Moore v. Toyota Motor Corporation et al, No. 2:2017cv01379 - Document 74 (E.D. La. 2017)

Court Description: ORDER AND REASONS granting 31 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 53 Motion to Strike. For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff's motion to strike is DENIED, except as to the affidavit of Debra Hatton. The Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE any Louisiana Products Liability Act claims against Toyota Motor Sales, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America to the extent such claims are predicated on the allegation that these defendants continued to use Takata airbags, knowing of the safety concerns of Takata airbags and inflators, and failed to warn consumers about these dangers. Further, the Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE all causes of action except those arising under the Louisiana Products Liab ility Act, including claims of negligence, intentional tort, breach of contract, breach of warranty, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and bad faith, as to Toyota Motor Sales, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America. Signed by Judge Sarah S. Vance on 11/20/2017. (cg)
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Moore v. Toyota Motor Corporation et al Doc. 74 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA ROBERT L. MOORE CIVIL ACTION VERSUS NO. 17-1379 TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION, ET AL. SECTION “R” (5) ORD ER AN D REASON S Defendant Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. m oves for partial sum m ary judgm ent. 1 Plaintiff Robert Moore m oves to strike defendant’s m otion and supporting affidavits. 2 For the following reasons, the Court denies plaintiff’s m otion to strike, except as to the affidavit of Debra Hatton. Further, the Court grants Toyota Motor Sales partial sum m ary judgment. I. BACKGROU N D This case arises out of an allegedly defective airbag in Plaintiff Robert Moore’s 20 0 9 Toyota Corolla. 3 On J anuary 24, 20 16, plaintiff was involved in an autom obile accident while driving his Toyota Corolla. 4 According to the com plaint, plaintiff’s airbag deployed suddenly and severely injured 1 2 3 4 R. Doc. 31. R. Doc. 53. R. Doc. 20 at 5-7. Id. at 5 ¶ 2. Dockets.Justia.com him . 5 Plaintiff alleges that Takata m anufactured or sold the airbag or airbag inflator that caused his injuries, and that Takata knowingly sold m illions of defective airbags to autom akers including Toyota. 6 Further, plaintiff asserts that Toyota knew of the safety concerns of Takata airbags and inflators, and failed to warn consum ers about the dangers of these products. 7 Plaintiff filed suit in state court against Takata Corporation, TK Holdings, Inc., Toyota Motor Corporation, and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. 8 TK Holdings is a subsidiary of Takata Corporation. 9 On February 15, 20 17, Defendants TK Holdings and Toyota Motor Sales rem oved the m atter to this Court on the basis of diversity of citizenship. 10 Plaintiff later filed an am ended com plaint adding as a defendant Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North Am erica, Inc. 11 Toyota Motor Sales now asks the Court to grant partial sum m ary judgment, and enter a finding that the airbag system in plaintiff’s car was not designed, m anufactured, or 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Id. at 5-6. Id. at 7-8. Id. at 9 ¶ 13. R. Doc. 1-2 at 2. R. Doc. 20 at 2. R. Doc. 1 at 1-2. R. Doc. 20 at 3. 2 distributed by any Takata entity. 12 Plaintiff m oves to strike the sum mary judgm ent m otion and its supporting affidavits. 13 II. LEGAL STAN D ARD Sum m ary judgment is warranted when “the m ovant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any m aterial fact and the m ovant is entitled to judgm ent as a m atter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 10 69, 10 75 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any m aterial fact exists, the Court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrain[s] from m aking credibility determ inations or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationw ide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 20 0 8). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonm oving party, but “unsupported allegations or affidavits setting forth ‘ultim ate or conclusory facts and conclusions of law’ are insufficient to either support or defeat a m otion for sum m ary judgment.” Galindo v. Precision Am . Corp., 754 F.2d 1212, 1216 (5th Cir. 1985); see also Little, 37 F.3d at 10 75. “No genuine dispute of fact exists if the record taken as a whole could 12 13 R. Doc. 31; R. Doc. 62 at 3. R. Doc. 53. 3 not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-m oving party.” EEOC v. Sim baki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 481 (5th Cir. 20 14). If the dispositive issue is one on which the m oving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the m oving party “m ust come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.” Int’l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally ’s, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991) (internal citation om itted). The nonm oving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with evidence sufficient to dem onstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of m aterial fact, or “showing that the m oving party’s evidence is so sheer that it m ay not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the m oving party.” Id. at 1265. If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonm oving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the m oving party m ay satisfy its burden by pointing out that the evidence in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the nonm oving party’s claim . See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonm oving party, who m ust, by subm itting or referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See id. at 324. The nonm ovant m ay not rest upon the pleadings, but m ust identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue for 4 trial. See, e.g., id.; Little, 37 F.3d at 10 75 (“Rule 56 m andates the entry of sum m ary judgment, after adequate tim e for discovery and upon m otion, against a party who fails to m ake a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an elem ent essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322)). III. D ISCU SSION A. Effe ct o f Ban kru p tcy Stay TK Holdings and Takata Corporation (the Takata entities) have each filed for bankruptcy, and this m atter is autom atically stayed as to these two defendants. 14 See 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(1). Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) is not subject to a bankruptcy stay. See In re S.I. Acquisition, Inc., 817 F.2d 1142, 1147 (5th Cir. 1987) (explaining that 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(1) generally does not prohibit actions against nonbankrupt codefendants); In re Babcock & W ilcox Co., No. 0 0 -340 8, 20 0 1 WL 53630 5, at *2-3 (E.D. La. 20 0 1). Plaintiff contends that TMS’ sum m ary judgm ent m otion violates the bankruptcy stay, and that TMS lacks standing to seek partial sum m ary judgm ent in favor of its codefendants. 15 The Court notes that plaintiff’s 14 15 R. Doc. 24; R. Doc. 44. R. Doc. 53 at 2. 5 m otion to strike fails to conform to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), because it was filed after plaintiff’s m em orandum in opposition, and it does not seek to “strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, im m aterial, im pertinent, or scandalous m atter.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f)(2); 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1380 (3d. ed. 20 17). The Court nevertheless considers plaintiff’s arguments, because it has an obligation to ensure that the bankruptcy stay is respected. Plaintiff’s arguments regarding standing and the bankruptcy stay both center on the proposition that TMS is seeking partial summ ary judgment on behalf of the Takata entities rather than asserting its own interests. 16 Plaintiff also contends that his rights to due process would be violated if the Takata entities are perm itted to litigate through a co-defendant during the stay. 17 TMS has clarified that it does not seek dism issal of the Takata entities from this litigation, but instead requests a finding that no Takata entity designed, m anufactured, or distributed the airbag system in plaintiff’s vehicle. 18 TMS requests this finding because plaintiff’s claim s against TMS 16 17 18 R. Doc. 53-1. Id. at 2-3. R. Doc. 62 at 3. 6 and the other non-Takata defendants rely on Takata’s being the m anufacturer of the allegedly defective airbags. 19 These proceedings have not been stayed as to TMS, and TMS retains the right to defend itself from plaintiff’s factual allegations. The am ended com plaint asserts that the Toyota defendants, including TMS, “sold vehicles in the United States containing airbags m anufactured by the Takata Defendants and installed as its ‘original’ parts airbag and airbag inflators m anufactured by Takata Defendants and defective [sic].”20 Plaintiff further alleges that the Toyota defendants “knew of the safety concerns and unacceptable quality of Takata airbags and inflators and/ or any airbags and inflators m ade with the sam e or sim ilar m aterials and chem icals as Takata and continued to use them,” and that Toyota failed to warn consum ers about the dangers of these airbags and inflators. 21 Plaintiff’s factual allegations regarding Takata’s role in m anufacturing his vehicle’s airbag system are intertwined with his claim s against TMS, and TMS is not barred from seeking sum m ary judgment on this issue. 19 Id. at 4-5. R. Doc. 20 at 3. 21 Id. at 9 ¶ 13. The am ended com plaint notes that Toyota Corporation, Toyota Motor Sales, and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North Am erica are collectively referred to as Toyota. See id. at 3. 7 20 B. Evid e n tiary Obje ctio n s TMS’ m otion for partial sum mary judgm ent includes the sworn declaration of Debra Hatton, a paralegal at TK Holdings, and the affidavit of Barry Hare, an employee of Toyota Motor North Am erica. 22 Plaintiff objects that these exhibits are not com petent sum m ary judgm ent evidence. 23 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that “[a]n affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a m otion must be m ade on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be adm issible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is com petent to testify on the m atters stated.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). Although sum m ary judgment evidence need not necessarily be presented in adm issible form, “the substance or content of the evidence subm itted to support or dispute a fact on sum m ary judgm ent m ust be adm issible.” Lee v. Offshore Logistical & Transp., LLC, 859 F.3d 353, 355 (5th Cir. 20 17) (quoting 11 Moore’s Federal Practice-Civil § 56.91 (20 17)). The Court strikes Debra Hatton’s declaration because it is not based on personal knowledge. The Hatton declaration states that, “[a]s confirmed through comm unications with other TKH em ployees, Robert L. Moore’s allegations are incorrect,” and no Takata entity had any involvem ent in the 22 23 R. Doc. 31-3. R. Doc. 53-2. 8 driver airbag system of the 20 0 9 Toyota Corolla. 24 Although TMS asserts that Ms. Hatton is a corporate representative, 25 “a corporate representative m ay not testify to m atters outside [her] own personal knowledge ‘to the extent that inform ation is hearsay not falling within one of the authorized exceptions.’” Union Pum p Co. v. Centrifugal Tech. Inc., 40 4 F. App’x 899, 90 7 (5th Cir. 20 10 ) (quoting Brazos River Auth. v. GE Ionics, Inc., 469 F.3d 416, 435 (5th Cir. 20 0 6)). Ms. Hatton’s declaration does not indicate that she has personally reviewed any documentation, or that she has acquired any inform ation regarding Takata’s involvem ent with the 20 0 9 Toyota Corolla beyond what she was told by other em ployees. 26 Cf. W isdom v. U.S. Tr. Program , 232 F. Supp. 3d 97, 115 (D.D.C. 20 17) (finding that a FOIA declarant satisfies Rule 56’s personal knowledge requirem ent if he has personal knowledge of the procedures used and relevant docum ents). Thus, the Court finds that the declaration is not com petent sum m ary judgm ent evidence, and does not consider it. The Court denies plaintiff’s request to strike the affidavit of Barry Hare. Mr. Hare is a National Design and Technical Analysis Manager at Toyota 24 25 26 R. Doc. 31-3 at 2. R. Doc. 62 at 7-8. R. Doc. 31-3 at 1-2. 9 Motor North Am erica. 27 He states in his affidavit that a review of the design drawings for the 20 0 9 Toyota Corolla shows that the driver front airbag m odule was m anufactured by Toyoda Gosei Co., Ltd. 28 In contrast to Ms. Hatton’s declaration, Mr. Hare’s affidavit indicates that he has personally reviewed the relevant designs. See LSR Consulting, LLC v. W ells Fargo Bank, N .A., 835 F.3d 530 , 534 (5th Cir. 20 16) (finding that affidavits were properly adm itted because they “contain sufficiently specific statem ents for the district court to infer that the affiants had personal knowledge of the facts attested therein”). That Mr. Hare is em ployed by a Toyota entity rather than by Takata does not call into question his com petence to testify about the com ponent parts of Toyota vehicles. Nor was TMS required to provide a copy of the design drawings. See RBC Real Estate Fin., Inc. v. Partners Land Dev., Ltd., 543 F. App’x 477, 479 (5th Cir. 20 13) (rejecting argument that affiant had to provide a foundation for how he calculated am ounts due). Therefore, the Court finds that the affidavit contains facts that would be adm issible in evidence, and shows that Mr. Hare is com petent to testify about the m atter asserted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). 27 28 Id. at 3. Id at 4. 10 C. Ad e qu ate Tim e fo r D is co ve ry Plaintiff argues that partial sum m ary judgm ent should be denied under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) because he is unable to present facts essential to justify his opposition to the m otion. 29 Plaintiff’s counsel subm its a declaration stating that plaintiff has been unable to request discovery from TK Holdings, Takata Corporation, or any other Takata entity because of the bankruptcy stay. 30 Although Rule 56(d) m otions for additional discovery are broadly favored in the Fifth Circuit, “a party m ust ‘set forth a plausible basis for believing that specified facts, susceptible of collection within a reasonable tim e fram e, probably exist and indicate how the emergent facts, if adduced, will influence the outcome of the pending sum m ary judgment m otion.’” Prospect Capital Corp. v. Mutual of Om aha Bank, 819 F.3d 754, 757 (5th Cir. 20 16) (quoting Am . Fam ily Life Assurance Co. of Colum bus v. Biles, 714 F.3d 887, 894 (5th Cir. 20 13)). The Court finds that additional discovery is “not likely to produce the facts needed by the plaintiff to withstand a m otion for summ ary judgm ent.” W ashington v. Allstate Ins. Co., 90 1 F.2d 1281, 1285 (5th Cir. 1990 ). Barry Hare’s affidavit states that the driver front airbag m odule in the 20 0 9 Toyota 29 30 R. Doc. 49. R. Doc. 49-1. 11 Corolla was m anufactured by Toyoda Gosei. 31 Plaintiff has failed to present specific reasons to doubt that statem ent, or to indicate that Mr. Hare is likely to contradict him self in a future deposition. See Biles, 714 F.3d at 894-95. Nor has plaintiff produced any evidence from his own vehicle or other sources to affirm atively suggest that Takata m anufactured the airbag system in the 20 0 9 Toyota Corolla. See Sm ith v. Regional Transit Auth., 827 F.3d 412, 423 (5th Cir. 20 16). Plaintiff’s argum ent that he has been prevented from requesting discovery because of the bankruptcy stay is without m erit. Barry Hare is an em ployee of Toyota Motor North Am erica, not Takata, and plaintiff has identified no obstacle to deposing him . Plaintiff was also free to pursue discovery against TMS and other Toyota defendants. Moreover, to the extent that plaintiff argues that any summ ary judgm ent m otion should be postponed until the bankruptcy stay is lifted, plaintiff cannot show that relevant facts could be collected within a reasonable tim e frame. See Prospect Capital Corp., 819 F.3d at 757. D . Lo u is ian a Pro d u cts Liability Act Claim s Under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the identity of the m anufacturer of the allegedly 31 R. Doc. 31-3 at 4. 12 unreasonably dangerous product. See La. R.S. 9:280 0 .54; Stahl v. N ovartis Pharm . Corp., 283 F.3d 254, 260 -61 (5th Cir. 20 0 2). Plaintiff has offered no evidence to create a genuine issue of fact that Takata m anufactured the airbag system in his vehicle. The affidavit of Barry Hare indicates that Toyoda Gosei m anufactured the driver front airbag m odule in the 20 0 9 Toyota Corolla. 32 Because plaintiff “has failed to m ake a sufficient showing on an essential elem ent of [his] case with respect to which []he has the burden of proof,” TMS is entitled summ ary judgment on this issue. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 2552. The Court finds that no Takata entity m anufactured the airbag system in plaintiff’s 20 0 9 Toyota Corolla, as m anufacturer is defined by the LPLA. See La. R.S. 9:280 0 .53(1). The Court dism isses any LPLA claim s predicated on plaintiff’s allegation that TMS continued to use Takata airbag systems, knowing of the safety concerns of Takata airbags and inflators, and failed to warn consum ers about these dangers. 33 The Court does not dism iss the LPLA claim s to the extent that plaintiff alleges that TMS used, and failed to properly warn about, defective “airbags and inflators m ade with the sam e or 32 33 R. Doc. 31-3 at 3-4. See R. Doc. 20 at 9 ¶ 13. 13 sim ilar m aterials and chem icals as Takata,” with knowledge of their dangers. 34 E. N o n -LPLA Claim s TMS also m oves for partial sum m ary judgm ent as to all non-LPLA claim s in plaintiff’s com plaint because the LPLA provides the exclusive remedy against a m anufacturer for dam age caused by its product. 35 See La. R.S. § 9:280 0 .52. In granting plaintiff leave to am end his com plaint, Magistrate J udge North ordered that all causes of action except those arising under the LPLA be deleted from the am ended com plaint. 36 TMS asks that plaintiff’s claim s for negligence, intentional tort, breach of contract, breach of warranty, negligent m isrepresentation, fraud, and bad faith be dism issed. 37 Plaintiff does not defend the legal validity of these claim s, and the Court dism isses them in light of the exclusive remedy provided by the LPLA. 38 34 See Stahl, 283 F.3d at 262 (finding that the LPLA exclusivity Id. R. Doc. 31-1 at 8. 36 R. Doc. 18 at 2. 37 R. Doc. 31-1 at 8-9. 38 Plaintiff asserts that the non-LPLA claim s in the amended com plaint were not subject to Magistrate J udge North’s order because they were included in the original com plaint, and are therefore not new claim s. See R. Doc. 49-2 at 2. This argument ignores the portion of J udge North’s order that directs that all non-LPLA causes of action “be deleted from the am ended com plaint.” See R. Doc. 18 at 2. Regardless, plaintiff’s claim s m ust be dism issed because they fail to state a valid legal claim . 14 35 provision precludes intentional tort claim s such as fraud); Jefferson v. Lead Indus. Ass’n, Inc., 930 F. Supp. 241, 245 (E.D. La. 1996). F. Oth e r To yo ta D e fe n d an ts The com plaint includes identical allegations against TMS, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North Am erica. 39 Thus, the Court’s reasons for granting partial sum m ary judgment to TMS apply equally to the other two Toyota defendants. Because plaintiff had notice and an opportunity to respond to the argum ents in TMS’ m otion, the Court finds it appropriate to grant partial sum m ary judgm ent to Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North Am erica. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f)(1) (perm itting courts to grant sum m ary judgm ent for a nonm ovant). IV. CON CLU SION For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff’s m otion to strike is DENIED, except as to the affidavit of Debra Hatton. Toyota Motor Sales’ m otion for partial sum m ary judgm ent is GRANTED. The Court finds that no Takata entity m anufactured the driver airbag system in plaintiff’s 20 0 9 Toyota Corolla, as m anufacturer is defined 39 R. Doc. 20 at 3. 15 in La. R.S. 9:280 0 .53(1). The Court DISMISSES WITH PREJ UDICE any Louisiana Products Liability Act claims against Toyota Motor Sales, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North Am erica to the extent such claim s are predicated on the allegation that these defendants continued to use Takata airbags, knowing of the safety concerns of Takata airbags and inflators, and failed to warn consum ers about these dangers. Further, the Court DISMISSES WITH PREJ UDICE all causes of action except those arising under the Louisiana Products Liability Act, including claim s of negligence, intentional tort, breach of contract, breach of warranty, negligent m isrepresentation, fraud, and bad faith, as to Toyota Motor Sales, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North Am erica. New Orleans, Louisiana, this _ _ _ _ _ day of November, 20 17. 20th _____________________ SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT J UDGE 16