United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
BRADLEY A. ESTABROOK, Plaintiff,
MAZAK CORPORATION, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
matter comes before the Court on a slew of filings made by
both parties. Currently pending from Plaintiff are his:
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [ECF No. 75] with
supporting Brief [ECF No. 76] and Statement of Material
Facts; Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment [ECF No. 86] with supporting Appendix [ECF
No. 86-1]; Response to Defendant's Motion to Strike [ECF
No. 91]; Motion to Strike [ECF No. 92]; Reply Brief in
Support of his Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [ECF No.
93]; Second Motion to Strike [ECF No. 101]; Response to
Defendant's Second Motion to Strike [ECF No. 102]; and
Reply to Defendant's Response to his First Motion to
Strike [ECF No. 103].
part, Defendant's submissions include: Motion for Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 78] with supporting Designation of Evidence
[ECF No. 79], Statement of Material Facts [ECF No. 80] and
Memorandum of Law in Support [ECF No. 81]; Response to
Plaintiff's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No.
87] with supporting Appendix [ECF No. 88]; Motion to Strike
Certain Portions of Plaintiff's Statement of Material
Facts and Appendix of Exhibits [ECF No. 89] with Supplemental
Appendix [ECF No. 90]; Corrected Supplemental Appendix to
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to
Strike [ECF No. 94 and 97]; second Motion to Strike Certain
Portions of Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts and
Appendix of Exhibits [ECF No. 95]; Reply in Support of
Summary Judgment [ECF No. 96]; Response to Plaintiff's
Motion to Strike and Motion to Consider Defendant's
Supplemental Appendix filed as Docket Entry 90 [ECF No. 98];
Motion to Consider Supplemental Exhibits, Statement of
Genuine Disputes, and Correct Citation Error [ECF No. 99];
Reply in Support of Pending Motions to Strike [ECF No. 100];
second Reply in Support of Pending Motions to Strike [ECF No.
104]; and Response to Plaintiff's Second Motion to Strike
[ECF No. 106]. These filings, which far exceed 1, 000 pages,
were all made prior to this matter being reassigned to the
undersigned on May 1, 2019. [ECF No. 107].
a May 28, 2019, Telephonic Status Conference, the parties
asked the Court to withhold ruling on the pending motions
while the parties engaged in mediation. [ECF No. 110]. The
Court received a letter from the mediator on August 12, 2019
[ECF No. 111], advising that mediation was unsuccessful. In
the interim, Defendant sought the recusal of the undersigned
due to a more-than-decade-old professional relationship with
John Theisen, one of the attorneys representing Plaintiff.
[ECF No. 112]. The Court denied that motion on September 11,
2019. [ECF No. 113]. While this matter is now ripe for
determination, the Court nonetheless concludes that a ruling
is inappropriate currently. For the reasons set forth below,
the Court concludes that this matter presents an issue of
state law that is determinative of the case and on which
there is no clear controlling precedent. See Ind.
App. R. 64. Therefore, it is necessary that the determinative
question in this case be certified to the Indiana Supreme
matter involves a horrific workplace accident that occurred
on November 7, 2014. At the time of the accident Plaintiff,
Bradley A. Estabrook, was employed as a maintenance
technician by General Products Corporation
(“GPC”), an auto parts manufacturer located in
Angola, Indiana. Defendant, Mazak Corporation, is a wholly
owned subsidiary of a Japanese manufacturer (Yamazaki Mazak
Corporation) of Computer Numerically Controlled
(“CNC”) machinery. It appears, at least with
respect to the machinery at issue, that Defendant acted as
the U.S.-based sales and installation service for machinery
that was manufactured in Japan.
machinery involved in this case is Defendant's Palletech
System, a “high-productivity unmanned system” for
loading and stocking pallets of manufactured goods. At GPC,
the Palletech System was comprised of seven CNC machines,
model number FH6800 (the “FH6800s”), sharing a
common pallet loader robot that traveled on a rail system
between the FH6800s. The floor plan layout of the system
looked like this:
of the system was completed on July 24, 2003, and was
performed entirely by Defendant's employees. The total
cost to GPC for the Palletech System was approximately $3.4
alleged defect in this case is a gap that is located at the
front end of each of the FH8600s. See ECF No. 77-60.
The gap is located at the bottom of the loader doors and its
purpose is to allow a forklift to “come in underneath
the pallet and pick the pallet up.” ECF No. 77-28 at 4.
Stated another way, the gap allowed access to pallets on the
loader robot as it stopped at each FH8600 via the rail
system. While the gap was useful from an access standpoint,
it also created a potential “pinch point” when
the loader robot passed by. GPC's employees, including
Plaintiff, were generally aware of the possibility of a pinch
point at the location of the gap but never gave it much
in summer 2014, GPC experienced problems with Machine 5, one
of the FH8600s in the Palletech System. Both GPC and
Defendant made several attempts to fix the issue through the
summer and fall. Plaintiff's work on November 7, 2014,
was part of these ongoing attempts. Although power to Machine
5 was cut off during Plaintiff's work, the pallet loader
robot continued to travel back and forth on the rail system
to service the other FH8600s. This was an advertised feature
of the Palletech System - the system was designed to continue
operating even if one of the CNC machines was inoperable.
Plaintiff was working inside of Machine 5, he dropped a
wrench he was using for the repairs. As he bent over to
retrieve the wrench, his right foot inadvertently went
through the gap at the bottom of the loader door on Machine
5. At the same moment the pallet loader robot passed by on
the rail system, catching Plaintiff's foot. The damage to
Plaintiff's foot was significant, as the foot was nearly
sheared off above the ankle. As a result, Plaintiff has
undergone several surgeries, the most recent of which was an
ankle fusion on January 25, 2017. The only remaining medical
option if the fusion fails is the amputation of the foot
above the ankle. Plaintiff is not expected to work again.
PERFORMED ON THE PALLETECH SYSTEM BETWEEN ITS INSTALLATION
AND NOVEMBER 7, 2014
reasons that will become obvious later in this Opinion, the
most contentious issue between the parties is the
characterization of work performed on the Palletech System
from 2011 through 2014. The actual work performed is
undisputed. On December 6, 2011, Defendant performed what its
work order described as a “FMS Carrier Rebuild, ”
or in layman's terms the replacement of several
components on the upper part of the pallet loader robot. This
involved: the replacement of the carrier gears and bearings
as well as the carrier drive shaft and transmission;
replacement of all cam followers, gears, shafts,
transmission, and bearings; the installation of new chains;
and a re-calibration of the equipment. (See ECF No.
79-6 at 4). The entire Palletech System was down during these
repairs, as the robot had to be removed from the tracks and
placed on the factory floor to allow better access to the
robot. GPC was charged $7, 218.75 for labor and $6, 228.86 in
parts for the repairs.
January 15, 2013, Defendant replaced the “main computer
that runs the whole system.” [ECF No. 77-37 at 23]. The
entire Palletech System was down during the installation. GPC
was charged $1, 825.00.
March 4, 2013, Defendant installed a “digi box”
and “digi board” into the main computer to
address ongoing issues. ...