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Carr v. Weinig

August 14, 2006

ROBERT F. CARR AND BETH CARR PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MICHAEL WEINIG, AG, AND MICHAEL WEINIG, INC., DEFENDANTS.
MICHAEL WEINIG, INC., THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
L. & J.G. STICKLEY, INC. THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Howard G. Munson, Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM - DECISION AND ORDER

Currently before the Court is Defendant/Third-Party-Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 29, Notice of Mot. Plaintiffs and Third-Party-Defendant oppose the motion, and Third-Party-Defendant additionally cross-moves: (1) for an order pursuant to Rules 14 and/or 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure severing the third-party action such that it is tried separately from the underlying action and (2) for an order pursuant to 22 NYCRR § 1200.24 (DR 5-105) requiring Michael Weinig, AG ("Weinig AG") and Michael Weinig, Inc. ("Weinig, Inc.") to be represented by separate counsel. Dkt. No. 34, Notice of Cross-Mot. For the reasons that follow below, the Court GRANTS Defendant/Third-Party-Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and DENIES Third-Party-Defendant's cross-motion for orders severing the third-party action and requiring Weinig, AG and Weinig, Inc. to be represented by separate counsel.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs, Robert F. and Beth Carr, who reside in the County of Madison, State of New York, filed this personal injury/negligence/products liability action against Defendant, Weinig, AG, and Defendant/Third-Party-Plaintiff, Weinig, Inc. Dkt. No.1, Compl. at ¶ 1. Plaintiffs assert eight causes of action sounding in negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, and loss of services and seek millions of dollars in compensation and damages. Dkt. No. 1, Compl. Weinig, AG is a publicly traded foreign corporation with its principal place of business in Tauberbischofsheim, Germany. Id. at ¶ 5. Weinig, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Weinig, AG with its principal place of business in Mooresville, North Carolina, id. at ¶ 7; thus, the Court's jurisdiction is premised upon diversity of citizenship with the amount in controversy exceeding $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants/Third-Party-Plaintiff design, develop test, manufacture, market, sell and distribute industrial woodworking machinery. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants/Third-Party-Plaintiff manufactured and sold a "Unimat 23" molding machine to Third-Party-Defendant, L. & J.G. Stickley, Inc. ("Stickley"). Plaintiffs alleged that prior to the time of Mr. Carr's injuries, Defendants/Third-Party-Plaintiff delivered, installed and tested the subject Unimat 23 at Stickley's premises. Id. at ¶¶ 11-13. Plaintiffs allege that "Robert F. Carr was traversing a walkway at Stickley when a board being run through a Unimat 23 machine 'kicked back,' was thrust through the air, and violently struck Mr. Carr" by which he "sustained catastrophic and permanent personal injuries, including the loss of fingers on his right hand . . . ." Id. at ¶¶ 16-17; Dkt. No. 31, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 2. Plaintiffs allege that defective design and manufacture of the Unimat 23 caused Mr. Carr's injuries. Dkt. No. 31, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 3.

Stickley purchased the Unimat 23 from Weinig, Inc. on or about April 8, 1997, and the two parties executed a purchase order in connection therewith. Id. at ¶ 4. The purchase order states that the purchaser understands that Weinig, Inc. did not "manufacture any Products and more particularly does not manufacture, manage, design, package, crate, transport, or otherwise have any responsibility for the product other than as an Independent sales and servicing business." Dkt. No. 31, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 5. The purchase order further states:

The Company [Weinig, Inc.] does not warrant against and shall not be responsible for any economic loss, property damage, product liability or personal injury claimed by the Purchaser, its agents, employees, successors, or assigns, arising out of the use of the Products except as expressly provided for herein. Purchaser Agrees To Assume All Risks And Liabilities And To Indemnify And Hold Company Harmless From And Against Any And All Claims, causes of actions, suits, proceedings, costs, loss, damages, liabilities and/or expenses which arise out of or are attributable to the Products, any alleged breach of warranty or misrepresentation, express or implied, or any intentional or negligent acts or omission, injury, death, property damage or other claim, including without limitation, claims relating to: the manufacture, sale, delivery, resale, installation, repair, operation or use of any products covered by or furnished under this Contract; failure to warn; unsafe or defective product, design or manufacture; or product liability claim, In any form whatsoever by purchaser or its agents, employees, insurance carriers, successor, or assigns, whether such claim or cause of action is based in contract, tort, strict liability, product liability, warrant, comparative negligence, common law or statutory basis or any other theory of recovery, unless and until it shall be finally determined that the Company was negligent in the sale, delivery, installation, or servicing of the Products, and that said negligence was the sole and direct cause of the damages claimed, and that no portion of said damages were caused by the contributory negligence of any other party.

Dkt. No. 33, Fritsch Aff. at Ex. A, ¶ 9. Weinig, Inc., filed a third party complaint against Stickley seeking contractual indemnification. Dkt. No. 18, Third-Party Compl.; Dkt. No. 31, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 7; Dkt. No. 36, Third-Party-Def.'s Statement of Material facts at ¶ 7.

Stickley generally contests that all of the terms attached to the purchase order became part of the parties' agreement and that the purchase order represents the extent of the parties' negotiations. Stickley submits that the parties settled upon the material terms of the agreement prior to the preparation of the purchase order. Dkt. No. 36, Third-Party-Def.'s Statement of Material facts at ¶ 4. As to the purchase order's liability and indemnification clause cited at length above, Stickley denies that it became a part of the purchase agreement between the parties because its language is a material alteration of the parties' verbal agreement that did not become a part of the contract. Dkt. No. 36, Third-Party-Def.'s Statement of Material facts at ¶¶ 6, 8-9. Stickley disputes that it assented to the indemnification clause and that such language was proposed during the parties' negotiations. Id. at ¶¶ 10-11. Prior to filing a third-party complaint against Stickley seeking contractual indemnification, Weinig, Inc. requested that Stickley voluntarily honor its agreement, but Stickley refused. Dkt. No. 30, Def./Third Party Pl.'s Mem. of Law at 3.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

The standard for summary judgment is familiar and well-settled. Rule 56 allows for summary judgment where the evidence demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue of any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Summary judgment is properly regarded as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 326, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1991) (quoting FED.R.CIV.P. 1). A court may grant a motion for summary judgment when the moving party carries its burden of showing that no triable issues of fact exist. See Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir.1990). In light of this burden, any inferences to be drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See id.; United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 994, 8 L.Ed. 2d 176 (1962) (per curiam). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(e). The role of the court on a motion for summary judgment is not to try issues of fact but only to determine whether there are issues of fact to be tried. See, e.g., Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2513; Gallo v. Prudential Residential Services, Limited Partnership, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24 (2d Cir. 1994); Donahue v. Windsor Locks Board of Fire Commissioners, 834 F.2d 54, 58 (2d Cir. 1987). The drawing of inferences and the assessment of the credibility of the witnesses remain within the province of the finders of fact. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, however, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. When reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence, then summary judgment is proper. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-251, 106 S.Ct. at 2511.

II. Contractual Indemnification

Weinig, Inc. asserts that it is entitled to an order of conditional indemnification from Stickley as a matter of law and directs the Court's attention to the operative purchase order's indemnification clause. Stickley submits that there are material questions of fact as to the enforceability of the indemnification clause relied upon by Weinig, Inc. and whether the ...


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