Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

KRAMER v. SHOWA DENKO K.K.

June 20, 1996

NOEL and CARYLL KRAMER, Plaintiffs, against SHOWA DENKO K.K., Defendant.

David N. Edelstein, U.S.D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDELSTEIN

EDELSTEIN, District Judge:

 Currently pending before this Court are the parties' respective dispositive motions in the instant products-liability litigation. Defendant Showa Denko K.K. ("defendant" or "SDK") moves this Court for partial summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages, lost-income damages, "actionable misrepresentations," and negligence. Plaintiffs Noel and Caryll Kramer ("plaintiffs" or "the Kramers") move this Court to collaterally estop defendant from denying at trial that its product caused plaintiffs' injuries and that its product was defective. This Court denies in part and grants in part defendant's motion for partial summary judgment. This Court also denies in full plaintiffs' motion for collateral estoppel.

 BACKGROUND

 This is a products liability action brought pursuant to this Court's diversity jurisdiction under Title 28, United States Code, ยง 1332. Plaintiffs, New York citizens, allege that Noel Kramer suffered personal injuries from impurities contained in the product L-tryptophan ("LT"), which was manufactured and sold by defendant, a company organized under the laws of Japan. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint asserts claims of strict liability, negligence, "actionable misrepresentation," breach of warranty, and loss of consortium. (Amended Complaint, Kramer v. Showa Denko K.K., 91 Civ. 0582 ("Amended Complaint"), at 2-4 (Nov. 7, 1995)). Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages, including damages for loss of consortium and lost income, and punitive damages. Id. at 2-4.

 Defendant disputes plaintiffs' claims and sets forth seven affirmative defenses: (1) plaintiffs' Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; (2) defendant's products conformed to the current state of medical, scientific, and industrial knowledge, art, and practice at the time of the products' manufacture and sale, and thus defendant could not reasonably know that the products might pose a risk of harm in normal foreseeable use; (3) plaintiffs' injuries were proximately caused by either plaintiffs' own fault, or by the negligence, fault, or defective products of persons over whom defendant had no control and for whom defendant is not responsible; (4) plaintiffs' injuries were caused by medical idiosyncrasies peculiar to plaintiffs that were unknown, unknowable, or not reasonably foreseeable to defendant; (5) defendant's product was generally recognized by experts as safe at the time it was manufactured and sold; (6) if plaintiffs' alleged injuries resulted from improper use, assumption of risk, or contributory negligence with respect to any product manufactured by defendant, then plaintiffs may not recover from defendant; and (7) plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages violates defendant's constitutional rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution and the corresponding provisions of the Constitution of the State of New York. (Amended Answer, Kramer v. Showa Denko K.K., No 91 Civ. 0582, ("Amended Answer") at 2-5 (Nov. 16, 1996).)

 DISCUSSION

 Pursuant to this Court's Order, the parties respectively filed dispositive motions on May 1, 1996. Defendant moves this Court for partial summary judgment on several of plaintiffs' claims, and plaintiffs move this Court to collaterally estop defendant from raising certain issues at trial. This Court will address the parties' respective motions individually.

 I. Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

 In the papers submitted to this Court, defendant moves for partial summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages, lost-income damages, "actionable misrepresentation," and negligence. (Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant Showa Denko K.K.'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' Claims for Punitive Damages, Lost Income Damages, "Actionable Misrepresentations" and Negligence, Kramer v. Showa Denko K.K., 91 Civ. 0582 ("Defendant's Memo") at 1 (May 1, 1996).) Because defendant raises each of these claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Procedure 56 ("Rule 56"), this Court will review the legal principles governing Rule 56 motions before examining defendant's individual claims.

 A. Rule 56

 Pursuant to Rule 56, summary judgement is appropriate where "the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142, 90 S. Ct. 1598 (1970); Scottish Air Int'l, Inc. v. British Caledonian Group, PLC., 867 F. Supp. 262, 265 (S.D.N.Y. 1994), and the party may discharge this burden by demonstrating to the Court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case on an issue which that party would have the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). As the Second Circuit has noted, "all ambiguities and inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts should be resolved in favor of the party opposing the motion, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial should be resolved against the moving party." Brady v. Town of Colchester, 863 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir. 1988); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330 n.2.

 To defeat a motion for summary judgement, the non-moving party must do "more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986); Resolution Trust Corp. v. Hidden Ponds Phase IV Dev. Assocs., 873 F. Supp. 799, 804 (E.D.N.Y. 1995). Instead, the non-moving party must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Scottish Air, 867 F. Supp. at 266. If the adverse party does not respond to the motion for summary judgement, "summary judgement, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Such an entry of summary judgment is inappropriate, however, "where the evidentiary matter in support of the motion does not establish the absence of a genuine issue, . . . even if no opposing evidentiary matter is presented." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's notes (1963 amendment).

 The existence of a genuine issue of material fact depends on both the genuineness and the materiality of the issues raised by the motion. See Scottish Air, 867 F. Supp. at 266. To evaluate a fact's materiality, "it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). While "disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of a suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Id. (citations omitted); see Knight v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 804 F.2d 9, 11-12 (2d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 932, 94 L. Ed. 2d 762, 107 S. Ct. 1570 (1987). To evaluate the genuineness of a material fact, "all that is required is that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a judge or jury to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (quotation omitted).

 B. Punitive Damages

 Turning first to the parties' choice-of-law dispute, it is black-letter law that a federal district court sitting in diversity must apply the choice-of-law rules of the state in which it sits. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 85 L. Ed. 1477, 61 S. Ct. 1020 (1941); Cargill, Inc. v. Charles Kowsky Resources, Inc., 949 F.2d 51, 55 (2d Cir. 1991). In New York, courts follow the governmental-interest-analysis approach in deciding choice-of-law issues in tort cases. Cooney v. Osgood Mach., Inc., 81 N.Y.2d 66, 71, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919 (N.Y. 1993); Schultz v. Boy Scouts of America, Ins., 65 N.Y.2d 189, 196-98, 480 N.E.2d 679, 491 N.Y.S.2d 90, 94-96 (N.Y. 1985). "A court following this approach must evaluate the nexus between each jurisdiction and the controversy in light of the policies and purposes to be vindicated by the conflicting laws." John v. Sotheby's, Inc., 858 F. Supp. 1283, 1289 (S.D.N.Y. 1994), aff'd, 52 F.3d 312 (2d Cir. 1995). The court then will apply the law of the jurisdiction that has the greatest interest in, and is most intimately concerned with, the outcome of a given litigation. Id.; Cooney, 595 N.Y.S.2d at 922, 612 N.E.2d 277, 81 N.Y.2d 66. "Thus, under New York conflicts principles, controlling effect is accorded to the law of the jurisdiction which has the greatest concern with, or interest in, the specific issue raised in the litigation." Sotheby's, 858 F. Supp. at 1289 (internal quotations omitted); see Neumeier v. Kuehner, 31 N.Y.2d 121, 286 N.E.2d 454, 335 N.Y.S.2d 64 (N.Y. 1972).

 The New York Court of Appeals frequently has stated the factors that a court must consider when choosing among competing, conflicting legal principles. Primary among these factors is the character of the law at issue. In Cooney v. Osgood Mach., Inc., Chief Judge Kaye explained:

 
If conflicting conduct-regulating laws are at issue, the law of the jurisdiction where the tort occurred will generally apply because that jurisdiction has the greatest interest in regulating behavior within its borders. But if competing "postevent remedial rules" are at stake other factors are taken into consideration, chiefly the parties' domiciles.

 595 N.Y.S. at 922, 612 N.E.2d 277, 81 N.Y.2d 66. Chief Judge Kaye then reviewed the trio of rules that controls a court's resolution of choice-of-law conflicts in New York--the Neumeier rules.

 The Neumeier rules derive from a 1972 New York Court of Appeals opinion regarding the applicability of a loss-distribution rule that limited an automobile passenger's ability to recover from the driver. Neumeier, 31 N.Y.S.2d at 66-67, 286 N.E.2d 454, 335 N.Y.S.2d 64. In his opinion for the Court, then Chief Judge Fuld authored a set of rules that he "proposed as sound for situations involving guest statutes in conflicts settings," id. at 66-67, 286 N.E.2d 454, 335 N.Y.S.2d 64, but which New York courts subsequently have applied to other loss-allocation conflicts. Cooney, 81 N.Y.2d at 72, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919; Schultz, 65 N.Y.2d at 199-200, 480 N.E.2d 679, 491 N.Y.S.2d 90; Jean v. Francois, 168 Misc. 2d 48, 1996 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 137, 1996 WL 250329, at *2 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Mar. 13, 1996). The Neumeier rules are briefly summarized as follows:

 
(1) In "false conflict" cases--where both parties to a dispute share a common domicile--the law of that domicile should control. Cooney, 81 N.Y.2d at 73, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919; Neumeier, 31 N.Y.2d at 128, 335 N.Y.S.2d 64, 286 N.E.2d 454 Feldman v. Acapulco Princess Hotel, 137 Misc. 2d 878, 884, 520 N.Y.S.2d 477 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1987).
 
(2) In "true conflict" or "split domicile" cases--where defendant's domicile and the place of injury are the same--the law of the place of accident should be applied, but where the plaintiff's domicile and the place of injury are the same, the law of the plaintiff's domicile should apply. Cooney, 81 N.Y.2d at 73, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919; Neumeier, 31 N.Y.2d at 128, 286 N.E.2d 454, 335 N.Y.S.2d 64; Feldman, 137 Misc. 2d at 884, 520 N.Y.S.2d 477.
 
(3) In those cases where plaintiff and defendant have different domiciles, the normally applicable rule of decision will be that of the state where the accident occurred, unless "it can be shown that displacing that normally applicable rule will advance the relevant substantive law purposes without impairing the smooth working of the multistate system or producing uncertainty for litigants." Neumeier, 31 N.Y.2d at 128, 286 N.E.2d 454, 335 N.Y.S.2d 64; see Cooney, 81 N.Y.2d at 73, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919; Feldman, 137 Misc. 2d at 884, 520 N.Y.S.2d 477.

 Relevant to the instant litigation is the second Neumeier rule because plaintiffs are New York domiciliaries and their alleged injuries occurred in New York. It is clear that there is no common domicile among the parties--defendant is a corporation that operates and is located in Japan, and plaintiffs are New York residents. (Amended Complaint at 1); (Amended Answer at 1.) Moreover, the locus of the alleged tort in question is New York. Although defendants maintain that "Japan, as SDK's place of incorporation and principal place of business as well as the location of manufacture and testing of the product at issue," is the situs of defendant's allegedly tortious conduct, (Defendant's Memo at 1-2), New York law on this question is to the contrary. As both the New York Court of Appeals and federal courts in this circuit have held, where "defendant's negligent conduct occurs in one jurisdiction and the plaintiff's injuries are suffered in another, the place of the wrong [for choice-of-law purposes] is considered to be the place where the last event necessary to make the actor liable occurred." Schultz, 65 N.Y.2d at 195, 480 N.E.2d 679, 491 N.Y.S.2d 90; see Hunter v. Derby Foods, Inc., 110 F.2d 970 (2d Cir. 1940); In re DES Cases, 789 F. Supp. 552, 567 (E.D.N.Y. 1992) (quoting Schultz); Rubel v. Eli Lilly & Co., 681 F. Supp. 151, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1987). Plaintiffs allege, (Plaintiff's Memo at 334, 37), and defendants do not ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.