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Richard J. Auther and Jennifer Auther v. Oshkosh Corporation

October 3, 2012

RICHARD J. AUTHER AND JENNIFER AUTHER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
OSHKOSH CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Introduction Plaintiff Richard Auther ("Plaintiff") commenced this products liability case against Defendant Oshkosh Corporation ("Defendant" or "Oshkosh") as a result of injuries he sustained on August 23, 2007, when a tire and wheel separated from a Medium Tactile Vehicle Replacement truck ("MTVR truck"). The MTVR truck is a military truck manufactured by Oshkosh for the United States Marine Corps ("USMC") pursuant to a government contract. Plaintiff alleges that the vehicle was defectively designed and manufactured. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that the failure of a brake chamber diaphragm located on the rear wheel brake assembly caused the tire and wheel to separate from the vehicle.

On November 15, 2010, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that, as a matter of law, it was shielded from liability by the government contractor defense. Plaintiffs opposed Defendant's motion arguing, among other things, that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the elements of the government contractor defense had been met. On September 15, 2011, Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy issued a Report and Recommendation denying Defendant's motion for summary judgment. On January 3, 2012 this Court adopted Magistrate Judge McCarthy's findings and denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

On February 17, 2012, Defendant moved this Court to certify its Decision and Order denying Defendant's motion for summary judgment to the Second Circuit for an interlocutory appeal and stay. Defendant maintains that there is a controlling question of law concerning the government contractor defense that is a matter of first impression to be considered by the Second Circuit. Plaintiffs submitted a response in opposition and Defendant filed a reply. On May 10, 2012, this Court heard oral argument with respect to Defendant's motion.

For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's request that this Court certify its Decision and Order denying Defendant's motion for summary judgment to the Second Circuit for an interlocutory appeal and stay is denied in its entirety.

Relevant Facts

In December of 1998 the USMC contracted with Oshkosh for production of MTVR military trucks. The contract included requirements for a braking system. Oshkosh contracted with MGM Brakes ("MGM") to manufacture the brake chambers to be used in the military trucks. A diaphragm located on both sides of the brake chambers controlled the air flow of the exhaust of the service and parking brake.

The contract specified that the Government would conduct a number of inspections and fitness tests before the vehicles were certified for production. On April 2, 2001, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy approved the contract for entry into the production and deployment phase. Oshkosh then began producing vehicles pursuant to the contract's specifications.

Sometime in late 2003 or early 2004, the USMC informed Oshkosh that they had discovered cracked diaphragms in a number of the vehicles. They requested that Defendant, along with MGM, investigate the situation and suggest improvements. Meanwhile, from approximately December 2003 through August 2004, Oshkosh continued to make MTVR trucks with the original diaphragm specifications.

In or around August of 2004, Oshkosh, with MGM's assistance, proposed a new and improved diaphragm for new production vehicles. The USMC approved the design and decided to retrofit existing field vehicles with the improved diaphragm. A representative of Defendant testified that Oshkosh retrofitted the seven vehicles in its possession, and the USMC undertook the responsibility of retrofitting the vehicles that had already been shipped to the USMC.

The vehicle involved in the accident at issue here was assembled in February 2004 and shipped to the USMC in May 2004. Therefore, it was made with the original diaphragm. In September of 2006 Oshkosh performed an update to the armor cab bushings on the vehicle. A representative of Oshkosh testified that even though Defendant had access to the vehicle for a short period of time to perform this update, it would have been outside of normal procedure for Defendant to verify whether the modified diaphragm had been installed.

The accident which is the subject of this lawsuit occurred in August of 2007. Defendant's investigation of the accident revealed that the cause of the wheel separation was a crack in the brake chamber diaphragm in a rear wheel brake assembly.

Discussion

A district court may certify an order for interlocutory appeal when "such order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation." 28 U.S.C. ยง1292(b). The mere presence of a disputed issue that is a question of first impression, standing alone, is insufficient to ...


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