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Sanyal v. Toyota Motor North America, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

June 11, 2015

SATYAJIT SANYAL, Plaintiff,
v.
TOYOTA MOTOR NORTH AMERICA, INC. et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES C. CACHERIS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc., Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc., and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.'s ("Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment. [Dkt. 41.] For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion.

I. Background

On July 10, 2012 pro se plaintiff Satyajit Sanyal ("Plaintiff" or "Sanyal") was involved in a single-vehicle accident while driving his 2011 Toyota Camry. (Am. Compl. [Dkt. 15] ¶ 3.) Sanyal crashed head-on into a tree and the airbags did not deploy. (Id. ) Data collected from the Camry's airbag electronic control unit ("ECU") shows the Camry had no accelerator pedal application and no brake pedal application for 4.3 seconds prior to the crash. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. [Dkt. 42] at 8; see also Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Jennifer Yaek Aff. (Ex. 7) ¶ 7.) The ECU shows the Camry was traveling between 13.7 and 16.2 miles per hour in the 4.3 seconds before impact, and that the Camry was traveling at 13.7 miles per hour when the Camry hit the tree.[1] (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. at 8; Yaek Aff. ¶ 8.)

When emergency assistance arrived at the scene of the accident, it appeared Sanyal had lost consciousness. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. [Dkt. 42], Ex. 1, at 5.) Sanyal was transported to Reston Hospital Center via ambulance. (Id. ) At the hospital, the treating physician noted that Sanyal "reportedly had a seizure" while driving. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 2, at 1.) During the seizure, Sanyal bit his tongue and struck his upper lip "presumably on [the] steering wheel." (Id. ) Sanyal told emergency room personnel that he did not remember the accident.[2] (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. at 7; Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Joint Stipulation of Uncontested Facts [Dkt. 45] at 5.)[3] Prior to discharge, Sanyal became "unconscious and unresponsive" for the third time that day, and "he clearly had another seizure." (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 2, at 1.) Based on the frequency of seizures and the fact that Sanyal lives alone, the treating physician decided to admit Sanyal to the hospital for anti-epileptic medications and neurological observation. (Id. )

A neurologist examined Sanyal. The neurologist noted that Sanyal has a history of seizures. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 3, at 1.) In the consultation report, the neurologist stated that Sanyal's level of carbamazepine, an anti-seizure medication that Sanyal was taking, was "sub-therapeutic." (Id. ) Like the treating physician, the neurologist noted that Sanyal remembered going to work and driving to a meeting and then waking up with emergency personnel surrounding him.[4] (Id. )

Sanyal was seen by a consulting physician. That physician also noted Sanyal had a history of seizures. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 4, at 1.) The consulting physician noted that Sanyal had contusions around his face, scalp, and a lot of swelling around his eyes. (Id. ) The consulting physician made a "presumed diagnosis" of post-traumatic epilepsy with breakthrough seizures "resulting in [a] motor vehicle accident with further episodes witnessed in the ER." (Id. at 3.) The consulting physician noted that Sanyal was on a "very low dose" of anti-seizure medication. (Id. )

Sanyal originally filed this action on July 30, 2014 in the Circuit Court for Fairfax County, naming Toyota Motor North America, Inc. ("TMA"), Toyota Motor Manufacturing California, Inc. ("TMMCA"), Toyota Motor Sales, Inc., Toyota Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc., and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. as Defendants. (Notice of Removal [Dkt. 1] ¶ 1.) All five defendants removed the case to this Court shortly after service on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Id. ¶¶ 2-17.) Defendants then filed a motion requesting a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) [Dkt. 8], which this Court granted. (9/30/14 Order [Dkt. 14].) Sanyal was given leave to amend his complaint. (Id. ) He did so, alleging: negligence in the design and manufacture of his Camry ("Count 1"); strict liability for the defective design and manufacture of the Camry, plus failure to warn of danger and failure to adequately inspect and test the Camry ("Count 2"); breach of express and implied warranties of merchantability ("Count 3"); "causation and damages" ("Count Four"); and "wanton, reckless, malicious or intentionally wrongful conduct in gross disregard for others' rights" ("Count 5"). (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-40.) Sanyal seeks damages in the amount of $25, 000, 000.00. (Id. ¶ 41.)

All five defendants moved to dismiss Counts Two and Four, which the Court granted. ( See 1/15/15 Mem. Op. [Dkt. 27] at 8.) Additionally, the Court granted TMMCA and TMA's motions for summary judgment and dismissed them from the case. (Id. )

After conducting discovery, the remaining three defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment on all of Sanyal's claims for two reasons. First, Sanyal has no expert witnesses to testify at trial, and therefore has no evidence that his Camry was defective at the time of the accident or at the time it left Defendants' possession. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. at 1-2.) Second, Sanyal's lack of expert witnesses leaves him without a qualified witness to testify that the alleged defects in the Camry caused his injuries. (Id. at 2.) Sanyal opposes the motion. ( See generally Pl.'s Opp'n) Having been fully briefed and argued, this motion is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only where, on the basis of undisputed material facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party always bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion, " and identifying the matter "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party has the burden of showing that a genuine dispute exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); see also Ray Commc'ns, Inc. v. Clear Channel Commc'ns, Inc., 673 F.3d 294, 299 (4th Cir. 2012) (stating the opposing party must "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."). Importantly, the non-moving party must show more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. "[T]he non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Hughes v. Bedsole, 48 F.3d 1376, 1381 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986)).

In reviewing the record on summary judgment, the Court "must draw any inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant" and "determine whether the record taken as a whole could lead a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-movant." Brock v. Entre Computer Ctrs., Inc., 933 F.2d 1253, 1259 (4th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). "[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Where there is conflicting evidence, the court must credit the evidence of both sides and acknowledge that there is a genuine issue of material fact that cannot be resolved by summary judgment. See ...


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