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Jeffords v. BP Products North America Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

August 10, 2018

VICTORIA JEFFORDS, as Administrator of the Estate of DONALD JEFFORDS, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court on several motions. Defendants BP Products North America, Inc.[1] (“BP”) [ECF No. 94]; MC Industrial, Inc. (“MCI”) [ECF No. 97]; and Link-Belt Construction Equipment Company, L.P., LLLP (“Link-Belt”) [ECF No. 103] have moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff Victoria Jeffords has filed a Motion to Strike [ECF No. 107], and Defendant Link-Belt filed an Evidentiary Objections and Motion to Strike [ECF No. 142]. Defendants BP and MCI filed their own Motion to Strike [ECF No. 146], and also joined Link-Belt's Evidentiary Objections and Motion to Strike [ECF No. 151]. These Motions are now fully briefed and ripe for review.


         The background is taken from the parties' pleadings, motions, and attached exhibits. On December 22, 2014, Donald Jeffords (“Jeffords”) filed a Complaint [ECF No. 6] in Lake Circuit Court against BP; MCI; Fluor Constructors International, Inc. (“Fluor”); and Link-Belt. In his Complaint, Jeffords brought two claims. The first stated a negligence claim against BP, MCI, and Fluor. (See Compl. ¶¶ 7-11.) The second claim asserted a product liability claim against Link-Belt. In this claim, Jeffords alleged that Link-Belt was negligent in the design, manufacture, and marketing of a crane, the Link-Belt RTC-80110 (“Model 110”) which later injured him. (See Id. at ¶¶ 12-17.) The Complaint also requested damages. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-21.) Approximately ten months after filing suit, Jeffords passed away. (ECF No. 54, Suggestion of Death, Ex. A.) Victoria Jeffords was substituted as the Plaintiff as the Administrator of her husband's estate. (See Mot. to Substitute Parties, ECF No. 57.) The parties dispute whether the injuries which gave rise to this lawsuit caused Jeffords' passing. (See, e.g., ECF Nos. 107, 108, 143, 147, 155.) Jeffords was not deposed and his testimony was not preserved prior to his passing.

         This lawsuit arises from an event on May 4, 2013. On that day, Jeffords fell from the Model 110 at the BP Whiting Refinery. He was performing work at the BP Whiting Refinery as part of a construction project known as the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project. Link-Belt manufactured the Model 110. BP had engaged Fluor to provide engineering, procurement, and construction management services at the site, specifically for all construction activity occurring in the lakefront area near a water treatment facility. This is the area where Jeffords fell from the crane. (See BP-Fluor Contract, ECF No. 157-1.) Fluor engaged MCI, on behalf of BP, to provide certain construction services at the site. (See Fluor-MCI Contract, ECF No. 157-4.) BP also hired Central Rent-a-Crane (“Central”) to provide crane equipment rental services, operation, and routine maintenance at the BP Whiting Refinery. (See BP-Central Contract, ECF No. 157-3.) At all relevant times, Jeffords was employed by Central.

         In his Answers to Defendant Fluor's Interrogatories, [2] Jeffords stated that Rick Morales, a co-worker; Mitchell Surovik, another co-worker; Mark Richardson, a foreman; and an unknown electrician from Meade Electric were in the area when he fell from the crane. (Answer to Def. Fluor's Interrog. ¶ 2, ECF No. 104-2.) He further stated that “none of them witnessed [his] fall.” (Id.) Both Morales and Richardson were deposed, and both testified that they did not see precisely how the incident occurred. (Dep. of Mark Richardson, ECF No. 104-6; Dep. of Ricardo Morales, ECF No. 104-7.) The Plaintiff frames the fall in straightforward terms: Jeffords fell from a catwalk on the Model 110 that was seven feet, one inch off the ground while checking the fluids on the crane before starting work for the day. Jeffords injured his ankles and feet as a result of the fall.

         The Plaintiff asserts that Jeffords' fall would have been prevented if the Model 110 had OSHA-required fall protection. The Defendants dispute whether the OSHA regulations apply, and also dispute which Defendant owed Jeffords a duty of care regarding his safety. A photograph of the Model 110 is below.[3]

         (Image Omitted)


         Summary judgment is warranted when “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 nonmoving party must marshal and present the Court with evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to find in his favor. Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). A court must deny a motion for summary judgment when the nonmoving party presents admissible evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. Luster v. Ill. Dep't of Corrs., 652 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). A court's role in deciding a motion for summary judgment “is not to sift through the evidence, pondering the nuances and inconsistencies, and decide whom to believe. [A] court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial.” Waldridge v. Am. Heochst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Facts that are outcome determinative under the applicable law are material for summary judgment purposes. Smith v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 427 (7th Cir. 1997). Although a bare contention that an issue of material fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, view all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 491-92 (7th Cir. 2000), and avoid “the temptation to decide which party's version of the facts is more likely true, ” Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003).


         A. Motions to Strike

         Before the Court addresses the Amended Motions for Summary Judgment, it will dispose of the parties' Motions to Strike. The parties dispute whether certain evidence is admissible through briefing the Motions to Strike. The Court will discuss these motions in turn.

         First, the Plaintiff filed a Motion to Strike certain text from the Defendants' Amended Motions for Summary Judgment. (See ECF No. 107.) The Plaintiff cited Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f)(2) as the basis for her motion. (Id.) A Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 motion to strike applies to pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) (“The court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous material.”) (emphasis added). Motions for summary judgment are not pleadings under the Rules. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(a)(1)-(7) (designating permissible pleadings). As such, proceeding under Rule 12(f) is improper, and the Court will deny the Plaintiff's Motion. That said, the Court has noted the Plaintiff's arguments and will consider them in its summary judgment analysis to the extent that they are pertinent.

         Next, Link-Belt filed a 59-page motion [ECF No. 142] objecting to, and asking the Court to strike, in whole or in part, all 91 issues of genuine dispute the Plaintiff identified in her Response to the Motions for Summary Judgment. BP and MCI joined the motion. The Defendants base this motion on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(2), which states that “[a] party may object that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). BP and MCI also filed their own motion under Rule 56(e). (See ECF No. 146.) BP and MCI's 18-page motion centers on specific evidence offered by the Plaintiff to defeat summary judgment.

         Because the Court is able to distinguish which exhibits, affidavits, statements, and commentary may properly be considered when deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court denies the Defendants' Motions. The Court has noted the Defendants' objections and will consider them in its summary judgment analysis. The Court now turns its analysis first to the Plaintiff's negligence claim against BP and MCI, and then to the Plaintiff's product liability claim against Link-Belt.

         B. Negligence Claims Against BP and MCI

         Because the Court is exercising diversity jurisdiction over this case, Indiana substantive law applies. See Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). A plaintiff must satisfy three elements for a negligence claim under Indiana law: (1) that a defendant owed a duty to the Plaintiff; (2) that the defendant breached the duty by allowing its conduct to fall below the applicable standard of care; and (3) a compensable injury was proximately caused by the defendant's breach. Ryan v. TCI Architects/Eng'rs/Contractor, Inc., 72 N.E.3d 908, 913 (Ind. 2017) (citing Goodwin v. Yeakle's Sports Bar & Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384, 386 (Ind. 2016)). Here, the Plaintiff argues that both BP and MCI breached a duty of care owed to Jeffords because Jeffords fell from a catwalk on a crane at the worksite that was only thirteen-inches wide and seven-feet, one-inch above ground but lacked a protected edge or handrail in violation of OSHA regulations. As a result, Jeffords was injured. Both BP and MCI assert that they did not owe Jeffords a duty of care that would encompass his activities on the crane.

         1. Landowne ...

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