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Goellner-Grant v. JLG Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 5, 2019

RENEE TERESA GOELLNER-GRANT, KYLE D. GRANT, and ALEXANDER GOELLNER, Plaintiffs
v.
JLG INDUSTRIES, INC., Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge

         Plaintiffs Renee Teresa Goellner-Grant, Kyle D. Grant, and Alexander Goellner (collectively “Goellner-Grant family”) commenced this action under Missouri's wrongful death statute, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.080, alleging claims of strict product liability, failure to warn, and negligence. (Doc. 1). Defendant JLG Industries, Inc. (“JLG”), moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Doc. 40). The court will grant JLG's motion.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History [1]

         The material facts of this case are undisputed. (See Doc. 45 at 1). Randall Grant (“Grant”), late husband of plaintiff Renee Teresa Goellner-Grant and father of plaintiffs Kyle D. Grant and Alexander Goellner, was killed in a tragic boom lift accident on April 30, 2015. (Doc. 41 ¶¶ 1, 3). When the accident occurred, Grant was using a JLG-manufactured 2002 E450AJ boom lift to replace light bulbs in a parking garage in St. Louis County, Missouri. (Id. ¶ 3). Grant, in the course of his work, became pinned between a ceiling cross bar and the lift's control panel and sustained fatal injuries. (Id.)

         On February 28, 2018, the Goellner-Grant family filed their first lawsuit (“Missouri suit”) against JLG in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. (Id. ¶ 5). The district court dismissed the Missouri suit for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Id. ¶ 8). On October 26, 2018, the Goellner-Grant family filed a second complaint (“Kansas suit”) in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, alleging claims of strict product liability, failure to warn, and negligence under Missouri's wrongful death statute, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.080. (Doc. 1; Doc. 41 ¶ 9). In its answer, JLG moved to dismiss, challenging personal jurisdiction and venue. (Doc. 41 ¶ 10). The court found that venue was improper in Kansas but declined to dismiss the case. (Id. ¶ 11; Doc. 26). Instead, the court transferred the case to this court under to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). (Doc. 26 at 1, 3). After the case was transferred, JLG moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standard

         The court exercises diversity jurisdiction over the instant matter because the parties are completely diverse of citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Doc. 1 ¶ 9; Doc. 9 ¶ 9); see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

         Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a “genuine dispute as to any material fact” and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The burden of proof tasks the non-moving party to come forth with “affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings, ” in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The court is to view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Thomas v. Cumberland County, 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. See Pappas, 331 F.Supp.2d at 315.

         III. Discussion

         The sole question before this court is whether the Goellner-Grant family's claims are time-barred. JLG argues that Pennsylvania's limitations period for wrongful death cases applies and bars the claims. (See Doc. 42 at 1). The Goellner-Grant family contends that Section 1406(a) saves their claims from dismissal and that Kansas and Missouri choice-of-law rules and limitations periods apply. (Doc. 45 at 2-3, 5-6). Embedded within the court's summary judgment analysis are three interrelated considerations: (1) how Section 1406(a) impacts statutes-of-limitations questions; (2) which state's statute of limitations governs this case; and (3) whether the applicable limitations period bars the Goellner-Grant family's claims. The court will address each consideration seriatim.

         A. Statutes-of-Limitations Questions in Section 1406(a) Transfers

         A federal court hearing a diversity case applies state substantive law to the claim before it, including state statutes of limitations. Guar. Tr. Co. of N.Y. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 110-12 (1945) (applying Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 79-80 (1938)). In statute-of-limitations disputes, federal courts consult the forum state's choice-of-law rules to determine the correct limitations period. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941); Ross v. Johns-Manville Corp., 766 F.2d 823, 826 (3d Cir. 1985). When a case is transferred from one district court to another, these general principles must be considered in light of the rules and policies of the relevant federal transfer statute.

         Federal law provides two avenues by which a district court may effectuate a venue transfer. First, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) grants district courts discretion to transfer a correctly filed case to any other district where the case may have been brought for the convenience of the parties and witnesses. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). It is well settled that a court receiving a Section 1404(a) transfer must apply the law of the transferor state. Ferens v. John Deere Co., 494 U.S. 516, 518-19 (1990); Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 636, 639 (1964); Amica Mut. Ins. Co. v. Fogel, 656 F.3d 167, 170-71 (3d Cir. 2011). This treatment ensures that transfers made in the name of convenience do not compromise any state-law advantages a plaintiff may have had in the technically correct, albeit inopportune, transferor forum. See Ferens, 494 U.S. at 523; Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 633-34.

         Second, 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) allows a district court to transfer a case filed in an improper venue when it is in the “interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). Our sister circuit courts have recognized a distinction between Section 1406(a)'s defect-curing nature and Section 1404(a)'s eye toward convenience; the resultant approach is that the transferee forum's substantive laws, including statutes-of-limitations and choice-of-law rules, apply in Section 1406(a) transfers.[2] Courts reason that this approach protects defendants from the potentially detrimental impacts of an improperly chosen forum and deters plaintiffs from filing in a jurisdictionally deficient, yet substantively favorable, venue. McGarrey v. Marquart, No. 2:07-CV-1556, 2010 WL 235115, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 12, 2010) (citing Eggleton, 495 F.3d at 588). The Third Circuit has not directly addressed the issue: in its most recent decision involving a Section 1406(a) transfer, the limitations periods in both the transferor and transferee forums were the same. Lafferty v. St. Riel, 495 F.3d 72, 81 (3d Cir. 2007). The court signaled ...


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