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Martin v. Tricam Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 17, 2019




         Michael J. Martin (“Plaintiff”) brought this products liability claim against Tricam Industries, Inc., Home Depot Supply, Inc. and Home Depot USA, Inc. (“Defendants”) after a ladder he was standing on collapsed, causing severe injuries. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims because they believe that Plaintiff's deposition testimony has undermined his theories of defect and causation. (Docket No. 33). Defendants have also moved for sanctions. (Docket No. 36). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motions are denied.


         In September 2014, Plaintiff was standing on a ladder to remove a tree limb. The ladder is manufactured by Tricam and exclusively sold by Home Depot.

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserted that while he was standing on the ladder, a “limb fell from the tree, bounced off the ground, and made contact with the ladder.” (Docket No. 1-1 ¶ 15). According to Plaintiff, “[d]ue to negligent design and manufacture of the ladder, the rivets used to hold the movable joints in place failed to keep the ladder locked in place and the ladder fell out from underneath Mr. Martin, causing him to fall.” Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleged in his Complaint that the ladder was therefore negligently designed because it could not withstand minor and foreseeable impacts. Id. ¶¶ 11-12.

         At his deposition, however, Plaintiff claimed that he did not witness the branch fall because, immediately after he cut the branch, the “ladder was just gone.” Martin Dep. 27:20-24. Further, Plaintiff said that he never claimed that the branch struck the ladder. Id. 28:6-8.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the court shall grant summary judgment if the moving party shows, based on the materials in the record, “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 factual dispute precludes summary judgment if it is both “genuine” and “material.” See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986). An issue is “genuine” when the evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could resolve the point in favor of the nonmoving party. Morris v. Gov't Dev. Bank of Puerto Rico, 27 F.3d 746, 748 (1st Cir. 1994). A fact is “material” when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Id.

         The moving party is responsible for “identifying those portions [of the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). It can meet its burden either by “offering evidence to disprove an element of the plaintiff's case or by demonstrating an ‘absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'” Rakes v. United States, 352 F.Supp.2d 47, 52 (D. Mass. 2005), aff'd, 442 F.3d 7 (1st Cir. 2006) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548). Once the moving party shows the absence of any disputed material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to place at least one material fact into dispute. Mendes v. Medtronic, Inc., 18 F.3d 13, 15 (1st Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Scanlon v. Dep't of Army, 277 F.3d 598, 600 (1st Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).

         Local Rule 56.1 requires that motions for summary judgment “include a concise statement of the material facts of record as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried, with page refences to affidavits, depositions and other documentation. Failure to include such a statement constitutes grounds for denial of the motion.” L.R. 56.1; see also United States v. McNicol, 829 F.3d 77, 81 (1st Cir. 2016) (noting that failures to conform with local rules “have consequences”); Zimmerman v. Puccio, 613 F.3d 60, 63 (1st Cir. 2010) (discussing importance of L.R. 56.1 and applying its sanctions).[1]


         Defendants essentially claim that Plaintiff cannot prove defect or causation-two essential elements of his claim-because he has recanted the only theory of liability offered in his Complaint.

         “The fundamental purpose of our pleadings rules is to protect a defendant's inalienable right to know in advance the nature of the cause of action being asserted against him.” Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 84 (1st Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). In Torres-Rios v. LPS Labs., Inc., the complaint asserted a product liability claim through facts demonstrating that the product was defective because its warnings were inadequate. 152 F.3d 11, 12-15 (1st Cir. 1998). In opposing summary judgement, the plaintiffs then tried to rely on a new theory, that the product was defectively designed, and argued that the theory was implicitly pled in their complaint. Id. at 15-16. The First Circuit affirmed the district court's refusal to allow the plaintiffs to rely on the new theory because allowing such a change after discovery was completed “unquestionably would prejudice defendant, whose focus until that time had been on the adequacy of the warning labels and not on the costs and benefits of the product itself.” Id. at 16.

         Similarly, in Martinez v. Petrenko, the plaintiff asserted the defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act for failure to pay overtime. In a FLSA claim, “the nexus to commerce is an element of the claim, without which there is no entitlement to recovery, and Martinez sought to change entirely the theory of establishing a nexus.” 792 F.3d 173, 180 (1st Cir. 2015). The First Circuit held that this “belated change of the facts Martinez would use to establish that nexus implicates precisely the type of unfair misdirection at issue in cases such as Torres-Rios.” Id. This was especially appropriate where ...

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