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Brosville Community Fire Department Inc. v. Navistar, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

December 16, 2014

BROSVILLE COMMUNITY FIRE DEPARTMENT, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
NAVISTAR, INC., PHILLIPS & TEMRO INDUSTRIES, INC., and VT HACKNEY, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JACKSON L. KISER, District Judge.

Defendant Navistar, Inc. ("Navistar") has filed two motions: a motion to strike Plaintiff Brosville Community Fire Department's ("Plaintiff") proposed expert, Gordon Stobbelaar [ECF No. 26], and a motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 30]. Both motions were briefed by the parties and competently argued in open court. I have reviewed the pleadings, evidence, arguments of the parties, and applicable portions of the Record. For the reasons stated herein, I will deny Navistar's motion to strike Gordon Stobbelaar's testimony, and I will grant in part and deny in part Navistar's motion for summary judgment. Specifically, I will grant summary judgment on Counts IV and V, and deny summary judgment with respect to Count I.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff Brosville Community Fire Department ("Plaintiff") is a Virginia corporation which owned and operated a fire station located at 11912 Martinsville Highway, Danville, Virginia. (Compl. ¶ 1 [ECF No. 1-1].) In January of 2012, Plaintiff owned a 2009 commercial rescue vehicle manufactured by Defendant VT Hackney, Inc. ("Hackney") and containing a cab and chassis designed and manufactured by Defendant Navistar, Inc. ("Navistar"). (See id. ¶¶ 2, 15.)

Navistar designs and manufactures cabs, chassis, and add-on equipment to aftermarket designers and manufactures of emergency rescue vehicles, such as fire engines. (See id. ¶ 4.) Navistar designed, manufactured, assembled, sold, and delivered an engine, cab, and chassis to Hackney. (Id. ¶ 5.) Hackney is an aftermarket designer, manufacturer, assembler, and seller of commercial rescue vehicles. (Id. ¶ 12.) It modified and added various equipment to the Navistar cab and chassis before selling the completed vehicle to Plaintiff. (See id. ¶ 13.) One of the features on the Navistar engine is a block heater that was designed, manufactured, and sold to Navistar by Phillips & Temro Industries, Inc. ("Phillips").[2] (Id. ¶ 8.) Phillips assembled, warranted, and sold the 120-volt, 1, 250-watt block heater and wiring to Navistar. (Id.) Phillips is also alleged to have sold to Navistar a "block heater plug-cord receptacle kit option with 14[-]gauge wire rated for 18 amperes." (Id. ¶ 9.) Phillips's instruction manual for the block heater "required" ground fault circuit interrupter ("GFCI") protection for the block heater and its wiring. (Id. ¶ 10.)

Navistar contends that it never received instructions from Phillips regarding GFCI protection; Plaintiff contends that, "[e]xemplar instructions probably were provided to Navistar." (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Strike Expert pg. 27, Nov. 25, 2014 [ECF No. 49]; see also Mark Hoglund Dep. 83:6-101:11, Oct. 13, 2014.)[3] The installation sheet states that the block heater should "connect only to a GFCI protected 120-volt AC outlet." (Id. Ex. 3.) Nevertheless, when Navistar sold the cab and chassis to Hackney for the purposes of after-market upfitting, Plaintiff alleges it did not pass along any instructions regarding GFCI protection for the block heater.

Additionally, Navistar's promotional materials intimated that its vehicles complied with National Fire Protection Association ("NFPA") 1901, and that compliance with NFPA 1901 "means safety and security is the number one priority." (ECF No. 49-3, BRO004088.) The brochure also stated: "Priority Sequencing automatically shuts down vehicle systems... to shield crew and vehicle from... electrical overload." (Id.)

When Navistar sold the cab and chassis, it included a Limited Warranty which stated:

NO WARRANTIES ARE GIVEN BEYOND THOSE DESCRIBED HEREIN. THIS WARRANTY IS IN LIEU OF ALL OTHER WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED. THE COMPANY SPECIFICALLY DISCLAIMS WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, ALL OTHER REPRESENTATIONS TO THE USER/PURCHASER, AND ALL OTHER OBLIGATIONS AND LIABILITIES. THE COMPANY FURTHER EXCLUDES LIABILITY FOR INCIDENTAL AND CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, ON THE PART OF THE COMPANY OR SELLER.

(Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of its Mot. for Summ. J. pg. 6, ¶ 28, Nov. 12, 2014 [ECF No. 31].) This language was listed under the heading, " DISCLAIMER. " (Id.)

After installing the Phillips block heater in its engine, Navistar sold the engine, cab, and chassis to Hackney. Hackney modified and added various equipment and components and, in so doing, is alleged to have rewired parts of the vehicle, including the block heater. (Id. ¶ 13-14.) That vehicle was eventually sold to Plaintiff in October 2008. (See id. ¶ 13.)

On January 26, 2012, a fire broke out at Plaintiff's fire house in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, causing over $390, 000.00 in damages. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges the fire was caused by a failure of the block heater. When the heater failed, the electricity running through it arced, shorted, and ignited the heater. Plaintiff alleges that block heater shorted out because of faulty or negligent design, instructions, or installation. As a result, Plaintiff filed suit against Navistar, Phillips, and Hackney, alleging counts of negligence, products liability, breach of contract, and breach of express and implied warranties. (See id. ¶¶ 19-99.) In support of its allegations, Plaintiff has identified Gordon Stobbelaar, an electrical engineer, certified fire and explosion investigator, and certified vehicle fire investigator, as an expert witness. Navistar moved to exclude Mr. Stobbelaar as an expert because, according to Navistar, "he lacks the specialized knowledge, experience, training[, ] and education to qualify as an expert on the NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] [guidelines and standards], " and because "his opinions regarding Navistar's Cab and Chassis design and alleged failure to warn... is fatally flawed and inherently unreliable." Navistar has also moved for summary judgment, asserting several arguments. I heard oral arguments on both motions on Tuesday, December 9, 2014.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 governs the disclosure of expert testimony. According to the rule, witnesses who are retained or are specially employed to provide expert testimony are required to submit a written report concerning their anticipated testimony. The report must contain: "a complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them; the facts and data considered by the witness in forming them; any exhibits that will be used to summarize them; [and] the witness's qualifications...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(2)(B)(i)-(iv). "Expert reports must not be sketchy, vague or preliminary in nature.... Expert reports must include the how' and why' the expert reached a particular result, not merely the expert's conclusory opinions." Salgado v. General Motors Corp., 150 F.3d 735, 741 n.6 (7th Cir. 1998). "The incentive for total disclosure is the threat that the expert testimony not disclosed in accordance with the rule can be excluded pursuant to Rule 37(c)(1).... The rule presents alternatives less severe than expulsion, however. If the expert's report contains only incomplete opinions, the court may choose to restrict the expert's testimony to those opinions alone." Id . (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); George & Co. LLC v. Imagination Entertainment Ltd., 575 F.3d 383, 392 (4th Cir. 2009). A genuine dispute of material fact exists "[w]here the record taken as a whole could... lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citing reference omitted); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute cannot be created where there is only a scintilla of evidence favoring the nonmovant; rather, the Court must look to the quantum of proof applicable to the claim to determine whether a genuine dispute exists. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 254. A fact is material where it might affect the outcome of the case in light of the controlling law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. On a motion for summary judgment, the facts are taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party insofar as there is a genuine dispute about those facts. Scott, 550 U.S. at 380. At this stage, however, the Court's role is not to weigh the evidence, but simply to determine whether a ...


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