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Gray v. L.B. Foster Co. Inc.

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

November 27, 2017

JOHN GRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
L.B. FOSTER COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         John Gray was injured when he slipped and fell while servicing equipment at LB Foster's pipe-coating plant. He filed this lawsuit, alleging negligence and wantonness, doc. 1, and LB Foster filed a motion for summary judgment, doc. 47. The motion is fully briefed, docs. 48, 52, 53 & 54, and ripe for consideration. After reading the briefs, [1] viewing the evidence, and considering the relevant law, the court grants the motion.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper “if the movant 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. “Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotations omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         At summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Any factual disputes will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving party's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252)).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an accident that occurred at a pipe-coating plant. The plaintiff, John Gray, is an electrician employed by the American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO), a pipe manufacturer with its principal facilities in Birmingham, Alabama. Docs. 1 at 4; 48 at 2; 49-1 at 9, 221. The ACIPCO property covers a wide swath of land, which is closed to the public, protected by physical barriers, and patrolled by ACIPCO security guards twenty-four hours a day. Doc. 49-1 at 10. ACIPCO leases a pipe-coating plant on its property to the defendant, LB Foster, a construction equipment manufacturer. Docs. 1 at 3; 9 at 1; 49-1 at 3, 9-10.

         At some point in 2013, ACIPCO contracted LB Foster to coat the pipes for one of its manufacturing jobs. Docs. 48 at 3; 49-1 at 11-12, 241. Most of LB Foster's pipe-coating orders require the application of “fusion bonded epoxy” coating onto the exterior of the pipes. Docs. 48 at 3-4; 49-1 at 3-5, 10. The 2013 order, however, required both exterior and interior coating. Docs. 48 at 3-4; 49-1 at 3-5, 12, 60. Before the order, LB Foster had performed interior coating, or “inner diameter coating, ” only three times, doc. 49-1 at 232, so it had to re-launch its inner diameter blast line, or “ID blast line, ” an area of the plant where highly specialized machines clean the pipes before coating. Doc. 49-1 at 12.

         One of these machines is a “blast head cart, ” which moves on tracks and sprays abrasive steel “blast shot” beads inside the pipe to clean out any dirt and debris. Docs. 49-1 at 12; 55-3 at 2. The “rear blast cabinet, ” or “dust catcher, ” then captures many of these beads and other debris. Doc. 49-1 at 12. A conveyor belt, called the “reclaim conveyor, ” runs between the blast head cart and the blast cabinet and catches most of the remaining blast shot beads for reuse. Doc. 49-1 at 12. This conveyor belt is guarded by metal plates, painted yellow and positioned directly above the belt. Doc. 49-1 at 13. The yellow guard plates tilt at a downward angle so that the blast shot will fall onto the conveyor belt below. Docs. 49-1 at 13; 49-2 at 79-85. These devices are not capable of capturing all the blast shot beads, however, so much of it remains on the floor. Doc. 48 at 8-11. The beads are difficult to differentiate from dirt and dust and are therefore hard to see. Doc. 53-1 at 29. Walking on the beads poses a hazard that is like “walking on ice.” Doc. 49-1 at 38, 82. To reduce the risk of slipping, LB Foster keeps brooms on the floor so that employees working on the ID blast line can periodically sweep up any remaining discarded blast shot. Doc. 49-2 at 94.

         LB Foster employs its own electricians to service its equipment, but, per an agreement with ACIPCO, LB Foster can request that some of ACIPCO's electricians be “on call” during busier periods. Docs. 1 at 5; 48 at 2; 49-1 at 9-11, 59-63. ACIPCO's on call electricians have free access to the LB Foster plant, but generally sit in their trucks and wait for a call after clocking in at the electronics department. Doc. 49-1 at 4, 63, 64, 103.

         On June 21, 2014, Gray was working an on call shift and entered the LB Foster plant, although it is not clear whether LB Foster actually requested an on call electrician that day. Docs. 48 at 2; 49-1 at 6, 44; 53 at 3. According to eyewitnesses and LB Foster's incident report, Gray was inspecting one of the machines on the blast line when he suddenly slipped and fell onto the yellow guard plates above the conveyor belt. Docs. 48 at 2; 49-1 at 6, 44; 53 at 3; 53-1 at 1-7. The fall knocked Gray unconscious, and first responders had to resuscitate him. Docs. 49-1 at 6, 68, 98; 49-2 at 79. Gray has no recollection of what happened that day, doc. 49-1 at 146, but the parties agree that he likely slipped on the blast shot beads. See docs. 48, 52, 53, & 54. Witnesses give conflicting accounts as to whether there was a caution sign warning of the danger of blast shot at the time of the accident. Compare doc. 55-2 at 20 with docs. 53-1 at 74 and 49-1 at 106.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Gray filed this lawsuit alleging that LB Foster is liable for negligence and wantonness for failing to warn him of the danger of the ID blast line. Doc. 1. LB Foster has moved for summary judgment on both claims. Doc. 48.

         A. ...


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