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Regan v. Sierra International Machinery, LLC

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 14, 2018

JASON REGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
SIERRA INTERNATIONAL MACHINERY, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Paul Papak United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Jason Regan (a citizen of Oregon) filed this action against defendant Sierra International Machinery, LLC ("Sierra") (a citizen of California), in Multnomah County Circuit Court on September 30, 2015. Sierra removed Regan's action to this court effective December 10, 2015, on the ground of diversity jurisdiction, [1]

         By and through his complaint as originally filed, Regan alleged that he was at all material times employed by Bob's Metals, Inc. ("Bob's"), in Portland, OR, as a maintenance employee, and that in that capacity he was injured while working on a large, industrial machine distributed and sold to Bob's by Sierra. It was Regan's position that the design of the machine was unreasonably dangerous, and that it had been sold to Bob's without adequate warnings of the risks it presented. Arising out of the foregoing, Regan alleged Sierra's liability (i) under Oregon's products liability law on a strict products liability theory, and (ii) under Oregon common law for negligence.

         On July 6, 2017, 1 granted summary judgment in Sierra's favor as to Regan's products liability claim, but denied summary judgment as moot as to Regan's negligence claim, on the ground that Regan's complaint failed, apparently inadvertently, to allege Sierra's negligent conduct. I directed Regan to amend his complaint to restate his negligence claim only. Regan filed an amended complaint stating a single claim for negligence effective July 18, 2017.

         By and through his amended complaint, Regan seeks $750, 000 in non-economic damages and approximately $52, 000 in economic damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest and reimbursement of his costs. This court has diversity jurisdiction over Regan's claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, based on the complete diversity of the parties and the amount in controversy.

         Now before the court is Sierra's second motion (#31) for summary judgment. I have considered the motion, oral argument on behalf of the parties, and all of the pleadings and papers on file. For the reasons set forth below, Sierra's motion (#31) for summary judgment is granted.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment 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), A party taking the position that a material fact either "cannot be or is genuinely disputed" must support that position either by citation to specific evidence of record "including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " by showing that the evidence of record does not establish either the presence or absence of such a dispute, or by showing that an opposing party is unable to produce sufficient admissible evidence to establish the presence or absence of such a dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The substantive law governing a claim or defense determines whether a fact is material. See Moreland v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep't, 159 F.3d 365, 369 (9th Cir. 1998).

         Summary judgment is not proper if material factual issues exist for trial. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 318, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995), cert, denied, 116 S.Ct. 1261 (1996). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the district courts of the United States must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and may neither make credibility determinations nor perform any weighing of the evidence. See, e.g., Lytic v. Household Mfg., Inc., 494 U.S. 545, 554-55 (1990); Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         I. The Parties

         Plaintiff Regan is a citizen of Oregon who at all material times was employed as a maintenance worker at Bob's in Portland, Oregon.

         Defendant Sierra is a California limited liability corporation headquartered in California, the members of which are California citizens. At all material times, Sierra was engaged in the business, inter alia, of distributing, selling, and servicing industrial machinery.

         II. The Parties' Dispute[2]

         It appears to be undisputed that, prior to the events Regan complains of, Bob's purchased a T700 SBL Shear/Baler/Logger machine (the "Shear Machine" or the "baler") from Sierra. See Amended Complaint, ¶ 1(c). The parties appear to agree that the Shear Machine is intended to shear scrap metal into small pieces, and that it uses a set of cutting blades for that purpose. It appears that the Shear Machine weighs approximately 700 tons, and that its cutting blades are accessible for maintenance purposes, including for replacement of the blades (which must take. place approximately every two months), behind a heavy top-hinged steel door that plaintiff has calculated as weighing between 300 and 400 pounds. See id., ¶ 2. It is undisputed that the primary purpose of the door is to prevent chunks of sheared metal from being projected out from the Shear Machine, which otherwise might "literally fire out like bullets...." Declaration (#16) of John M. Socolow ("SocolowDecl."), Exh, E (Deposition of Stephen Simmons (collectively with the Declaration (#32) of Michael Yoshida ("Yoshida Decl. I"), Exh. I, "Simmons Depo, "), 40:5-22. The door that affords the most convenient access to the cutting blades is sufficiently heavy to require that it be lifted by a forklift, following which it must be held in the vertical, open position by a chain secured to the machine itself. See Socolow Decl., Exh. H (Declaration of Guillermo Sandoval ("Sandoval Depo.")), 23:3-8. The Shear Machine contains no mechanism for raising the door, which cannot move upwards on its own without being lifted by an external force. See Simmons Depo., 100:16-18; Socolow Decl., Exh. I (Declaration of Michael Weinstein (collectively with Yoshida Decl. I, Exh. L, "Weinstein Depo.")), 72:19 - 73:11. Notwithstanding the foregoing, it was not necessary to use the door to access the cutting blades for maintenance purposes, as it was possible (if relatively inconvenient) to access the blades from underneath, without any need for moving the door. See Socolow Decl., Exh. L (Deposition of Trevor Ford (collectively with Yoshida Decl. I, Exh. N, and Declaration (#38) of Michael A. Yoshida ("Yoshida Decl. II"), Exh. A, "Ford Depo.")), 19:1-23.

         The Shear Machine was designed and manufactured in Italy by an entity not named as a party herein prior to its distribution by Sierra. See Weinstein Depo., 17:17 - 18:25. In 2009, Sierra sold the Shear Machine to Bob's, installed it at Bob's' scrap-metal recycling facility, and trained Bob's personnel in its use. See Socolow Decl., Exh. F (Deposition of Enrique Robles (collectively with Yoshida Decl. I, Exh. K, "Robles Depo.")), 46:3-25. Sierra personnel specifically trained Bob's personnel in how to change out the Shear machine cutting blades. See id, 52:9 - 54:12; see also Socolow Decl., Exh. G at 4.

         During training and installation, Sierra employees advised Bob's personnel that the preferred method for securing the door in the vertical, open position after it had been lifted to that position with a forklift is for a person to access the chain through the use of a "safety harness, a basket, or [a] man lift." Robles Depo., 54:2-3. When Sierra employees change out cutting blades on shear machines at their own facility, they use a custom-built platform for the person accessing the chain while the door is being lifted by a forklift operated by a second person. See Sandoval Depo., 22:18-23. Sierra personnel counseled Bob's personnel that it was up to them to develop their own safe procedures for securing the door in its vertical, open position while it was being held open by a forklift. See id, 52:9 -54:12; Simmons Depo., 98:3 - 100:11. It is undisputed that Bob's personnel understood from Sierra's training and from the owner's manual that it would be up to Bob's' maintenance mechanic "to come up with his best practice" for opening and closing the Shear machine door. Weinstein Depo., 67:5-11. It is the testimony of Bob's' Federal Civil Procedure Rule 30(b)(6) corporate representative that, "[f]or purposes of opening the .. . door and keeping it open to perform maintenance on the shear blade, " the problem of doing so safely was of a nature that "an experienced mechanic should know what to do." Id., 70:15-21. Bob's' corporate representative testified that "the door, as designed, " was not seen to be a hazard "if it's properly addressed, " and that "an experienced mechanic should be able to remediate any danger from it." Id., 72:1-6.

         At or around that time it sold the Shear machine to Bob's, Sierra provided Bob's with the machine's owner's manual or operations manual. See Simmons Depo., 58:6-17, 22:12-22. The second page of the Shear Machine owner's manual consists of a series of warnings in large and bolded font stating in part as follows:

• THE PERSONNEL RESPONSIBLE FOR THE OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE OF THIS BALER MUST BE FAMILIAR WITH THIS MANUAL PRIOR TO OPERATING OR ...

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