756 F.2d 181 (D.C. Cir. 1985), 83-1694, Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp.

Docket Nº:83-1694.
Citation:756 F.2d 181
Party Name:Myrtle Nell CATRETT, Administratrix of the Estate of Louis H. Catrett, deceased, Appellant v. JOHNS-MANVILLE SALES CORPORATION, et al.
Case Date:March 08, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 181

756 F.2d 181 (D.C. Cir. 1985)

Myrtle Nell CATRETT, Administratrix of the Estate of Louis

H. Catrett, deceased, Appellant

v.

JOHNS-MANVILLE SALES CORPORATION, et al.

No. 83-1694.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 8, 1985

Argued Feb. 6, 1984.

Page 182

Peter T. Nicholl, Baltimore, Md., with whom James F. Green and Robert A. Taylor, Washington, D.C., were on brief, for appellant.

H. Emslie Parks, Towson, Md., for appellee, The Celotex Corp.

Charles E. Dorkey, III, New York City, was on brief, for appellee, Turner & Newall Ltd.

Francis J. Ford, Washington, D.C., was on brief, for appellee, Armstrong World Industries, Inc.

Before WALD, BORK and STARR, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge STARR.

Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge BORK.

STARR, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Myrtle Nell Catrett filed this wrongful death action in United States District Court in September 1980. Her complaint, sounding in negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability, alleged that the death in 1979 of her husband, Louis H. Catrett, resulted from his exposure to products containing asbestos manufactured or distributed by fifteen named corporations. During the proceedings below, two manufacturer-defendants filed motions challenging the District Court's in personam jurisdiction; the other thirteen corporate defendants filed motions for summary judgment. The District Court granted the various

Page 183

motions as to all defendants. Mrs. Catrett now appeals only from the District Court's grant of summary judgment to Celotex Corporation. 1

After reviewing the record in this case, we are constrained to conclude that the District Court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Celotex. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I

The version of Celotex's moving papers on which summary judgment was granted was filed on December 23, 1981. 2 Celotex argued that summary judgment was proper because Mrs. Catrett had "failed to produce evidence that any [Celotex] product ... was the proximate cause of the injuries alleged within the jurisdictional limits of [the District] Court." 3 Celotex further contended that "[t]here is no evidence whatsoever that the defendant was ever exposed to any [Celotex] product containing asbestos ... or that any such product was in any way the proximate cause of the decedent's death within the jurisdictional limits of [the District] Court." Statement of Material Facts as to Which There Is No Genuine Issue, reprinted in S.R.E. at 3sa-4sa.

In opposing this motion, Mrs. Catrett relied primarily on three documents which, she claimed, "demonstrate that there is a genuine material factual dispute" 4 as to whether Mr. Catrett had ever been exposed to Celotex asbestos products. 5 The documents were a copy of the transcript of her husband's July 17, 1979, deposition taken for use in proceedings in his earlier workman's compensation claim and two letters: one from William O'Keefe, of Aetna Life & Casualty, to Mrs. Catrett's attorney and one from the Assistant Secretary of a Chicago enterprise, Anning & Johnson Co., to Aetna, both stating that Mr. Catrett had used a Celotex product during his employment with Anning & Johnson in Chicago in 1970-71. Mrs. Catrett argued unsuccessfully to the District Court that these three documents "evinced the essential link between [Celotex's] product and [Mr. Catrett], and it would be a question for the jury as to whether this was the proximate cause of the decedent's injuries and ultimate death." 6

Celotex strenuously argues on appeal that plaintiff's evidence is infirm in that the three documents are hearsay and are inadmissible under any exception to the hearsay rule. Such inadmissible evidence, Celotex argues, may not be considered in opposition to a motion for summary judgment.

Page 184

We need not, however, reach the evidentiary issue, 7 inasmuch as defendant's moving papers were patently defective on their face, rendering inappropriate the grant of summary judgment on the record as it stood before the District Court. Celotex offered no affidavits, declarations or evidence of any sort whatever in support of its summary judgment motion. To the contrary, Celotex's motion was based solely on the plaintiff's purported failure to produce credible evidence to support her claim. 8 While Celotex may have faced difficulty, to be sure, in "proving the negative" 9 that plaintiff's decedent had not been exposed to its products, appellee made no effort to adduce any evidence, in the form of affidavits or otherwise, to support its motion. As we will now see, that undisputed failure renders its motion fatally defective.

II

Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended in 1963, could not be clearer that summary judgment under the circumstances before us will not lie. It provides:

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (emphasis added). This rule unequivocally places a burden of coming forward with specific facts upon the party opposing a motion for summary judgment only when the proponent's motion is "made and supported as provided in th[e] rule." The Advisory Committee Note to Rule 56 explains that "[w]here the evidentiary matter in support of the motion does not establish the absence of a genuine issue, summary judgment must be denied even if no opposing evidentiary matter is presented." Advisory Committee Note on 1963 Amendment to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (emphasis added). As the Supreme Court has clearly stated in this respect, "[b]oth the commentary on and the background of the 1963 amendment conclusively show that it was not intended to modify the burden of the moving party ... to show initially the absence of a genuine issue concerning any material fact." Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1609, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). It is firmly established that the party opposing the motion for summary judgment bears the burden of responding only after the moving party has met its burden of coming forward with proof of the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. 10

Page 185

At trial, of course, Mrs. Catrett would have the burden of proving by admissible evidence that her husband's exposure to Celotex's products had proximately caused his death. If Mrs. Catrett failed to satisfy her burden, then her case would be vulnerable to a motion for directed verdict. However, as this court has repeatedly held, the party moving for summary judgment carries the burden of proving the absence of a material issue of fact "even on issues where the other party would have the burden of proof at trial." 11

In this case Celotex proffered nothing. It advanced only the naked allegation that the plaintiff had not come forward in discovery with evidence to support her allegations of the decedent's exposure to the defendant's product. 12 Under settled rules, that barebones approach will not do. Mrs. Catrett was simply not required, given this state of the record, to offer any evidence in response. 13

III

Despite the clear state of the law relevant to the facts of this case, the dissent insists that the grant of summary judgment was proper. That position is based on both a misconception of the factual setting in which summary judgment was granted here and, more generally, on an overly broad reading of a legal proposition.

The dissent insists throughout that the plaintiff lacks any evidence as to causation and that, even accepting the plaintiff's factual allegations, judgment would have to be entered for the movant. Summary judgment was entered, the dissent emphasizes, because the trial judge found no showing of the plaintiff's decedent's exposure to Celotex in the District of Columbia or elsewhere. 14 Yet, the plaintiff had offered

Page 186

evidence on that very point. True, the evidence was not in admissible form, but at least some of the evidentiary infirmity was plainly curable. The point is that the plaintiff did have evidence, and if her allegations were accepted by the jury as true, the plaintiff, rather than the defendant, would have been entitled to judgment.

We fully recognize the unique vantage point of the District Courts to evaluate evidence and the reasonable discretion that District Judges rightly enjoy in granting summary judgment. We have no desire to cabin unduly that sound discretion, and our opinion should not have that effect. Here, the bedrock fact is that the summary judgment motion was totally unsupported. 15 The issue on which we rule is therefore purely legal in nature, and our conclusion breaks no new ground whatever. The clear dictate of Rule 56 16 and a long, unbroken line of precedent 17 is that summary judgment is not proper absent a properly supported motion. This case is as simple as that.

The dissent, however, accuses us of failing to follow the law of this circuit, as expressed in United States v. General Motors, supra, and hornbook law that summary judgment and directed verdict are functionally equivalent. The charge is groundless. To be sure, General Motors states that a party seeking summary judgment "is entitled to the benefit of any relevant presumptions, and if the established facts and relevant presumptions would have entitled him to a directed verdict at trial, he is entitled to a summary judgment under Rule 56." General Motors, supra, 518 F.2d at 441-42. However, in General Motors, the movant had established certain facts, namely a significant number of failures in performance not attributable to wear or age of the automobile parts in question, and was given the benefit of the...

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63 practice notes
  • 148 B.R. 886 (Bkrtcy.D.Minn. 1992), 4-92-157, In re Young
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Eighth Circuit
    • December 17, 1992
    ...City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-Op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir.1988); see Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 756 F.2d 181, 189-90 (D.C.Cir.1985) (Bork, J., dissenting). Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if......
  • 159 B.R. 247 (Bkrtcy.D.Minn. 1993), 4-93-19, In re Calstar, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Eighth Circuit
    • September 30, 1993
    ...City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-Op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir.1988); see Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 756 F.2d 181, 189-90 (D.C.Cir.1985) (Bork, J. Dissenting). Under Rule 56(c) 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "......
  • 777 F.2d 8 (D.C. Cir. 1985), 84-5286, Brown v. Marsh
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
    • November 15, 1985
    ...EEO file contained no evidence of either a consultation or a formal administrative complaint. Compare, e.g., Catrett v. Johns Manville, 756 F.2d 181 (D.C.Cir.1985), cert. granted, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 342, 88 L.Ed.2d 285 (1985). The finding of the district court that there was no materi......
  • Florida should adopt: the Celotex standard for summary judgements.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 76 Nbr. 2, February 2002
    • February 1, 2002
    ...East Coast Railway Co. v. Metropolitan Dade County, 438 So. 2d 978 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1983). (17) Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 756 F.2d 181, 188 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (Bork, J., dissenting), rev'd sub nom. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). For a Florida case embracing this un......
  • Free signup to view additional results
62 cases
  • 148 B.R. 886 (Bkrtcy.D.Minn. 1992), 4-92-157, In re Young
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Eighth Circuit
    • December 17, 1992
    ...City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-Op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir.1988); see Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 756 F.2d 181, 189-90 (D.C.Cir.1985) (Bork, J., dissenting). Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if......
  • 159 B.R. 247 (Bkrtcy.D.Minn. 1993), 4-93-19, In re Calstar, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Eighth Circuit
    • September 30, 1993
    ...City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-Op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir.1988); see Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 756 F.2d 181, 189-90 (D.C.Cir.1985) (Bork, J. Dissenting). Under Rule 56(c) 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "......
  • 777 F.2d 8 (D.C. Cir. 1985), 84-5286, Brown v. Marsh
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
    • November 15, 1985
    ...EEO file contained no evidence of either a consultation or a formal administrative complaint. Compare, e.g., Catrett v. Johns Manville, 756 F.2d 181 (D.C.Cir.1985), cert. granted, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 342, 88 L.Ed.2d 285 (1985). The finding of the district court that there was no materi......
  • 613 F.Supp. 994 (D.D.C. 1985), Civ. A. 83-3533, Baker v. A.H. Robins Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts District of Columbia
    • July 17, 1985
    ...of material fact and that it is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 756 F.2d 181, 184 (D.C.Cir.1985); McKinney v. Dole, 765 F.2d 1129, 1134 (D.C.Cir.1985). Upon consideration of the pleadings and other materials submitted ......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Florida should adopt: the Celotex standard for summary judgements.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 76 Nbr. 2, February 2002
    • February 1, 2002
    ...East Coast Railway Co. v. Metropolitan Dade County, 438 So. 2d 978 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1983). (17) Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 756 F.2d 181, 188 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (Bork, J., dissenting), rev'd sub nom. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). For a Florida case embracing this un......