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Sigler v. American Honda Motor Co.

March 30, 2007

SHELLY SIGLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR CO., INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment and supporting memorandum filed by defendant American Honda Motor Company, Inc. ("Defendant") (Court File Nos. 26; 27). Plaintiff Shelly Sigler ("Plaintiff") submitted a response and supporting documents opposing Defendant's motion (Court File No. 31). Defendant filed a reply (Court File No. 37). Defendant also filed motions in limine to exclude the testimony of Plaintiff's experts Jacob B. Griffin, III (Court File No. 25) and Danny Bryant and Dr. Randy Heisser (Court File No. 38). Plaintiff timely responded to these motions (Court File Nos. 30; 41). Defendant replied to Plaintiff's briefs (Court File Nos. 36; 42).

After carefully reviewing the above motions and their attachments, for the following reasons, this Court will GRANT Defendant's summary judgment motion (Court File No. 26).

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff is a resident of Bradley County, Tennessee (Court File No. 1-2, ¶ 2). Plaintiff is a wife, a mother, and, at the time of the accident at issue, a student at Cleveland State Community College (Court File No. 31, p. 2). Defendant is a distributor of Honda vehicles in the United States and allegedly placed the vehicle at issue into the stream of commerce (id. at 5).

On September 23, 2004, Plaintiff was driving north on Interstate 75 ("I--75") in Bradley County, Tennessee at a speed of approximately 70 miles per hour ("mph") (id. at 2). Plaintiff lost consciousness (id.). Plaintiff's vehicle, a 1999 Honda Accord EX (the "Accord") veered off the road, drove down an embankment and through a small wire fence, and hit a tree (id. at 3). The tree, approximately six inches in diameter, was uprooted by the collision (id.). The Accord was a "certified pre-owned" vehicle equipped with a driver's side airbag, which did not deploy (id.). Plaintiff was unconscious at the time of the accident and in a semi-conscious state when she was transported to Bradley Memorial Hospital (id. at 4). Plaintiff has been experiencing headaches and seizures since this accident (Court File No. 1-2, ¶ 6). These facts are undisputed.

Plaintiff alleges she struck her head on the interior of the Accord (id.; Court File No. 31, p. 4). Plaintiff does not recall the collision but the next day, she noticed a quarter-sized bruise above her left eye (Court File No. 31, p. 4) (citing Dep. D. Sigler 22; Dep. S. Sigler ¶ 6). Plaintiff developed severe headaches, dizziness and neck soreness (which she did not experience before the accident), which caused her to return to the hospital a week after the accident (id. at 16; see also Court File No. 31-7, Decl. S. Sigler ¶ 3). Plaintiff admits to experiencing a "possible seizure" prior to the accident, but alleges that since the accident, she has been experiencing seizures of aggravated duration and intensity -- three grand mal episodes per month and three partial complex episodes per week (id. at 4). Due to these seizures, Plaintiff cannot drive, had to discontinue nursing school, and is limited in her daily functioning (id.).

On September 14, 2005, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Bradley County, Tennessee (Court File No. 1-2). Plaintiff asserted three causes of action: (1) strict liability pursuant to § 402A of the Restatement (2d) of Torts; (2) breach of an implied warranty of merchantability; and (3) breach of an implied warranty of fitness (id.). On October 25, 2005, Defendant removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity (Court File No. 1).

A scheduling conference was held March 16, 2006 (Court File No. 9). The parties agreed they would disclose expert witnesses by November 20, 2006, and would provide final witness lists by January 8, 2007 (id.). This matter is set for trial on April 16, 2007 (id.).

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

This action was removed to this Court on the basis of diversity (Court File No. 1). Therefore, this Court applies the substantive law of the state of Tennessee. See Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938); Hines v. Joy Mfg. Co., 850 F.2d 1146, 1150 (6th Cir. 1988).

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper where "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 the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the burden rests on the moving party to conclusively show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2003). The Court views the evidence, including all reasonable inferences, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). It is the Court's duty to determine if the non-moving party has presented sufficient evidence to raise issues of fact; the Court does not, however, weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Weaver v. Shadoan, 340 F.3d 398, 405 (6th Cir. 2003).

The purpose of summary judgment is "to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. (advisory committee notes) (1963). The non-moving party is not entitled to a trial on the basis of its allegations alone. The non-moving party must come forward with significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). A scintilla of evidence is not enough; the non-moving party must present enough evidence for a jury to reasonably find for its side. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. The Court must decide "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. At bottom, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party cannot make a satisfactory showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it bears the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

B. Tennessee Products Liability Act

As a threshold matter, this Court notes that Plaintiff's complaint alleged three counts against Defendant (Court File No. 1-2) . In its motion for summary judgment, Defendant argues that the two breach-of-warranty counts are barred by the statute of limitations contained in Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-28-103(a) and 47-2-725 (Court File No. 26, ¶¶ 6-7). In her response, Plaintiff failed to address or counter this claim (see generally Court File No. 31). Accordingly, this Court finds Counts Two and Three in Plaintiff's complaint are barred by the applicable statute of limitations and will DISMISS these claims with prejudice.

Plaintiff's remaining cause of action sounds in tort, specifically in products liability. In Tennessee, all theories of products liability merge under the Tennessee Products Liability Act of 1978 ("TPLA"), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-101 et seq. The TPLA provides, in pertinent part:

A manufacturer or seller of a product shall not be liable for any injury to a person or property caused by the product unless the product is determined to be in a defective condition or unreasonably dangerous at the ...


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