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Quintanilla v. Komori America Corp.

May 4, 2007

MANUEL QUINTANILLA AND ZULMA QUINTANILLA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
KOMORI AMERICA CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. E. Thomas Boyle United State Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment. In support of its motion, defendant asserts that plaintiff's expert witness, Paul Stehlik, is not qualified to serve as an expert in this action and therefore his expert report should be stricken and he should be precluded from testifying. Should defendant's motion to disqualify Mr. Stehlik be granted, defendant then argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because, without an expert witness, plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of design defect and negligence on the part of defendant.

Facts

On June 13, 2002, the date of the accident at issue in this litigation, the plaintiff, Manuel Quintanilla ("plaintiff"), was employed as a printing press operator for Levon Graphics, located in East Farmingdale, New York. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) It is undisputed that plaintiff was injured while working on June 13, 2002 when his hand came into contact with the moving rollers of a Komori Lithrone 640 Printing Press, Serial No. 159 ("Komori Lithrone 640"), the printing press that plaintiff was operating that day. (56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 1.) It is also undisputed that the printing press that plaintiff was operating was manufactured by defendant Komori America Corporation's ("Komori America") parent company, Komori Printing Machinery Company, a Japanese corporation, (Id. ¶¶ 2), and first sold by defendant Komori America in 1987. (Id. ¶¶ 3.) The cause of plaintiff's injury, however, is in dispute.

Plaintiff testified at his deposition that, at the time of his accident, he had approximately seven years experience as a printing press operator, first operating a Komori four tower, four color printing press and then the Komori Lithrone 640, a six tower, six color printing press. (Def. Ex. G, Transcript of the deposition of Manuel Quintanilla, at 22-24, 34.) According to plaintiff, his employer, Levon Graphics, only provided him with two days of training on the Komori Lithrone 640. Plaintiff did not receive any training directly from Komori, nor did plaintiff read the instruction manual for the Komori Lithrone 640. (Id. at 35-36.) Plaintiff was aware of, and testified that he did in fact read, the various warning labels affixed to the Komori Lithrone 640 prior to his accident on June 13, 2002. (Id. at 38.)

Plaintiff testified in detail at his deposition concerning the events of June 13, 2002. According to plaintiff's testimony, while operating the printing press at issue that day, paper became caught in the machine causing the print job to come out "dirty." (Id. at 65.) Upon seeing this, the pressman that plaintiff was working with that day instructed him to clean out the machine completely, which plaintiff did. (Id.) However, when the pressman began to run the job again, it was still coming out "dirty." (Id.) Plaintiff thereafter began to clean the printing press unit again. (Id.) This process continued approximately two more times, with plaintiff bending down and straightening back up repeatedly to clean out the machine. (Id.) After what plaintiff testified was the fourth reiteration of this process, plaintiff stood up and put his hand on what he thought was the bar but in fact was the roller of the printing press, which was still turning. (Id.) Since the printing press was still running, and the rollers were still turning, plaintiff's hand became caught between the two rollers and was injured. (Id.).

Plaintiff alleges that the Komori Lithrone 640 was defectively designed in that the machine is still fully operational when the barrier guard that blocks access to the rollers is in the open position. (Pl. Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Def. Motion for Summ. J., at 1.) According to plaintiff, the rollers are counter-rotating such that they create an in-running "nip point" where a person's hand, clothing or hair could easily be grabbed by the rollers, causing injury. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that his accident could have been fully preventable had defendant installed an "interlock"*fn1 on the printing press that would have stopped the rollers from moving when the barrier guard was open.*fn2 (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff also asserts that the printing press is defective because it was not equipped with a "nip point guard" - also known as a "nip guard"*fn3 -which would have allegedly prevented the plaintiff's hand from coming into contact with the in-running nip point created by the two rollers. (Id. at 2-3.)

In support of his claims, plaintiff offers the report of his expert witness, Paul Stehlik. In his report, Mr. Stehlik concluded that the lack of safety interlocks or nip point guards directly caused the plaintiff's injury on June 13, 2002 and that had such safety features been present on the Komori Lithrone 640 printing press, plaintiff's accident would not have happened. (Def. Ex. L, Expert Report of Paul Stehlik, at 9.) Defendant now moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Mr. Stehlik is not qualified to testify regarding the matters at issue in the instant litigation and accordingly, should be precluded from doing so. Defendant therefore urges the court to disregard Mr. Stehlik's testimony in deciding its summary judgment motion, arguing that it is entitled to summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of design defect or negligence without the aid of expert testimony.

Discussion

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith 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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); See also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The burden is on the moving party to establish the lack of any factual issues. Id. The very language of this standard reveals that an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment will not be defeated because of the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The requirement is that there be no "genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 248.

The inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts are to be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 588 (1986). When the moving party has carried its burden, the party opposing summary judgment must do more than simply show that "there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Id. at 586. Under Rule 56(e), the party opposing the motion "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

B. Standard for Admitting Expert Testimony

Expert testimony must be evaluated in accordance with Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which states:

If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

Rule 702 imposes a two-fold analysis on the trial court. First, the court must "make an initial determination as to whether the proposed witness qualifies as an expert." Baker v. Urban Outfitters, Inc., 254 F. Supp. 2d 346, 352 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). If the court is satisfied that the proposed witness does indeed qualify as an expert, then the court "must inquire into whether the scientific, technical or other specialized testimony provided by that expert is both relevant and reliable. Id. at 352-53 (citing Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999)).

The burden of establishing the admissibility of the proffered expert testimony weighs on the proponent of that testimony. See Baker, 254 F. Supp. 2d at 353. "Though the weight given to expert testimony should be left to the finder of fact, expert testimony should be excluded altogether if it is 'speculative' or 'conjectural' or if it is based on assumptions 'so unrealistic and contradictory as to suggest bad faith.'" Id. (quoting Boucher v. U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp., 73

F.3d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1996)). Moreover, courts are not required to admit expert opinion evidence that is "connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert . . . A court may conclude that there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered." General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 146 (1997).

C. Admission of Stehlik's Proffered Expert Testimony

Defendant argues that Mr. Stehlik does not possess the requisite knowledge and

experience to be qualified as an expert in the present case, and that, even if he were qualified, his testimony is unreliable and should be precluded. Accordingly, defendant asserts that the court should disregard Mr. Stehlik's testimony in deciding its summary judgment motion. See, e.g., Cacciola v. Selco Balers, Inc., 127 F. Supp. 2d 175, 180 (E.D.N.Y. 2001) (stating that where expert testimony is excluded as inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, "the summary judgment determination is made on a record that does not include that evidence").

1. Stehlik's Qualifications

According to his curriculum vitae and his deposition testimony, Mr. Stehlik possesses both bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering. (Def. Ex. J, at 16-17, 23-24.) Mr. Stehlik is currently employed as a senior mechanical engineer for Transisto Devices, a company that designs and builds electronic power systems for the computer and telecommunications industry. (Id. at 4-6.) Mr. Stehlik has also owned his own consulting practice for the last ten to fifteen years, consulting in various capacities, including building inspections, structural analyses, and thermal and stress analyses. (Id. at 6-7.) It also appears that Mr. Stehlik is a personal friend of the plaintiff's attorney, Victor Serby. As Mr. Stehlik testified, he and Mr. Serby once worked together at a company known as Airborne Instrument Labs during the early 1980's and have continued to maintain contact with one another since then. (Id. at 11.) Mr. Stehlik conceded at his deposition that he has never been employed in any position involving the design of machine guarding. Nor has he ever worked in any aspect of the printing industry. (Id. at 22-33.) Furthermore, Mr. Stehlik has never written any articles about printing presses or machine guarding, (id. at 43), nor has he taken or taught any courses with respect to printing or print shops. (Id. at 16, 40.) Mr. Stehlik has never designed or operated a printing press. Nor has he designed any guards or interlocks for printing presses. Similarly, he has never consulted or testified with ...


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