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Dalton v. Stedman Machine Co.

February 6, 2008

JOYCE DALTON AND MICHAEL DALTON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STEDMAN MACHINE COMPANY, A DIVISION OF EAGLE CRUSHER COMPANY, INC., DEFENDANT.*FN1



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Joyce and Michael Dalton ("Plaintiffs") commenced this personal injury action in the New York State Supreme Court, St. Lawrence County, asserting claims sounding in strict products liability, negligence, breach of express and implied warranties, and loss of consortium. See Notice of Removal, dkt. # 1. Defendant Stedman Machine Company ("Defendant") removed the action to this Court pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction, id., and now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. See dkt. # 82. Plaintiff has opposed the motion. See dkt. # 90. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court will apply the well settled standard for summary judgment as defined by statute, see FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), case law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and this Court's Local Rules. See N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1.

III. APPLICABLE LAW

New York substantive law applies to all claims in this case. Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427 (1996); Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941); Meyers V. Epstein, 232 F. Supp.2d 192, 195 (S.D.N.Y. 2002); see Def. Mem. L. (applying New York law); Pl. Mem. L. (applying New York law).

IV. BACKGROUND

The following facts are arrived at when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs and drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor. Abramson v. Pataki, 278 F.3d 93, 101 (2d Cir. 2002).

Corning Inc. ("Corning")*fn2 determined to enter into the business of crushing glass ingots into small particles, melting down the particles, and selling the resulting product. In furtherance of this venture, Corning contacted Defendant to purchase a glass crushing machine for use in Corning's Watertown, New York plant. Def. L.R. 7.1 Stat. ¶¶ 1-2.

Important components of glass crushing machines are grates of powerful magnets designed to extract metal particles from the crushed glass. Metal particles in crushed glass are contaminates that negatively affect the purity of the final product. A Corning engineer discussed with Defendant's design engineer Corning's desire for a machine that would yield product with the highest purity and the least amount of iron contaminants. Kellogg Dep. pp. 13-19; Potter Dep. p. 87. "Corning was desirous of a crusher machine that had a cleaning process that was 'most robust' which meant that they (Corning) wanted to have as strong a magnet as possible in the crusher." Def. L.R. 7.1 Stat. ¶ 3; see Def. Exp. Witness Report, Attach. 5.*fn3 Corning relied on Defendant to design a machine that would meet Corning's requirements. Kellogg Dep. p. 19.

Defendant contacted Eriez Manufacturing Company ("Eriez")*fn4 to supply a magnetic housing component for the crusher machine Defendant would build for Corning. See Def. Exp. Witness Report § 5 & ¶ 6.3. Representatives of Defendant and Corning considered two types of magnetic housing units suggested by Eriez - one that required that the magnet grates be completely removed from the machine for cleaning, and one that allowed the magnet grates to be pulled out from the machine, like a drawer, to be cleaned but without being completely removed. See Plt. L.R. 7.1 Stat. ¶ 5; Potter Dep. p. 35. Defendant's design engineer, Aaron Potter, was of the understanding that with the pull-out magnet grates "there was still a possibility that some magnetic material could be left on the magnets when it was put back into operation, and that magnetic material could recontaminate the feed stream, the product." Potter Dep. p. 87. Corning preferred to have magnets that could be completely removed for cleaning so the operator could "physically see that [the magnets] were clean." Potter Dep. p. 35.

The crusher machine Defendant designed and ultimately sold to Corning contained rare earth strong magnets that needed to be completely removed to be cleaned. Defendant was aware that Corning's employees would be regularly removing and cleaning the magnet grates in an industrial setting containing ferrous materials. Potter Dep. 52-54. Defendant did not supply a specifically designed non-magnetic cleaning workstation with the machine. Id. Plaintiff's expert maintains that, given the design and function of the machine, cleaning the magnets was part of the production process, not a maintenance function, and therefore "required a supportive device, (a non-magnetic table), to maintain the machine process [Defendant] provided" and safeguard "the worker's well-being and health." Plf. Exp. Witness Report, pp. 9-10.

After building the machine but before delivering it, Defendant hosted representatives from Corning for a demonstration of the crusher machine system. Plt. L.R. 7.1 Stat. ¶ 28. At the demonstration, two grates of the removable magnets snapped together. At that time, Defendant's design engineer identified a pinch-type hazard with respect to the magnets. Id. ¶ 29. Defendant's engineer did not consider re-designing the machine to use the non-removable magnets after the pinch-type hazard was identified.

Potter Dep., pp. 69-70

When the crusher machine was delivered to Corning it was accompanied by an Instruction and Operation Manual that included the following warning regarding the magnet component:

CAUTION STRONG MAGNET

This equipment includes one or more extremely powerful magnetic circuits-steel and iron tools and other objects may be attracted suddenly and forcefully to the magnets creating the risk of serious pinch-type injuries. Keep all mild steel and iron tools and equipment well away from the magnets at all times. When handling the equipment, do not allow hands, fingers, and other body parts to be caught between magnets and nearby steel or iron objects. Def. L.R. 7.1 Stat. ...


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