Horn v. AO Smith Corp.

Decision Date18 February 1994
Docket Number1:92cv243,1:92cv233,Civ. No. 1:92cv232,1:92cv244 and 1:92cv273.
Citation884 F. Supp. 1226
PartiesRaymond L. HORN and Joyce A. Horn, Joseph Dues and Sharon Dues, Alvin Timmerman and Rose Timmerman, Walter A. Schwieterman and Frieda L. Schwieterman, Eric E. Link and Karen K. Link, Plaintiffs, v. A.O. SMITH CORPORATION and A.O. Smith Harvestore Products, Inc., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana

Sherrill W. Colvin, Haller and Colvin, Fort Wayne, IN, David Wade Peck, Barron Peck and Bennie, Cincinnati, OH, Paul F. Shappell, Whiteman Shappell Burkett, Portland, IN, B.J. Hammarback, River Falls, WI, for Walter A. Schwieterman, Frieda L. Schwieterman, Alvin Timmerman, Rose Timmerman, Sharon Dues, Joseph Dues, Raymond L. Horn, Joyce A. Horn.

John C. Dods, Margaret D. Lineberry, Shook Hardy and Bacon, Kansas City, MO, D. Randall Brown, Deborah A. Lawrence, Richard E. Steinbronn, Barnes and Thornburg, Fort Wayne, IN, Donald E. Egan, Lee Ann Watson, Linda L. Cashmore, Clay A. Tillack, Stewart T. Kusper, Katten Muchin and Zavis, Chicago, IL, for A.O. Smith Corp.

John C. Dods, Margaret D. Lineberry, Shook Hardy and Bacon, Kansas City, MO, D. Randall Brown, Deborah A. Lawrence, Richard E. Steinbronn, Barnes and Thornburg, Fort Wayne, IN, Donald E. Egan, Lee Ann Watson, Linda L. Cashmore, Katten Muchin and Zavis, Chicago, IL, for A.O. Smith Harvestore Products, Inc.

Sherrill W. Colvin, Haller and Colvin, Fort Wayne, IN, David Wade Peck, Barron Peck and Bennie, Cincinnati, OH, B.J. Hammarback, River Falls, WI, for Eric E. Link, Karen K. Link.

ORDER

WILLIAM C. LEE, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on motions for summary judgment filed by the defendants on October 1, 1993. Also before the court is defendants' motion to strike the affidavit of Cheryl Wolf, filed December 15, 1993. The parties finished briefing the motions on January 5, 1994.

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). However, Rule 56(c) is not a requirement that the moving party negate his opponent's claim. Fitzpatrick v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 916 F.2d 1254, 1256 (7th Cir.1990). Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, against a party "who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and in which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The standard for granting summary judgment mirrors the directed verdict standard under Rule 50(a), which requires the court to grant a directed verdict where there can be but one reasonable conclusion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is not sufficient to successfully oppose summary judgment; "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512; In Re Matter of Wildman, 859 F.2d 553, 557 (7th Cir.1988); Klein v. Ryan, 847 F.2d 368, 374 (7th Cir.1988); Valentine v. Joliet Township High School District No. 204, 802 F.2d 981, 986 (7th Cir.1986). No genuine issue for trial exists "where the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Juarez v. Ameritech Mobile Communications, Inc., 957 F.2d 317, 322 (7th Cir.1992) (quoting Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)).

Initially, Rule 56 requires the moving party to inform the court of the basis for the motion, and to identify those portions of the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admission on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. The non-moving party may oppose the motion with any of the evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), but reliance on the pleadings alone is not sufficient to withstand summary judgment. Goka v. Bobbitt, 862 F.2d 646, 649 (7th Cir.1988); Guenin v. Sendra Corp., 700 F.Supp. 973, 974 (N.D.Ind.1988); Posey v. Skyline Corp., 702 F.2d 102, 105 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 960, 104 S.Ct. 392, 78 L.Ed.2d 336 (1983). In ruling on a summary judgment motion the court accepts as true the non-moving party's evidence, draws all legitimate inferences in favor of the non-moving party, and does not weigh the evidence or the credibility of witnesses. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-251, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. However, "it is a gratuitous cruelty to parties and their witnesses to put them through the emotional ordeal of a trial when the outcome is foreordained" and in such cases summary judgment is appropriate. Mason v. Continental Illinois Nat'l Bank, 704 F.2d 361, 367 (7th Cir.1983).

Substantive law determines which facts are material; that is, which facts might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. Irrelevant or unnecessary facts do not preclude summary judgment even when they are in dispute. Id. The issue of fact must be genuine. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e). To establish a genuine issue of fact, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. at 1356; First National Bank of Cicero v. Lewco Securities Corp., 860 F.2d 1407, 1411 (7th Cir.1988). The non-moving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. A summary judgment determination is essentially an inquiry as to "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512.

Background

The plaintiffs in the five cases presently before the court are all dairy farmers who purchased or leased Harvestore silos for storing their corn and/or hay, which they subsequently fed to their dairy cows. All of the farmers later experienced problems with their dairy herds which they now allege were caused by the faulty design of the silos which permitted the stored feed to spoil. Since all of the plaintiffs have sued the same two defendants and have alleged the same causes of action, the five cases have been consolidated for pre-trial purposes. Thus, the parties have submitted only one set of briefs for each of the two defendants' motions for summary judgment which are directed to all five of the pending cases. Likewise, this order is directed to all five cases.

The cast of characters are as follows. The defendants in these cases are A.O. Smith Corporation ("A.O. Smith") and A.O. Smith Harvestore Products, Inc. ("AOSHPI"). A.O. Smith is a Delaware corporation with its principal offices located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is a publicly-owned company with its stock traded on the American Stock Exchange. A.O. Smith's subsidiaries and divisions are engaged in a variety of businesses, including manufacturing automotive products, electric motors, water heaters, and fiberglass piping.

AOSHPI is one of A.O. Smith's subsidiaries. AOSHPI's principal offices and facilities are located in DeKalb, Illinois, where it manufactures a variety of farming equipment, including the Harvestore silos at issue in the cases presently before the court.

Plaintiffs Raymond and Joyce Horn ("the Horns") acquired a 20' by 50' Harvestore silo in August 1977. The silo was installed on their farm in the fall of 1977 and the Horns filled it with corn silage. On April 29, 1981, the Horns acquired a 20' by 70' Harvestore silo which was installed on May 19, 1981 and used for storing haylage.

Plaintiffs Joseph and Sharon Dues ("the Dues") acquired a 20' by 80' Harvestore silo on May 11, 1981. This silo was installed on August 7, 1981 and was used to store haylage. The Dues also acquired a 20' by 40' silo on May 28, 1981 which was installed on October 6, 1981 and was used to store ground ear corn.

Plaintiffs Alvin and Rose Timmerman ("the Timmermans") acquired a 20' by 80' Harvestore silo on April 23, 1976. This silo was installed on May 12, 1976 and was used to store haylage. On September 8, 1980, the Timmermans acquired a 20' by 50' Harvestore silo which was installed on September 12, 1980 and was used to store corn silage.

Plaintiffs Walter and Frieda Schwieterman ("the Schwietermans") acquired a 20' by 70' Harvestore silo on March 9, 1978. This silo was installed on August 7, 1978. The Schwietermans also acquired a 20' by 35' Harvestore silo on July 18, 1980 which was installed on July 31, 1980.

Plaintiffs Eric and Karen Link ("the Links") acquired a 20' by 40' Harvestore silo on December 8, 1980. This silo was installed on June 3, 1981 and used to store corn silage. On August 10, 1981, the Links acquired a 20' by 60' Harvestore silo which was installed on August 21, 1981 and used to store haylage.

In their first amended complaints, the plaintiffs have alleged five causes of action. The first cause of action alleges breach of express warranties. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants, through their own employees and agents and through the acts of a licensed Harvestore dealer, induced plaintiffs to enter into the contracts to lease the Harvestore silos through the use of oral and written representations of a significant and material nature, including but not limited to the following assertions and representations: (1) that the Harvestore silos were sealed units and that...

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