Adams v. Union Carbide Corp., No. 83-3239

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore ENGEL and KRUPANSKY, Circuit Judges, and WEICK; KRUPANSKY; WEICK
Citation737 F.2d 1453
Decision Date02 July 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-3239
PartiesBetty ADAMS, Joseph Adams, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

Page 1453

737 F.2d 1453
Betty ADAMS, Joseph Adams, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 83-3239.
United States Court of Appeals,
Sixth Circuit.
Argued March 16, 1984.
Decided July 2, 1984.

Page 1454

Milton Dunn, Russell Bensing (argued), Beachwood, Ohio, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Robert C. Maynard (argued), Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, Cleveland, Ohio, for defendant-appellee.

Before ENGEL and KRUPANSKY, Circuit Judges, and WEICK, Senior Circuit Judge.

KRUPANSKY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Betty Adams, a former employee of General Motors Corporation (GMC), brought this diversity action against Union Carbide Corporation in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Plaintiff alleged that Union Carbide failed to adequately warn GMC employees of the dangerous propensities of the chemical toluene diisocyanate (TDI), which Union Carbide manufactured and supplied to GMC for use in GMC's automobile assembling process. Plaintiff further contended that as a result of defendant's negligence, she developed a respiratory ailment known as "TDI asthma". Plaintiff sought $500,000 in damages. Plaintiff's husband, Joseph Adams, also sought $50,000 in compensation for the loss of his wife's services, companionship and consortium.

On March 10, 1983, the district court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff's appeal to this court was predicated on the theory that material issues of fact were presented by this negligence action which should have been submitted to a jury rather than summarily resolved by the court below.

The record disclosed that plaintiff Adams was employed by the Fisher Body Division of GMC at its Elyria, Ohio plant between 1967 and 1978. TDI was first supplied to GMC for use in making automobile seat cushions in 1969. The chemical was delivered in bulk liquid shipments either by tank trucks or rail tank cars and transferred from the common carrier into GMC storage tanks. The TDI was then pumped, as needed, into a closed vessel system for automatic mixing with other chemicals. The only potential exposure GMC employees had to TDI vapors occurred when the seat cushions were removed from their open molds.

Union Carbide admitted that its officials were aware of respiratory hazards associated with exposure to TDI vapors as early as 1964. In 1969, defendant prepared a manual specifically addressing these conditions for GMC. Attached to this report were eight related articles on TDI's use in manufacturing which had been prepared by various sources. Of special relevance to the case at bar was an article entitled "Chemical Safety Data Sheet SD-73" prepared by the Manufacturing Chemists Association. The article detailed the "properties and essential information for safe handling and use of TDI." Included in this publication was a section entitled "Employee Safety," which read in pertinent part:

Page 1455

5.1.1. Employee training is probably the most important safety measure a company can take.... An effective employee education should include the following items:

* * *

* * *

(e) He should know when personal protective equipment is to be used and how to use it effectively.

5.1.2. It is the responsibility of supervision to train each worker, and, equally as important, to instill within him an attitude of safety. The supervisor must procure the necessary safety equipment and be sure that it is maintained in working order at all times.

5.1.3. Operating procedures, including all safety rules, should be posted in work areas where they may be read by employees.

In 1975, officials from GMC and Union Carbide met to discuss the handling of TDI to minimize personnel exposure. Additional guidelines were furnished to GMC following this conference.

Plaintiff Adams worked in various departments in the Elyria plant during the course of her employment, including Department No. 5, where automobile seat cushions were removed from their molds and exposure to TDI was possible. Plaintiff's medical records indicated that she had sought medical attention as early as 1969 for symptoms related to exposure to fumes and gaseous materials. In 1974, plaintiff's doctor advised GMC that Adams not be assigned to any area where the air was contaminated with fumes because of her bronchopulmonary condition. GMC's plant physician discussed this letter with the plaintiff and suggested she continue working in Department No. 5 on a trial basis. One year later, in February, 1975, plaintiff's treating physician again wrote to GMC and recommended that plaintiff be permanently reassigned from Department No. 5 due to her chronic bronchitis.

Plaintiff was permanently restricted from Department No. 5 thereafter. Her employment records disclosed that she was placed on temporary disability several times by her treating physician due to bronchitis and flue. In September, 1978 plaintiff came under the care of a different treating physician, who certified that plaintiff was permanently disabled from work due to TDI hypersensitivity from work-related exposure.

Plaintiff filed her complaint on June 20, 1980, alleging that Union Carbide was negligent in failing to warn GMC and its employees of the "harmful, toxic and deleterious effects to TDI" and that as a result of defendant's negligence, "she has been rendered totally disabled." On May 11, 1982 defendant Union Carbide filed a motion for summary judgment which it supported with two claims: (1) that the warnings given by Union Carbide to plaintiff's employer GMC satisfied its duty of reasonable care to the plaintiff, and (2) that the statute of limitations barred plaintiff's action. The district court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment based upon its finding that the case presented no unresolved material issue of fact, and that as a matter of Ohio law, defendant did not breach its duty to plaintiff. The lower court did not address the statute of limitations issue.

The grant or denial of summary judgment must be made in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, which states in pertinent part:

(c) Motions and Proceedings Thereon.... The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

The standard to be applied in determining motions for summary judgment was enunciated by this Circuit over 20 years ago and is still in accord with the overwhelming weight of authority:

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence in its most favorable light in favor of the party opposing the motion and against the movant. Further, the papers supporting the movant are closely scrutinized,

Page 1456

whereas the opponent's are indulgently treated.

Bohn Aluminum & Brass Corp. v. Storm King Corp., 303 F.2d 425, 427 (6th Cir.1962). See also United States v. Diebold, 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 994, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962); Sankovich v. Life Insurance Company of North America, 638 F.2d 136 (9th Cir.1981).

After recognizing the above criteria for summary judgment as controlling, the trial judge in the instant case wrote:

A thorough examination of all evidence presented here compels the conclusion that no material issue of fact exists in this conflict. The parties neither dispute that defendant warned GM, Mrs. Adams' employer, of the dangers related to TDI but did not warn Mrs. Adams directly, nor do they dispute the notations in GM's medical records referring to ailments suffered by Mrs. Adams during the course of employment. There remains only the application of these undisputed facts to the appropriate legal standards.

The lower court then proceeded to apply the facts as established to the "appropriate legal standard", which under Ohio law is found in the Restatement (Second) of Torts Sec. 388. 1 Section 388 reads:

Sec. 388. Chattel Known to be Dangerous for Intended Use

One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for another to use is subject to liability to those whom the supplier should expect to use the chattel with the consent of the other or to be endangered by its probable use, for physical harm caused by the use of the chattel in the manner for which and by a person for whose use it is supplied, if the supplier

(a) knows or has reason to know that the chattel is or is likely to be dangerous for the use for which it is supplied, and

(b) has no reason to believe that those for whose use the chattel is supplied will realize its dangerous condition, and

(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to inform them of its dangerous condition or of the facts which make it likely to be dangerous.

Comment n following the restatement advises that the manufacturer's duty to warn may be discharged by providing information of the dangerous propensities of the product to a third person (GMC in the instant case) upon whom it can reasonably rely to communicate the information to the ultimate users of the product or those who will be exposed to its hazardous effects. The comment adds that "[m]odern life would be intolerable unless one were permitted to rely to a certain extent on others' doing what they normally do, particularly if it is their duty to do so."

Although most negligence actions are resolved by submission to a jury, "it would be a mistake to conclude summary judgment is never appropriate in a negligence action." Croley v. Matson Navigation Company, 434 F.2d 73 (5th Cir.1970). Croley and other decisions provide ample authority for the use of summary judgment in cases where the alleged negligence of a manufacturer is at issue. See, e.g., Gracyalny v. Westinghouse Electric Corporation, 723 F.2d 1311, 1316 (7th Cir.1983) ("a grant of summary judgment may be affirmed on any ground that finds support in the record"); Bryant v....

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    ...v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) (footnote omitted); accord Adams v. Union Carbide Corp., 737 F.2d 1453, 1455-56 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1062, 105 S.Ct. 545, 83 L.Ed.2d 432 (1984). Inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts contai......
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90 cases
  • O'Hara v. Mt. Vernon Bd. of Educ., No. C2-95-554.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
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    ...v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) (footnote omitted); accord Adams v. Union Carbide Corp., 737 F.2d 1453, 1455-56 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1062, 105 S.Ct. 545, 83 L.Ed.2d 432 (1984). Inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts contai......
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