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Plemmons v. Steelcase Inc.

March 29, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Loretta A. Preska, U.S.D.J.


Plaintiff Robert Plemmons brings this action against Defendant Steelcase Inc., the manufacturer of the file cabinet which allegedly injured him, for negligence, breach of implied warranty, defective manufacturing, and failure to warn.*fn1 Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment on his breach of implied warranty claim under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that the file cabinet was not fit for its ordinary purpose. Defendant moves for summary judgment under Rule 56 on all causes of action on the grounds that Plaintiff's expert cannot demonstrate that a defect existed when the file cabinet left Steelcase's possession and control and the file cabinet's warning label did not cause his alleged injuries. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and Steelcase's motion is denied in part and granted in part.


On November 4, 1999, AFD Contract Furniture ("AFD"), an authorized distributor of Steelcase products, purchased a four drawer lateral file cabinet from Steelcase known as the Steelcase Firstfile Model Number 230-461HF (the "File Cabinet"). (Steelcase 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 21-22).*fn2 The File Cabinet was made at Steelcase's facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan and shipped F.O.B. to AFD some time after November 4, 1999 and prior to May 2001. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 29; see also Paparian Aff. ¶ 11).*fn3 AFD sold the File Cabinet to American International Group ("AIG"), Plaintiff's employer, in connection with AIG's renovation of its offices at 175 Water Street, New York, New York. (Steelcase 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 23-24). The File Cabinet was installed by AFD. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 7).*fn4 In early 2001, Plaintiff moved to the Water Street location. (Steelcase 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 7). The File Cabinet was part of Plaintiff's work station. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 21-22).

The File Cabinet was designed by Steelcase with an interlock mechanism to allow only one drawer to open at a time. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3). The interlock system was designed to work as follows: (i) as one drawer opens, a cam rotates forward applying tension to a vertical metal band, or strip, attached to the top and bottom of the File Cabinet; (ii) as tension is applied to the metal band, the other cams are prevented from rotating. (Id. ¶ 4). Pieces known as "Zytel clips" are placed on the metal band to hold it in place during assembly. (Id. ¶ 5). The Zytel clips are also used to hold the metal band in place during shipping. (Knox Dep. at 145/18-147/13).*fn5

At the time the File Cabinet was made, a specific group of Steelcase employees installed the Zytel clips and performed the final test to ensure that the interlock mechanism was functional. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 24; see also Steelcase 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 31). At that time, Steelcase did not use checklists for each file cabinet assembled to indicate whether the Zytel clips were installed and whether the interlock mechanism worked. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 24; see also Steelcase 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 31). In addition, at that time, Steelcase did not have a redundant checking system where one assembler would verify another assembler's work. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 24; see also Steelcase Stmt. ¶ 31).

Prior to May 9, 2002, Plaintiff never opened or used the bottom three drawers of the File Cabinet and only opened the top drawer to store some small personal items. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 10). On May 9, 2002, Plaintiff placed files in the bottom three drawers of the File Cabinet and was in the process of filling the top drawer with legal sized Redwells when the File Cabinet initially tipped towards him. (Id. ¶ 11). At the time the File Cabinet first tipped, the top drawer was already open. (Id. ¶ 12). After the File Cabinet began to tip, Plaintiff placed his hands on the top of the File Cabinet to attempt to return it upright. (Id. ¶ 13). After Plaintiff placed his hands on the File Cabinet to prevent it from falling and to return it to an upright position, the second and third drawers both opened preventing him from returning the cabinet to an upright position. (Id. ¶ 14).

It was during this incident when Plaintiff allegedly suffered injuries to his lower back and right leg. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 20). Upon inspection on August 3, 2004, the File Cabinet was missing three Zytel clips, one clip for each of the top drawers. (Id. ¶ 6).


1. Legal Standard for 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 judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). "Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary" cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 248.

"In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant . . . ." Lucente v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 310 F.3d 243, 253 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)); see also Stern v. Trs. of Columbia Univ., 131 F.3d 305, 312 (2d Cir. 1997) ("In assessing the record to determine whether there is such an issue, the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought."). Only if it is apparent that no rational fact-finder "could find in favor of the nonmoving party because the evidence to support its case is so slight" should summary judgment be granted. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994).

2. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment

A. Legal Standard for Breach of Implied ...

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