Sacramona v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 96-1345

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Citation106 F.3d 444
Docket NumberNo. 96-1345,96-1345
Parties46 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 541, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 14,872 Robert J. SACRAMONA, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE, INC., and The Budd Company, Defendants, Appellees. . Heard
Decision Date06 November 1996

Page 444

106 F.3d 444
46 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 541, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 14,872
Robert J. SACRAMONA, Plaintiff, Appellant,
Defendants, Appellees.
No. 96-1345.
United States Court of Appeals,
First Circuit.
Heard Nov. 6, 1996.
Decided Feb. 13, 1997.

Page 445

Michael K. Gillis with whom Gillis & Bikofsky, P.C., Newton Center, MA, was on briefs for appellant.

Francis H. Fox with whom John R. Skelton and Bingham, Dana & Gould L.L.P., Boston, MA, were on brief for appellee Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.

Edward M. Kay with whom Michael W. Duffy, P. Scott Ritchie, Clausen Miller, P.C., Chicago, IL, Robert M. Spence, Assistant General Counsel,; Mark R. Karsner and Karsner & Meehan, P.C., Taunton, MA, were on brief for appellee The Budd Company.

Before SELYA, Circuit Judge, ALDRICH, Senior Circuit Judge, and BOUDIN, Circuit Judge.

BOUDIN, Circuit Judge.

Robert Sacramona, the plaintiff in this diversity action, appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment against him. His claims arose from an accident that occurred when Sacramona sought to mount and inflate a tire manufactured by defendant Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. on a wheel manufactured by defendant, The Budd Company. The appeal is essentially a challenge to the district court's rulings on the destruction or loss of evidence and resulting prejudice to the defendants.

The facts are as follows. On May 4, 1988, a customer drove his van into the Economy Mobil gas station for repair of a leaking tire. Sacramona, the station's new manager, removed the tire and decided to replace rather than repair it. Because the station did not have an appropriate new tire, Sacramona selected a used, 16-inch tire from a rack of tires at the station as a temporary replacement, intending later to get a new tire for the customer.

The replacement tire bore warnings that it was to be used only with a 16-inch wheel. Sacramona later admitted that he did not check the diameter of the wheel rim; he said that he chose a 16-inch tire because the tire that he removed was also 16 inches. But the replacement tire apparently did not fit the wheel, which Sacramona now says was 16-1/2 inches. After Sacramona struggled to mount the tire--using a tire mounting machine and lubricant, striking the tire with a hammer, and bouncing it on the ground--the tire allegedly exploded as he again attempted to inflate it, causing him numerous injuries.

Sacramona was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Another service station employee put the damaged replacement tire on the wheel without inflating it, and the customer drove back home very slowly on the uninflated tire. The customer subsequently had the wheel and damaged tire removed from his van and left them unprotected in his outdoor yard. In August 1988, Sacramona's attorney obtained the tire and wheel.

Around February 1, 1989, the attorney gave both the tire and wheel to an expert consulting engineer, Dyer Carroll, who examined them and then sent them to Sacramona's liability expert, Dr. Alan Milner, on September 30, 1991. In the meantime, on May 3, 1991, Sacramona filed his complaint in this case, one day before the three-year statute of limitations expired, asserting tort and warranty claims. His theory is this: that the automotive industry knew that there was a risk of harm from mismatching tires and wheels, and that the wheel, tire, or both could have been designed--over and above the warnings on the tire--to reduce the risk that such a dangerous mismatch would occur.

By the time of the lawsuit, the Mobil station had been sold and many of its contents were gone, including the original leaking tire, the mounting machine, and various safety or equipment manuals and documents. In addition, during his deposition, Milner said that the wheel had undergone a "somewhat destructive" examination and that he understood from Sacramona's lawyer that Carroll had conducted an extensive cleaning of the

Page 446

wheel. It was thus impossible to check for markings on the inside of the wheel that might have revealed whether (as Sacramona claimed) the original leaking tire had been a 16-inch tire mismatched with a 16-1/2-inch wheel.

After discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment on several grounds, asserting inter alia that critical evidence had been destroyed in the cleaning of the wheel. In opposition, Sacramona attached a brief affidavit from Carroll denying that he had destroyed such evidence. 1 The district court ruled that evidence of the wheel should be excluded, finding that defendants' "experts have been deprived of the opportunity to examine relevant, possibly dispositive evidence before its material alteration." The trial judge treated the wheel's exclusion as fatal to both the negligence and warranty claims.

The district court also granted summary judgment to the defendants on Sacramona's warranty claims on an independent ground. Sacramona had not notified Firestone of his claims until three years after the accident; and Budd did not get notice for three more months (service of the complaint having been delayed). The district court ruled that the defendants had been prejudiced by this delay because evidence had been lost, and that the warranty claims were therefore barred by Mass.Gen.Laws ch. 106, § 2-318.

Sacramona has now appealed, challenging both rulings: the dismissal of both claims because of damage to the wheel and the dismissal of the warranty claim for prejudicial delay. We address each asserted error in turn, applying the standard of review fitting the specific issue. Broadly speaking, propositions of law are examined de novo, findings of fact are reviewed under the clear error standard, and most remaining issues (e.g., applying multiple factors to known facts) are tested for "abuse of discretion." See generally United States v. Wilson, 798 F.2d 509, 512 (1st Cir.1986).

1. Under settled authority, the district court has inherent power to exclude evidence that has been improperly altered or damaged by a party where necessary to prevent the non-offending side from suffering unfair prejudice. Unigard Sec. Ins. Co. v. Lakewood Eng'g & Mfg. Corp., 982 F.2d 363, 368 (9th Cir.1992); Headley v. Chrysler Motor Corp., 141 F.R.D. 362, 365 & n. 13 (D.Mass.1991). Although deterrence may play a role, the primary aim is remedial, at least absent willful destruction. This power is a companion to, but somewhat different in effect from, the doctrine that permits an adverse inference from one side's destruction of evidence. 22 Charles Alan Wright & Kenneth W. Graham, Federal Practice and Procedure: Evidence § 5178, at 153-59 (1978).

Sacramona's first argument against the exclusion of the wheel on grounds of prejudicial damage is that the district court "did not weigh the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving plaintiff" and therefore the issue had to be submitted to the jury. Sacramona says that a factual dispute exists as to whether any such damage occurred, "particularly in light of the sworn deposition testimony of Dyer E. Carroll, ... who stated that he never scraped any evidence from the wheel or cleaned it with any abrasive material."

The request for a jury rests on a misunderstanding. It is familiar law that the district judge decides most preliminary factual issues that arise in determining the admissibility of evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 104(a). The main exception is that under Fed.R.Evid. 104(b), issues of conditional...

To continue reading

Request your trial
58 cases
  • Velez v. Marriott Pr Management, Inc., Civil No. 05-2108 (RLA).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • December 22, 2008
    ...prejudice.'" Collazo-Santiago v. Toyota Motor Corp., 149 F.3d 23, 28 (1st Cir.1998) (citing Sacramona v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 106 F.3d 444, 446 (1st Cir. 1997)); Silvestri, 271 F.3d at 590; Collazo-Santiago v. Toyota Motor Corp., 149 F.3d 23, 28 (1st Prejudice will be measured by th......
  • Madoff v. Amaral (In re Amaral), Case No. 14–15382–JNF
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. First Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Massachusetts
    • May 8, 2017
    ...of inherent-power sanction, not in form of fee award, without requiring showing of bad faith); Sacramona v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. , 106 F.3d 444, 447 (1st Cir. 1997) (same). It follows that the absence of bad faith does not serve to undermine the inherent-power sanction imposed by the......
  • Trevino v. Ortega, 97-0280
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • July 3, 1998
    ...218 (1st Cir.1982). And third, perhaps most importantly, they serve an evidentiary function. See Sacramona v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 106 F.3d 444, 446 (1st Cir.1997). When evidence spoliation prejudices nonspoliating parties, courts can levy a sanction or submit a presumption that lev......
  • Rimkus Consulting Group, Inc. v. Cammarata, Civil Action No. H-07-0405.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • February 19, 2010 the defendant is extraordinary, denying it the ability to adequately defend its case"); Sacramona v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 106 F.3d 444, 447 (1st Cir.1997) ("Certainly bad faith is a proper and important consideration in deciding whether and how to sanction conduct resulting in th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Discovery and Your Expert
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Qualifying & Attacking Expert Witnesses
    • May 4, 2022
    ...plaintiff’s claim or the exclusion of the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony may be appropriate. Sacramona v. Bridgetone/Firestone, Inc. , 106 F. 3d 444, 446 (1st Cir. 1997). (Affirming the district court’s decision that expert testimony concerning an allegedly defective wheel was properly excl......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT