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Cone v. Hankook Tire Company, Ltd.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

December 20, 2016

LISA C. CONE, attorney in fact and next friend of TIMOTHY H.L. FRAZIER, and TIMOTHY H.L. FRAZIER, individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
HANKOOK TIRE COMPANY, LTD., AND HANKOOK TIRE AMERICA CORPORATION, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT HANKOOK AMERICA'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          J. DANIEL BREEN, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the June 6, 2016, motion for summary judgment filed by one of the Defendants, Hankook Tire America Corporation (“Hankook America”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (D.E. 197.) Plaintiffs, Lisa C. Cone and Timothy H.L. Frazier, responded in opposition, (D.E. 217), and Defendant filed a reply, (D.E. 229), making this matter ripe for disposition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case is a product liability action arising out of an automobile accident. (D.E. 1.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants manufactured and distributed a tire that suffered a tread separation, causing Frazier to lose control of a concrete mixer truck he was driving. (Id.) According to the complaint, the truck overturned, and he suffered serious injuries as a result. (Id.) Plaintiffs contend that the tire was not properly designed, constructed, manufactured, tested, or inspected, and they also advance claims based on a failure to warn and for breach of warranty. (Id.)

         The product at the center of this dispute is a Hankook model AH10, medium truck tire that was designed and manufactured in Hankook Korea's Daejeon, Korea plant in December 2005. (D.E. 197-5 at PageID 2406.) According to Hankook America, it distributed the tire but had no role in the product's design or manufacture. (Id.) Plaintiffs dispute this latter point, stating that “Hankook America brings in tires in order to sell in America and markets the tires for sale. [Defendant] also evaluates the satisfaction rate of the American clients and monitors the buyer's expectation issues and [is] supposed to keep a record of the customer complaints and relay this information to Hankook Tire Company, LTD.”[1] (D.E. 218 at PageID 6169.) In the instant motion, Hankook America contends that it is entitled to summary judgment because it was the distributor and not the manufacturer of the subject tire and, therefore, is protected from liability pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-28-106.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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(a). The court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Ondo v. City of Cleveland, 795 F.3d 597, 603 (6th Cir. 2015). “There is a genuine issue of material fact only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “The test is 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. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52) (internal quotation marks omitted). The moving party must initially show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). It is then incumbent upon the nonmoving party to “present significant probative evidence to do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts to defeat the motion.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         In cases based upon diversity, federal courts apply the law of the state in which the action is brought. Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938); see Richardson v. GlaxoSmithKline, 412 F.Supp.2d 863, 868 (W.D. Tenn. 2006). Plaintiffs' claims against both Defendants fall under the purview of the Tennessee Products Liability Act (“TPLA” or “Act”), codified at Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-28-101 to -108. The TPLA defines a product liability claim as any action:

brought for or on account of personal injury, death or property damage caused by or resulting from the manufacture, construction, design, formula, preparation, assembly, testing, service, warning, instruction, marketing, packaging or labeling of any product. “Product liability action” includes, but is not limited to, all actions based upon the following theories: strict liability in tort; negligence; breach of warranty, express or implied; breach of or failure to discharge a duty to warn or instruct, whether negligent, or innocent; misrepresentation, concealment, or nondisclosure, whether negligent, or innocent; or under any other substantive legal theory in tort or contract whatsoever.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-102(6). Under the Act, a products liability action must be maintained against the manufacturer, not against a non-manufacturer seller, unless one of the following statutory exceptions is met:

(1) The seller exercised substantial control over that aspect of the design, testing, manufacture, packaging or labeling of the product that caused the alleged harm for which recovery of damages is sought;
(2) [The seller] [a]ltered or modified the product, and the alteration or modification was a substantial factor in causing the harm for ...

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