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Blasius v. Angel Automotive, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 4, 2015

James Blasius, Plaintiff,
v.
Angel Automotive, Inc., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Blasius contacted Defendant Angel Automotive to drastically improve an already modified 2005 Ford Expedition. Blasius thought Angel had performed the work successfully, but the day after picking it up, the Expedition erupted into flames while driving down a Michigan highway. Displeased, Plaintiff sued Defendant Angel Automotive for breach of contract and negligence.

At this stage, before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment, which the Court grants for the reasons stated below.

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A motion for summary judgment must be granted "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Rule 56(c) further requires the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, 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).

A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing a court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party supports its motion for summary judgment with affidavits or other materials, it thereby shifts to the non-moving party the burden of showing that an issue of material fact exists. Keri v. Bd. of Trust. of Purdue Univ., 458 F.3d 620, 628 (7th Cir. 2006).

Rule 56(e) specifies that once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, "the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts to establish that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences and resolve all doubts in favor of that party. Keri, 458 F.3d at 628. A court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986).

B. Material Facts

In May 2012, Plaintiff contacted Defendant about modifying and repairing Plaintiff's 2005 Ford Excursion. (DE 53, Ex. 8.) Prior to this, Rudy's Diesel in North Carolina did substantial amount of work, over $30, 000 worth, on the SUV, but it was not performing as it should. (DE 52, Ex C at 22-23.) Defendant agreed to improve the SUV's towing performance and reliability. (DE 53, Ex. 9.) During the course of repairs, Defendant offered to complete several additional modifications, which Plaintiff agreed to have done. (DE 53, Ex. 5 at 44.) Included in the additional modifications was the replacement of all fuel lines in the SUV. (DE 53, Ex. 9.) In June 2012, Defendant contacted Plaintiff to tell him the work was finished, the SUV had been tested, and was ready to be picked up. (DE 53, Ex. 12.) During the trip from Indiana to Michigan, where Plaintiff lives, Plaintiff noticed odd readings on the gauges of the vehicle and emailed Defendant once he got home. (DE 53, Ex. 13.) Defendant never told Plaintiff to not drive the vehicle or that it would be unsafe. (DE 52, Ex. E at 50-51.)

The next day Plaintiff left to go on a trip to Northern Michigan. (DE 53, Ex. 2 at 46.) Plaintiff soon noticed smoke emanating from the dashboard and the rear of the truck. ( Id. at 47.) Plaintiff realized the brakes were failing and the SUV could no longer downshift to decrease speed. ( Id. at 48-49.) Smoke had completely filled the cabin and flames were coming from underneath the SUV. ( Id. at 49.) Plaintiff finally brought it to a stop, but the fire was uncontrollable and completely totaled the SUV. ( Id. at 50.)

After it had been towed, James Raad, an employee of Nederveld Vehicle Fire Investigation and an agent for Defendant's insurance company, examined the SUV. (DE 53, Ex. D.) Mr. Raad concluded that the fire originated in the front right side of the engine compartment, but that the source of the fire was undetermined. ( Id. ) Roughly two weeks later, Plaintiff retained his own expert, Adam Hooker, to review the burnt Expedition. (DE 53, Ex. 16.) However, it had already been scrapped out and altered by the Defendant at Plaintiff's request for use of salvageable parts in Plaintiff's new Expedition. (DE 52, Ex. C at 7; Ex. A at 74.) Plaintiff's expert stated in his deposition that he was unable to reach an expert opinion as to what caused the fire, but, using Mr. Raad's photographs, determined that it originated in the left rear portion of the engine compartment. (DE 53, Ex. 16 at 41.) Mr. Hooker believed that the fire was caused by a possible leak in the fluid system, but he refused to testify that, in his expert opinion, it was the cause of the fire. ( Id. at 45.) When asked, Mr. Hooker thought that it was "possible" that the work by Defendant caused the fire, but when asked whether it was "more likely than not" that the fire was caused by Defendant's work on the Expedition, Mr. Hooker answered that he doesn't "know if the work caused it." ( Id. at 57-58.)

C. Discussion

Plaintiff claims that Defendant's negligence proximately caused the SUV fire and that Defendant breached the contract for Defendant to perform work on Plaintiff's Expedition. (DE 1.) In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant claims that Plaintiff does not own the SUV and lacks standing to pursue a claim. (DE 52.) Defendant also argues there is no evidence in the record that demonstrates ...


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