Daily v. New Britain Mach. Co.

Decision Date22 July 1986
Citation200 Conn. 562,512 A.2d 893
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 11,191 Bernard J. DAILY et al. v. NEW BRITAIN MACHINE COMPANY.
Joseph A. Mengacci, Waterbury, for appellants (plaintiffs)

Robert L. Wyld, with whom were John A. Cvarch and Alan E. Lieberman, Hartford, for appellee (defendant).

Before HEALEY, SHEA, DANNEHY, SANTANIELLO and VASINGTON, JJ.

SANTANIELLO, Justice.

This is an appeal from a decision of the trial court granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment in a products liability action. The plaintiffs claim that the trial court erred: (1) in granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment when there existed genuine issues of material fact; (2) by failing to recognize the plaintiffs' right to assert a common law cause of action; (3) in refusing to permit the plaintiffs to amend their substituted complaint and reply to special defenses to allege false misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment claims against the defendant; and (4) in not declaring the products liability statute of repose unconstitutional as violative of article first, §§ 10 and 20, of the Connecticut constitution, and the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution. We find no error.

The pleadings, affidavits, documents and other information before the trial court on the motion for summary judgment revealed the following facts. The principal plaintiff, 1 Bernard J. Daily, was an employee of Harkness Industries (Harkness) located in Cheshire. In May, 1963, the defendant, New Britain Machine Company, leased a Model 75 injection molding machine to Harkness with an option to purchase. On May 22, 1964, Harkness exercised its option and purchased the machine. The machine was warranted to be free from defects in material and workmanship for a maximum period of one year. Harkness never parted with physical possession of the machine thereafter, and never purchased a service contract for it. The defendant serviced the molding machine five times in the seventeen years between the delivery to Harkness in May, 1963, and the date of injury to Daily on April 28, 1980. Each of these service calls was at the sole initiation, invitation and expense of Harkness. 2 On August 5, 1977, an employee of the defendant made a courtesy call to Harkness during which he prepared a safety check list. No services were performed on the machine, nor was any fee charged for the visit. On April 28, 1980, the plaintiff was severely injured when the Harkness molding machine closed upon his hand, causing permanent impairment and the need for numerous surgical procedures. At all times since the accident, the plaintiff was entitled to and has been receiving benefits under Connecticut's Workers' Compensation Act.

The plaintiffs instituted suit on March 22, 1982, and filed a substituted complaint on November 23, 1982. The defendant filed an answer and special defenses to the original complaint on December 15, 1982. Thereafter, on February 23, 1983, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that the plaintiffs' claims were barred by General Statutes § 52-577a, the Connecticut products liability statute of limitations insofar as the defendant had parted with possession and control of the molding machine more than ten years before the plaintiffs had filed this action. On March 10, 1983, the plaintiffs objected to the motion because the pleadings were not closed. Thereafter, the defendant filed a revised answer containing special defenses on June 6, 1983. A reply was filed to the special defenses on June 24, 1983, and, at this point, the pleadings were closed. On July 7, 1983, the plaintiffs filed a motion in opposition to summary judgment claiming additional discovery was

                required to ascertain facts essential to justify opposition to the summary judgment motion.   On July 11, 1983, the trial court ordered 3 the plaintiffs to file a counteraffidavit by August 8, 1983, and then set the motion down for hearing on the short calendar of August 15, 1983. 4  The plaintiffs filed a request to amend their substituted complaint and reply on August 11, 1983.   No action was taken on the plaintiffs' request prior to the hearing on the motion for summary judgment which was conducted as scheduled on August 15, 1983, before the court, James T. Healey, J.   Summary judgment was granted for the defendant on August 30, 1983, after the court determined that there were no material issues of fact in dispute and that, as [200 Conn. 566] a matter of law, the limited contacts the defendant had had with the molding machine did not constitute control of the machine for the purposes of § 52-577a
                
I

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The plaintiffs' first claim is that the court erred in granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment since there existed genuine issues of material fact.

The court concluded that the claims set forth in the substituted complaint did not raise a genuine issue of fact because the defendant had parted with possession and control of the molding machine more than ten years before the filing date of the complaint and, therefore, were time-barred by General Statutes § 52-577a. 5 The court carefully analyzed the meaning of the words "possession and control" and determined that it was uncontroverted that Harkness had been in physical possession and control of the machine since May, 1963. 6 The trial court found there were " 'A trial court may appropriately render summary judgment when the documents submitted demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact remaining between the parties and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Practice Book § 384; Yanow v. Teal Industries, Inc., 178 Conn. 262, 268, 422 A.2d 311 (1979); United Oil Co. v. Urban Redevelopment Commission, 158 Conn. 364, 377-78, 260 A.2d 596 (1969).' Bartha v. Waterbury House Wrecking Co., 190 Conn. 8, 11, 459 A.2d 115 (1983). See Herman v. Endriss, 187 Conn. 374, 446 A.2d 9 (1982). Once the moving party has presented evidence in support of the motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must present evidence that demonstrates the existence of some disputed factual issue. Bartha v. Waterbury House Wrecking Co., supra, 190 Conn. 11-12, 459 A.2d 115; Farrell v. Farrell, 182 Conn. 34, 38, 438 A.2d 415 (1980); Rusco Industries, Inc. v. Hartford Housing Authority, 168 Conn. 1, 5, 357 A.2d 484 (1975). It is not enough, however, for the opposing party merely to assert the existence of such a disputed issue. 'Mere assertions of fact ... are insufficient to establish the existence of a material fact and, therefore, cannot refute evidence properly presented to the court under Practice Book § 380.' Bartha v. Waterbury House Wrecking Co., supra, 190 Conn. 12, 459 A.2d 115. 'The movant has the burden of showing the non-existence of such issues but the evidence thus presented, if otherwise sufficient, is not rebutted by the bald statement that an issue of fact does exist.' Kasowitz v. Mutual Construction Co., 154 Conn. 607, 613, 228 A.2d 149 (1967), quoting The plaintiffs' characterization of the last service call of August 30, 1972, and the courtesy safety check of August 5, 1977, as placing the defendant in either possession or control of the molding machine was fanciful at best. The trial court, in explicating the definition of "control," was correct in stating that to interpret the facts of this case as placing control in the defendant "would stretch the English language to the breaking point." "It is not enough that one opposing a motion for summary judgment claims that there is a genuine issue of material fact, some evidence showing the existence of such an issue must be presented in the counteraffidavit." Hartmann v. Smith, supra, 158 Conn. 259, 259 A.2d 645. The plaintiffs failed to submit adequate counteraffidavits and other documentary proof to support their claims as required by Practice Book § 380. 7 Thus, because the facts as set out above are not disputed, the court was justified in concluding that the defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

                only minimal contacts between the defendant and the molding machine, that the affidavits and supporting documents submitted by the plaintiffs were conclusory and further that it was undisputed that during the ten year period preceding the institution of this suit there were only two contacts made by the defendant's representatives, one service call requested by Harkness on August 30, 1972 followed by the safety check on August 5, 1977.   Harkness leased [200 Conn. 568] the machine in May of 1963 and later obtained title without relinquishing physical possession at any time.   Each of the service calls was requested by Harkness, and in each instance, the defendant was responsive to those requests and an employee of the defendant went to Harkness to perform work on the machine.   In addition to the service calls, there was one courtesy call made on August 5, 1977.   The defendant's employee prepared a safety checklist but performed no services and did not charge for the safety check.   There was an express warranty given by the defendant to Harkness for a one year period only and was limited to defective material and workmanship.   There was no service contract.   Over the seventeen year period during which the defendant serviced the machine, Harkness was free to obtain service from others.   The affidavits also show that the defendant had no power to influence what parts would be run on the machine, what molds would be employed, what hours the machine would be run, what maintenance would be performed, or who would service or operate the machine
                Boyce v. Merchants Fire Ins. Co., 204 F.Supp. 311, 314 (D.Conn.1962);   Farrell v. Farrell, supra, 182 Conn. 39, 438 A.2d 415;   Plouffe v. New York, N.H. & H.R. Co., 160 Conn. 482, 490, 280 A.2d 359 (1971);   Hartmann v. Smith,
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