Brewster v. US

Decision Date17 August 1994
Docket NumberNo. 4-91-CV-30702.,4-91-CV-30702.
PartiesLaura M. BREWSTER, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff, v. TAYLOR INDUSTRIES, INC., Third-Party Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa


Richard L. Richards, Asst. U.S. Atty., Des Moines, IA, for U.S.

Richard G. Blane, II, West Des Moines, IA, for plaintiff.

William L. Dawe, Des Moines, IA, for third party defendant Taylor Industries, Inc.


BENNETT, United States Magistrate Judge.

                                                     TABLE OF CONTENTS
                  I. INTRODUCTION                                                             1380
                 II. FINDINGS OF FACT                                                         1380
                III. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW                                                       1381
                     A. Standards for Summary Judgment                                        1381
                     B. Federal Tort Claims Act                                               1383
                     C. Defendant United States' Motion for Summary Judgment                  1383
                        1. Brewster's Claims Against the United States                        1383
                        2. Brewster's Claim of Specific Negligence                            1383
                           a. Sufficiency of Brewster's Affidavits                            1384
                           b. Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(D)                                        1385
                        3. General Negligence and Res Ipsa Loquitur                           1387
                        4. Certified Question                                                 1389
                     D. Third-Party Defendant Taylor's Motion for Summary Judgment            1390
                        1. Assertion of Both Breach of Warranty and Strict Liability Claims   1390
                        2. General Negligence Claim                                           1390
                        3. Expert Testimony                                                   1390
                 IV. CONCLUSION                                                               1391

This litigation arises under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-80. Plaintiff Laura Brewster alleges she was seriously injured when she was knocked down by a malfunctioning automatic door in the emergency room of the Veterans Administration Medical Center ("VAMC") in Des Moines, Iowa on January 29, 1990. Brewster was at the VAMC because she had driven her husband to the VAMC emergency room. Brewster asserts claims for general and specific negligence against the United States. The United States has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on each of Brewster's claims. Brewster's affidavits resisting the United States' summary judgment motion would, on their face, generate a material question of fact. The affidavits allege that unidentified employees of VAMC made statements to Brewster's sisters that VAMC had experienced prior problems with the automatic door. The United States challenges the core assertions in these affidavits as inadmissible hearsay and asserts that without the hearsay admissions Brewster has failed to generate a material question of fact concerning the liability of the United States. The Third-Party Defendant, Taylor Industries, Inc. ("Taylor"), who assembled and installed the automatic door at issue, has also moved for summary judgment against the United States. Taylor asserts in its summary judgment motion that the United States has failed to generate a material question of fact on its claims seeking indemnity and contribution against Taylor on theories of negligence, strict liability and breach of implied warranties of merchantability and fitness.


On May 25, 1994, the parties filed a Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the court are Third-Party Defendant Taylor's Motion for Summary Judgment against the United States and Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff The United States' Motion for Summary Judgment against Plaintiff Brewster. These two motions came on for hearing on July 25, 1994. Assistant United States Attorney Richard L. Richards appeared for the United States. Richard G. Blane II appeared for Plaintiff and William L. Dawe appeared for Third Party Defendant Taylor. The parties have now filed post-hearing briefs and these summary judgment motions are now fully submitted.

For the reasons set forth in this opinion, Third Party Defendant Taylor Industries, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment against the United States is granted because the United States has failed to generate a material question of fact concerning any of its three claims against Taylor Industries, Inc. The United States' summary judgment motion on Brewster's claim of specific negligence is granted because Brewster's resistance and affidavits, absent the hearsay statements of Brewster's sisters, fail to generate a question of material fact. The United States summary judgment motion concerning Brewster's claim of general negligence and res ipsa loquitur is deferred pending certification to the Iowa Supreme Court. The certified question raises an issue of first impression in Iowa on which the highest courts of other states have reached contradictory opinions.


For the purposes of these summary judgment motions only, the court finds the following facts:

1. In 1982, an addition to the VAMC in Des Moines was constructed. The addition houses the VAMC's emergency room.

2. The construction project was designated as Project No. 555-041 ("the Project"), and a contract for the Project was let to general contractor Vawter & Walter, Inc.

3. As the general contractor Vawter & Walter secured the services of Taylor as a subcontractor for the Project. As a subcontractor for the Project, Taylor was responsible for assembling and installing all automatic doors.

4. The automatic doors to the Project were installed subject to particular specifications. The specifications for the automatic doors included, inter alia, that the doors to the emergency rooms were to be controlled by overhead mounted detectors with time delay switches. The time delay switches were to be adjustable between 3 to 60 seconds. The doors were also required to be equipped with an "electric eye" in order to prevent the doors from closing when an individual is standing in the center of the door.

5. Taylor assembled and installed the Project's automatic doors. Taylor installed time delay switches on automatic door number five which were set at a fixed time interval.

6. Taylor provided services on the automatic doors on two occasions after their installation and prior to Brewster's accident. Taylor serviced the track guide in March of 1987. In July 1988, Taylor was called upon to install a new floor-mounted brace assembly. On both occasions the doors involved in the incident at the center of this case were operating normally and complied with all industry standards.

7. Automatic door number five has, at all relevant times, had a warning sign which reads: "CAUTION" "AUTOMATIC DOORS" "IN CASE OF EMERGENCY PUSH."

8. On January 29, 1990, Plaintiff Laura Brewster drove her husband, James Brewster, to the emergency room at the VAMC.

9. After James was taken into the emergency room, Laura stayed with her sister, Dorothy Mayo, in the vestibule area.

10. Laura asked Mayo to move her car from the emergency room entrance.

11. When Laura went out to check on her sister, the sliding door leading into the vestibule area opened as Laura approached it. Laura entered the doorway at a normal rate of speed, and did not stop.

12. The automatic doors closed on Laura, pinning her between them.

13. After attempting to open the doors with her hands, the doors opened, and Laura fell backwards against a wall and then to the floor. When Laura fell to the floor she heard a crack.

14. VAMC employees took Laura to the emergency room at VAMC.

15. X-rays revealed that Laura suffered a broken hip.

16. While Taylor serviced the automatic doors involved in the accident with Laura on two occasions since their installation, Taylor had no service agreements or maintenance contracts with VAMC for its automatic doors. Instead, Taylor provides maintenance or service on a call as needed basis.

17. The door system was installed properly and, at the time of Laura's accident, was in compliance with the applicable design and safety standards of the American National Standards Institute.

18. When the automatic doors were installed by Taylor, a representative of Taylor showed an employee at VAMC how to operate and maintain the door system and how to adjust the door's time delay.

19. VAMC maintenance personnel attended to the routine or normal daily maintenance of the automatic doors.

20. Following the accident, Taylor installed time adjustable switches to the automatic doors at VAMC.

A. Standards for Summary Judgment.

The standard for granting summary judgment is firmly established. Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is proper only 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 judgment as a matter of law." Wabun-Inini v. Sessions, 900 F.2d 1234, 1238 (8th Cir.1990) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); Woodsmith Publishing Co. v. Meredith Corp., 904 F.2d 1244, 1247 (8th Cir.1990).1 A court considering a motion for summary judgment must view all the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and give the nonmoving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8...

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