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Metil v. Core Distribution, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 3, 2018

GEORGE RUSSELL METIL, Plaintiff
v.
CORE DISTRIBUTION, INC., et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          Kane, Judge

         Before the Court is Defendants' fully briefed motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 59), and motion to exclude the testimony of Plaintiff's expert witness, Kai J. Baumann, Ph.D. (Doc. No. 73). A hearing was held on the pending motions on July 12, 2018, at which time Plaintiff declined the opportunity to present the testimony of his expert witness. Upon detailed consideration of the arguments raised by the parties in their respective briefs, the arguments offered at the hearing, and the applicable law, the Court will grant Defendants' motion to exclude the testimony of Kai J. Baumann, Ph.D. (“Dr. Baumann”), and will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 4, 2016, Plaintiff George Russell Metil commenced the above-captioned product liability action by filing a writ of summons in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, seeking to recover for injuries he sustained on March 24, 2014, when he fell from an allegedly defective 15.5 foot telescoping ladder manufactured by Defendant Core Distribution, Inc. (“Core Distribution”), and purchased from a Sherwin-Williams Store, while painting a residence in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1 at 1.) Plaintiff eventually filed a three-count complaint asserting causes of action sounding in negligence, strict liability, and breach of implied warranty on June 8, 2016. (Id.) On June 28, 2016, Defendants Core Distribution, the Sherwin-Williams Company, and the Sherwin-Williams Company d/b/a Sherwin-Williams Paint Store filed a timely notice of removal to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania based on complete diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Id. at 2.) On July 5, 2016, Defendants answered the complaint. (Doc. Nos. 7, 8.)

         On November 1, 2016, while this case was proceeding through discovery, Plaintiff's counsel filed a motion to withdraw and a request for a ninety-day stay of proceedings. (Doc. No. 24.) That same day, Defendants filed a brief in opposition to the motion to withdraw as counsel and requested dismissal of the action with prejudice. (Doc. No. 25.) In their oppositional brief, Defendants argued that the evidence obtained during discovery revealed that the ladder forming the basis of Plaintiff's complaint “could not be the ladder allegedly involved in the accident, ” as Plaintiff testified during his deposition that he utilized a 20 foot ladder at the time of the incident, and a Sherwin Williams receipt established that a 15.5 foot ladder was purchased after the accident, therefore warranting dismissal of this action in its entirety. (Id.) At the conclusion of a show cause hearing, the magistrate judge granted the motion to withdraw (Doc. No. 28), and entered an amended case management order setting the fact discovery deadline for January 31, 2017 (Doc. No. 29).

         On December 1, 2016, Defendants moved to compel Plaintiff, then proceeding pro se, to produce documents in response to their request for production. (Doc. No. 31.) On December 2, 2016, the court granted Defendants' motion to compel (Doc. No. 34), and referred the case to mediation (Doc. No. 33), which was ultimately unsuccessful (Doc. No. 36). On January 20, 2017, Defendants moved for sanctions against Plaintiff in the form of an order precluding Plaintiff from introducing any testimony with regard to personal injuries, medical care provided in response to his alleged personal injuries, and evidence of financial loss due to Plaintiff's failure to comply with the court's order directing him to furnish documents responsive to Defendants' requests for production. (Doc. No. 37.) A hearing was held on the motion for sanctions on February 2, 2017, at the conclusion of which the court entered an order that granted in part Defendants' motion and precluded Plaintiff from using any discovery, including expert discovery that was not previously produced during the discovery period, in response to any motion for summary judgment or at trial. (Doc. No. 42.) In conjunction with its order, the court stayed and administratively closed the case for a period of thirty days to permit Plaintiff an opportunity to obtain counsel. (Doc. No. 41.)

         On March 6, 2017, Plaintiff filed an opposed motion for reconsideration of the court's order granting in part Defendants' motion for sanctions, together with a request to reopen discovery in light of his subsequent retention of counsel, which the court granted on March 7, 2017, following a status call with the parties. (Doc. Nos. 44, 46, 47.) Thereafter, this matter was reassigned to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 292(b) to conduct further proceedings. (Doc. No. 58.)

         On October 2, 2017, Defendants filed the pending motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 (Doc. No. 59), a brief in support of their motion (Doc. No. 60), a concise statement of material facts (Doc. No. 61), and corresponding exhibits (Doc. Nos. 59-1-59-9). On November 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 65), together with a responsive statement of undisputed material facts (Doc. No. 64), a sworn affidavit (Doc. No. 67), and several exhibits (Doc. Nos. 64- 1-64-5). Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiff's opposition brief to their motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 68), and a response to Plaintiff's statement of facts (Doc. No. 69), on November 16, 2017. Observing that disposition of Defendants' motion for summary judgment rested on a determination regarding the admissibility of the testimony of Plaintiff's proposed expert, Dr. Baumann, the Court directed that Defendants file a properly- supported motion under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), addressing the admissibility of the expert testimony challenged in connection with their motion for summary judgment, and stayed its consideration of Defendants' motion for summary judgment pending the submission of any Daubert motions. (Doc. No. 72.) In accordance with the Court's Order, Defendant filed the instant motion to exclude the testimony of Dr. Baumann, on December 22, 2017 (Doc. Nos. 73, 74), which became ripe on March 26, 2018 (Doc. Nos. 78, 83). The Court held a hearing on the motion on July 12, 2018, at which time it entertained additional argument from the parties.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). Thus, where no material fact is in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Conversely, where there is a dispute as to an issue of material fact, the moving party must establish that the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Id.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears an initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has carried this initial burden, “the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). If the non-moving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, ” summary judgment is warranted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the non-moving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         In determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Clement v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 963 F.2d 599, 600 (3d Cir. 1992); White v. Westinghouse Electric Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court need not accept allegations that are merely conclusory in nature, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). Moreover, the court's function is not to make credibility determinations, weigh evidence, or draw inferences from the facts. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Rather, the court must simply “determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id.

         B. Federal Rule of Evidence 702

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony. Fed.R.Evid. 702. Rule 702 states, in relevant part:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) The expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) The expert has reliably applied the principles and ...

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