United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ROBERT E. ELLISTON, Plaintiff,
WING ENTERPRISES, INC., d/b/a LITTLE GIANT LADDER SYSTEMS, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge.
April 14, 2012, Robert Elliston, a Massachusetts resident,
ordered a “Little Giant Extreme Ladder” from
defendant Wing Enterprises, a Utah corporation. (Compl.
¶ 5). The ladder arrived at his home in Massachusetts
eleven days later. (Id.). Without opening the box,
he loaded the ladder into his car and drove to Oklahoma,
where he has a second home. (Id.). On April 30,
2012, he unpacked the ladder to use for a small project at
his Oklahoma home. (Id.).
Little Giant Extreme ladder is essentially two ladders in
one, with a wider outer portion and a narrower inner portion
that can be assembled either together or as two separate
ladders. (Id.). The plaintiff separated the two
ladders, and assembled them as two small A-frames, in a
configuration referred on the attached label as the
scaffolding position. (Id.). He then placed a
twelve-foot-long plank across the two A-frames.
(Id.). He stood upon the plank and began removing
roof shingles along the eave of a porch roof that was
approximately eight to nine feet above the ground.
(Id.). According to the complaint, while he was
standing upon the plank, one of the legs of the smaller,
narrower ladder buckled and snapped off at the bottom rung.
(Id.). He fell to the ground and landed with his
chest on the broken ladder. (Id.).
next day, experiencing chest pain and difficulty breathing,
Elliston went to the emergency room at a local hospital.
(Compl. ¶ 6). An x-ray revealed pneumothorax (a
punctured lung) on the right side. (Id.). He was
admitted for surgery, and then discharged on May 2, 2012.
(Id.). According to the complaint, he has still not
fully regained the same respiratory function he had prior to
the accident. (Compl. ¶ 7).
pro se, plaintiff filed the complaint in this action
on April 29, 2015. The complaint alleges that defendants Wing
Enterprises and Risk Retention Services-Wing Enterprises'
insurer-were strictly liable for his injuries based on a
failure to warn and a design defect in the ladder. Plaintiff
has since clarified that he was mistaken to claim strict
liability, and instead intends to proceed under a theory of
breach of warranty under Massachusetts law, including a claim
under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. (Pl.'s Mem Opp'n Summ.
J. at 2). The complaint seeks both compensatory and
6, 2015, defendant Wing Enterprises moved to dismiss the
complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. On July 1, 2015, defendant Risk Retention
Services moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim and
lack of personal jurisdiction. On July 14, 2015, plaintiff
agreed to dismiss all claims against Risk Retention Services.
Risk Retention Services was dismissed from the action on
September 9, 2015. The Court then denied the motion to
dismiss of Wing Enterprises.
Enterprises has now moved for summary judgment with respect
to plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. For the
reasons stated below, that motion will be granted in part and
denied in part.
role of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings
and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a
genuine need for trial.” Mesnick v. General Elec.
Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate
when the moving party shows that “there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
“Essentially, Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary
judgment ‘against a party who fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential
to that party's case, and on which that party will bear
the burden of proof at trial.'” Coll v. PB
Diagnostic Sys., 50 F.3d 1115, 1121 (1st Cir. 1995)
(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986)). In making that determination, the court must view
“the record in the light most favorable to the
nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor.”
Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir.
2009). When “a properly supported motion for summary
judgment is made, the adverse party must set forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250
(1986) (internal quotations omitted). The non-moving party
may not simply “rest upon mere allegation or denials of
his pleading, ” but instead must “present
affirmative evidence.” Id. at 256-57.
Massachusetts law, punitive damages are not available unless
expressly authorized by statute. International Fidelity
Ins. Co. v. Wilson, 387 Mass. 841, 856 n.20 (1983).
Here, punitive damages are not ...