 480 F.3d 220, 230 (3d Cir. 2007)). "If there are no relevant differences between the laws of the two states, the court need not engage in further choice-of-law analysis, and may instead refer to the states' laws interchangeably." Auto-Owners Ins. Co., 835 F.3d at 404.

         To the best knowledge of this Court and the parties, Pennsylvania law does not provide for a statute of repose in product liability actions. (See ECF No. 33 at 13-14; ECF No. 27 at 5.) By contrast, Ohio recognizes a ten-year statute of repose in products liability cases. Ohio Rev. Code § 2305.10(C)(1). Therefore, a conflict exists between the laws of the two jurisdictions.

         C. The Conflict Between Pennsylvania and Ohio is a "True" Conflict

         "In the case that a conflict does exist, the court proceeds to the second step of the analysis: characterizing the conflict as 'true, ' 'false, ' or 'unprovided for.'" Stanford v. Natl Grange Mut. Ins. Co., No. CV 11-7144, 2014 WL 12607743, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 2014) (citing Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 230).

         "A 'true' conflict exists where both states have an interest in applying their own law." Atl. Pier Assocs., LLC v. Boardakan Rest. Partners, 647 F.Supp.2d 474, 487 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (citing Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 229). If a "true" conflict exists, the Court must determine "which state has the greater interest in the application of its law" and must apply that state's law. Cipolla v. Shaposka, 439 Pa. 563, 566 (1970).

         A "false" conflict exists "'[i]f only one jurisdiction's governmental interests would be impaired by the application of the other jurisdiction's law ...'". Wolfe v. McNeil-PPC, Inc., 703 F.Supp.2d 487, 492 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (quoting Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 932 F.2d 170, 187 (3d Cir. 1991)). When confronted with a "false" conflict, "the court must apply the law of the state whose interests would be harmed if its law were not applied." Lacey, 932 F.2d at 187.

         "The situation is 'unprovided for' when neither state has an interest in applying its own law." Atl. Pier Assocs., 647 F.Supp.2d at 487 (citing Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 229). When confronted with an "unprovided for" situation, the Court must apply lex loci delicti (the law of the place of the wrong). Budget Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc. v. Chappell, 407 F.3d 166, 170 (3d Cir. 2005).

         A true conflict exists here. Pennsylvania clearly has an interest in providing redress for Pennsylvania citizens injured by products they purchased and used within Pennsylvania. The fact that Pennsylvania has not adopted a statute of repose indicates that the Pennsylvania legislature believes that the interest in indefinitely protecting consumers from faulty products outweighs the interest in insulating manufacturers from lawsuits brought long after they produced the injurious product. Similarly, Ohio has a strong interest in protecting Ohio manufacturers from product liability lawsuits brought more than ten years after the injurious product was first sold as evidenced by the ten-year statute of repose codified in Ohio Rev. Code § 2305.10(C)(1). Because both jurisdictions have an interest in their laws being applied to the instant dispute, this is neither a "false" conflict nor an "unprovided for" situation, but rather a "true" conflict.

         The Court rejects Plaintiff's assertion that this case represents a "false" conflict because Ohio does not have an interest in its law being applied in this case. (ECF No. 35 at 11-14.) Plaintiff argues that Ohio enacted its statute of repose out of a concern that evidence and witnesses would be difficult to locate more than ten years after a product was initially sold. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiff states that Ohio does not have an interest in its statute of repose being applied here because evidence and witnesses are abundant in this case as MTD has been sued numerous times in the last decade by other consumers injured by the same model of snow thrower that injured Plaintiff. (Id.) While Plaintiff's weak argument does not merit detailed discussion, the Court merely notes that Plaintiff underappreciated Ohio's interest in this case because he failed to recognize the many rationales beyond the unavailability of evidence and witnesses that motivated Ohio to enact its statute of repose.[2]

         D. Pennsylvania's Interest in the Application of Its Law Outweighs Ohio's Interest in the Application of Its Law

         As noted above, "[i]f a true conflict exists, the Court must then determine which state has the 'greater interest in the application of its law.'" Harris v. Kellogg, Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 151 F.Supp.3d 600, 611 (W.D. Pa. 2015) (quoting Cipolla v. Shaposka, 439 Pa. 563, 267 A.2d 854, 856 (1970)). "To do so, courts in Pennsylvania apply a hybrid contacts/interest analysis." Rose, 2017 WL 3008747, at *3 (citing Taylor v. Mooney Aircraft Corp., 430 F.Supp.2d 417, 421 (E.D. Pa. 2006)). The hybrid approach is "a combination of the 'approaches of both [the] Restatement II (contacts establishing significant relationships) and [the] 'interests analysis' (qualitative appraisal of the relevant States' policies with respect to the controversy"). Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 231 (quoting Melville v. Am. Home Assur. Co., 584 F.2d 1306, 1311 (3d Cir. 1978)). "This analysis requires more than a 'mere counting of contacts'" and requires that the Court "weigh the contacts on a qualitative scale according to their relation to the policies and interests underlying the [particular] issue." Atl. Pier Assocs., 647 F.Supp.2d at 487 (citing Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 231) (internal citations omitted).

         The Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws ("Restatement") governs the "significant relationships" inquiry. In personal injury cases sounding ...

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