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Rodgers v. AWB Industries Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

January 26, 2017

GLORIA RODGERS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of JOHN RODGERS, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
AWB INDUSTRIES, INC., d/b/a AIRCRAFT TOOL SUPPLY COMPANY, a corporation, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge.

         Introduction

         This diversity of citizenship action was brought in 2014 by the Plaintiff, Gloria Rodgers as Personal Representative of the Estate of John Rodgers, Deceased, against AWB Industries, Inc., d/b/a/ as Aircraft Tool Supply Company (hereinafter “AWB” and/or “Defendant”) and McFarlane Aviation Inc. (hereinafter “McFarlane”).[1] After summary judgment motions had been filed by AWB (doc. 45) and McFarlane (doc. 47), and after full briefing on those motions (docs. 46, 48-52), the Plaintiff and McFarlane entered into a pro tanto settlement agreement. On July 21, 2016, this court entered an Order of Pro Tanto Dismissal dismissing all of Plaintiff's claims against McFarlane. (Order, doc. 63). Accordingly, AWB is the sole remaining defendant in this action. However, the parties made reference to each other's summary judgment filings, and the court will also do so in this opinion.

         The court held a hearing on AWB's motion on August 4, 2016. Subsequent to that hearing, the parties filed supplemental briefing. (Docs. 66-73).

         This action arose from the tragic accidental death of John Rodgers, a self-employed certified/licensed aircraft mechanic, who died after being struck by the propeller of an airplane on which he was working. All of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant (and against McFarlane, while that entity was a party), are based on Alabama law. Those claims are: Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (Count I); Breach of Warranty (Count II); and Negligence/Wantoness (Count III). The prima facie elements of each claim include harm proximately caused by the alleged breach.[2] “Proximate cause is an act or omission that in a natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any new independent causes, produces the injury and without which the injury would not have occurred. An injury may proximately result from concurring causes; however, it is still necessary that the plaintiff prove that the defendant's negligence caused the injury.” Martin v. Arnold, 643 So.2d 564, 567 (Ala. 1994) (citations omitted). As explained below, because Plaintiff has failed to point out evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that AWB did any act, or failed to do any act, which proximately caused the airplane propeller to strike John Rodgers, summary judgment is due to be entered in AWB's favor as to all of Plaintiff's claims against it.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (“[S]ummary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The party requesting summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings in answering the movant.[3] Id. at 324. By its own affidavits - or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file - it must designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         The underlying substantive law identifies which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. If the evidence presented by the non-movant to rebut the moving party's evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may still be granted. Id. at 249.

         How the movant may satisfy its initial evidentiary burden depends on whether that party bears the burden of proof on the given legal issues at trial. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). If the movant bears the burden of proof on the given issue or issues at trial, then it can only meet its burden on summary judgment by presenting affirmative evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact - that is, facts that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial. Id. (citation omitted). Once the moving party makes such an affirmative showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce “significant, probative evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable issue of fact.” Id. (citation omitted) (emphasis added).

         For issues on which the movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it can satisfy its initial burden on summary judgment in either of two ways. Id. at 1115-16. First, the movant may simply show that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-movant's case on the particular issue at hand. Id. at 1116. In such an instance, the non-movant must rebut by either (1) showing that the record in fact contains supporting evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion, or (2) proffering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency. Id. at 1116-17. When responding, the non-movant may no longer rest on mere allegations; instead, it must set forth evidence of specific facts. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 358 (1996). The second method a movant in this position may use to discharge its burden is to provide affirmative evidence demonstrating that the non-moving party will be unable to prove its case at trial. Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. When this occurs, the non-movant must rebut by offering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict at trial on the material fact sought to be negated. Id.

         Undisputed Material Facts[4]

         This case arises from an accident that occurred on July 19, 2012, in an airplane hangar at the Anniston Regional Airport. John Rodgers was a certified, licensed aircraft mechanic who leased space from Anniston Aviation to conduct his business called Cheaha Aircraft Works. His business was separate from that of Anniston Aviation. That is, he was self-employed.

         Anniston Aviation is a privately owned company separate from Anniston Regional Airport. Anniston Regional Airport is owned by the city. Anniston Aviation leases the buildings and land from Anniston Regional Airport to conduct business as Anniston Aviation, primarily selling fuel to airplanes and renting hangars for airplane storage and maintenance. Scott Wallace (“Wallace”) is the manager at Anniston Aviation. Rodney Findley (“Findley”) was an employee of Anniston Aviation beginning in 2006 and took care of fueling up planes, book work and accounting. Both Wallace and Findley were present at the time of the incident. However, neither one of them (nor anyone else) saw the incident occur.

         John Rodgers owned a model 2E-M Differential Pressure Tester (hereinafter the “Tester”) that was manufactured by AWB. The Tester allows a mechanic, such as John Rodgers, to test each cylinder on the engine of an airplane to make sure the cylinder's compression is within the manufacturer's limits or specifications. The Tester has a valve ...


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