Parker v. Allentown, Inc., Civil Case No. PWG–11–0569.

Citation891 F.Supp.2d 773
Decision Date19 September 2012
Docket NumberCivil Case No. PWG–11–0569.
PartiesFlorence PARKER, Plaintiff, v. ALLENTOWN, INC., Defendant.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)

891 F.Supp.2d 773

Florence PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLENTOWN, INC., Defendant.

Civil Case No. PWG–11–0569.

United States District Court,
D. Maryland,
Northern Division.

Sept. 19, 2012.


[891 F.Supp.2d 776]


Joseph T. Williams, Williams and Santoni, LLP, Towson, MD, for Plaintiff.

Steven R. Migdal, Buck Migdal and Myers Chartered, Annapolis, MD, for Defendant.

[891 F.Supp.2d 777]


MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

PAUL W. GRIMM, United States Magistrate Judge.

This Memorandum and Order addresses Defendant Allentown, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 27; Plaintiff Florence Parker's Answer to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Opposition”), ECF No. 29; and Defendant's Reply, ECF No. 31. I find that a hearing is unnecessary in this case. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to Counts Two and Three and DENIED as to Counts One, Four, and Five. This Memorandum and Order disposes of ECF Nos. 27, 29, and 31.

I. BACKGROUND

In reviewing the evidence related to a motion for summary judgment, the Court considers the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 2677, 174 L.Ed.2d 490 (2009); George & Co., LLC v. Imagination Entm't Ltd., 575 F.3d 383, 391–92 (4th Cir.2009); Dean v. Martinez, 336 F.Supp.2d 477, 480 (D.Md.2004). Unless otherwise stated, the background provided here is comprised of undisputed facts. Where a dispute between the parties exists, however, the facts are considered in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

Defendant is a company that manufactures and sells animal cage racks, which hold rows of animal cages that can be pulled out. Compl. ¶¶ 4–5, ECF No. 2; Def.'s Mem. in Supp. Mot. 1 & 4, ECF No. 27–1; see Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 4, ECF No. 29–1. In the last thirty years, Defendant has sold more than 20,000 such racks, and Johns Hopkins University (“Hopkins”) has purchased nearly 1,000 of them. Def.'s Mem. 3. Defendant sold the animal cage rack at issue in this litigation to Hopkins in September 2001. Id.; Pl.'s Mem. 6. It was estimated that the cage rack weighed between 750 and 1100 pounds. Dep't of Labor, Licensing & Reg., Occup. Safety & Health, Citation & Notification of Penalty 5 (“MOSH Citation”), Pl.'s Mem. Ex. D, ECF No. 29–5.

Plaintiff began working as an animal facility specialist/animal caretaker at Hopkins in September 2002. Def.'s Mem. 3; Parker Dep. 33:7, 34:6–11, Pl.'s Mem. Ex. E, ECF No. 29–6. One of her primary responsibilities was to care for laboratory animals, such as rats and mice. Compl. ¶ 3; Def.'s Mem. 3. The animals were kept in individual cages, stored in animal cage racks that Defendant manufactured. Compl. ¶ 4; see Def.'s Mem. 4.

On or around September 22, 2009, Plaintiff was performing routine cage checks of the laboratory animals at Hopkins' Bayview campus. See Compl. ¶ 5; Def.'s Mem. 4; Pl.'s Mem. 7. Because she was unable to locate a stepladder, Plaintiff checked the top row of cages on each rack, which were above her eyelevel, by pulling out the cages from the rack, taking them down, looking in them, and putting the cages back. Pl.'s Mem. 7. When checking the second row from the top on the rack at issue, Plaintiff stood on her tiptoes and held onto the top of the rack with both hands. Id.; Def.'s Mem. 4. As she was checking that second row of cages, the cage rack tipped over, falling on top of Plaintiff, Pl.'s Mem. 7; Def.'s Mem. 4, and breaking her left leg in five places, MOSH Interview Worksheet, Pl.'s Mem. Ex. C, ECF No. 29–4. She was trapped under the rack until a coworker discovered her, nearly forty-five minutes later. Compl. ¶¶ 5–6; Pl.'s Mem. 7. She then was transported to the hospital. Compl. ¶ 6; Def.'s Mem. 4.

Plaintiff filed a five-count complaint on March 2, 2011. Compl. 3–8. First, Plaintiff

[891 F.Supp.2d 778]

alleged negligence, claiming that Defendant was “negligent in designing a rack that required the user to pull drawers [1 out, which would foreseeably shift the weight and balance of the rack, without including in the design a device or element that would prevent the entire rack from falling over.” Id. ¶ 11. Second, Plaintiff alleged failure to warn, arguing that Defendant “failed to warn [Hopkins] and/or [Plaintiff] of the danger that the rack would tip over, that it was unsafe, that it needed to be secured to the floor or wall to be safe, and of other dangers.” Id. ¶ 14. Third, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant breached the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular use. Id. ¶¶ 17–20. Fourth, Plaintiff alleged design defect, claiming that the product's design was defective because “it was not designed to be secured to the floor or a wall to keep it from tipping over while in use,” even though its design made it unstable. Id. ¶¶ 22–23. Finally, Plaintiff alleged strict liability, arguing that, as designed, the rack was “an abnormally dangerous product,” that presented to its users “an unreasonably dangerous risk of harm.” Id. ¶ 28. In light of these claims, each of which Plaintiff maintains was a direct and proximate cause of the injuries she sustained, Plaintiff requested five million dollars in compensatory damages. See id. at 8.

II. DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is properly granted when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Meson v. GATX Tech. Servs. Corp., 507 F.3d 803, 806 (4th Cir.2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute exists as to material facts. Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir.1987). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party—here, Plaintiff. Ricci, 129 S.Ct. at 2677;George & Co., LLC, 575 F.3d at 391–92;Dean, 336 F.Supp.2d at 480.

If the moving party demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to identify specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. To satisfy this burden, the non-moving party “must produce competent evidence on each element of his or her claim.” Miskin v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 107 F.Supp.2d 669, 671 (D.Md.1999). Although the Court “must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party,” that party “may not create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation, or building one inference upon another.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Runnebaum v. NationsBank, 123 F.3d 156, 163 (4th Cir.1997); Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cnty., 48 F.3d 810, 817–18 (4th Cir.1995)). Indeed, the existence of only a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Instead, the admissible evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact could reasonably find in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

[891 F.Supp.2d 779]

A. Breach of Warranty (Count Three)

Defendant argues, Def.'s Mem. 15–16, and Plaintiff concedes, Pl.'s Opp'n ¶ 1, that Plaintiff's breach of warranty claim is time barred. Defendant correctly notes that Md.Code Ann., Comm. Law § 2–725 establishes a four-year statute of limitations for breach of contract and breach of warranty claims, 2 yet Plaintiff filed her claims more than nine years after Defendant delivered the rack to Hopkins. Def.'s Mem. 15–16. Accordingly, with regard to Plaintiff's breach of warranty claim (Count Three), which is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

B. Products Liability—Design Defect (Counts One, Four, and Five)

In her first count, Plaintiff alleges negligence, asserting that Defendant designed a rack that “required the user to pull drawers out,” an action that would “foreseeably shift the weight and balance of the rack” in such a way that it was likely to tip over. See Compl. ¶ 11. Moreover, Plaintiff claims that Defendant failed to include in the rack's design “a device or element that would prevent the entire rack from falling over” when drawers were pulled out. See id. Plaintiff states that she suffered injury as a “direct and proximate result” of Defendant's negligence, resulting in economic and noneconomic damages. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff maintains that she “acted reasonably at all times and did not cause or contribute to the occurrence” in any way. Id. ¶ 13.

Similarly, in her fourth count, Plaintiff alleges design defect, claiming that the product's design was defective because “it was not designed to be secured to the floor or a wall to keep it from tipping over while in use,” even though (1) “it was supported by rollers, which are inherently unstable”; (2) it “required the user to pull cages out, like drawers, which would forseeably [ sic ] shift the weight and balance of the entire rack”; and (3) it “was designed with a mechanical unit on top, which provided water and air for the animals below [and] created an additional instability, which made the rack dangerous and subject to tip over.” Id. ¶¶ 22–23. Likewise, in her fifth count, Plaintiff alleges design defect, this time as a strict liability claim, arguing that, as designed, the rack was “an abnormally dangerous product,” that presented to its users “an unreasonably dangerous risk of harm,” Id. ¶ 28. For each of these claims she alleges that the design defect proximately caused her injuries. Id. ¶¶ 27 & 30.

Plaintiff's first, fourth, and fifth claims are, in essence, products liability claims of design defect, sounding in negligence and strict liability. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e) provides that “[p]leadings must be...

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