Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability

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Petitioner Zen Magnets, LLC (“Zen”) challenged a regulation promulgated by Respondent Consumer Product Safety Commission (“the Commission”) restricting the size and strength of the rare earth magnets that Zen sold. The sets consisted of small, high-powered magnets that users could arrange and rearrange in various geometric designs. The component magnets are unusually small (their diameters are approximately five millimeters) and unusually powerful. Magnets of this type have been marketed and sold to consumers (by Zen and other distributors) as desktop trinkets, stress-relief puzzles, and toys, and apparently also for educational and scientific purposes. Although the strength of these magnets was part of their appeal, it could also pose a grave danger when the magnets are misused, particularly if two or more magnets were ingested. During 2011, in response to reports of injured children, Commission staff began evaluating whether the magnet sets currently on the market complied with ASTM F963 (“the toy standard”). In May 2012, the Commission required the thirteen leading magnet set distributors to report any information of which they were aware reasonably supporting the conclusion that their magnets did not comply with an applicable safety standard, contained a defect, or created an unreasonable risk of serious injury. Four months after eliminating ten of the leading magnet set distributors, the Commission proposed a new safety standard aimed at regulating the size and strength of all magnet sets. Unlike the toy standard, the final rule was not limited to magnets designed or marketed as toys for children under fourteen years of age, but rather applied to all magnet sets. Zen was the only remaining importer and distributor of the magnet sets targeted by the final rule. Over the years, Zen made efforts to comply with the toy standard by implementing age restrictions and placing warnings on its website and packaging, as well as by imposing sales restrictions on its retail distributors. Its magnet sets, however, did not comply with the strength and size restrictions of the final rule. Zen sought judicial review of that safety standard. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Commission’s prerequisite factual findings, which were compulsory under the Consumer Product Safety Act, were incomplete and inadequately explained. Accordingly, the Court vacated and remanded this case back to the Commission for further proceedings. View "Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety Comm'n" on Justia Law

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A recreational boating accident killed four adults. The boat had been rented from Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services, LLC. Because the accident occurred on navigable waters, the case fell within federal admiralty jurisdiction. Anticipating that it would be sued for damages, Aramark filed in the United States District Court for the District of Utah a petition under the Limitation of Liability Act, which permitted a boat owner to obtain a ruling exonerating it or limiting its liability based on the capacity or value of the boat and freight. The district court denied the petition, leaving for further proceedings the issues of gross negligence, comparative fault, and the amount of damages. Aramark appealed the denial. After review, the Tenth Circuit held the district court erred in its application of admiralty principles of duty and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: Aramark Sports" on Justia Law

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David Helmer and Felicia Muftic were lead plaintiffs representing a certified class of homeowners who contended a radiant-heating hose, the Entran 3, manufactured by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (“Goodyear”) suffered design defects leading to cracks and leaks (the hose was used to convey hot fluid to provide heating for homes, installed permanently in walls, under flooring and in ceilings and concrete. At trial, Goodyear argued the leaks were caused by third parties’ improper installations. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Goodyear, concluding the Entran 3 was not defectively designed. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that insufficient evidence supported the district court’s instruction on nonparty fault. They further argued that the district court failed to require proof of a necessary fact before instructing the jury regarding Colorado’s presumption that a product was not defective if ten years have passed since it was first sold. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that any error in the third-party liability instruction was harmless, and the inclusion of the instruction as to the presumption was proper. View "Helmer v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber" on Justia Law

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Virl Birch died when the off-road vehicle in which he was riding flipped over and pinned him to the ground. His surviving family members sued Polaris Industries, the vehicle manufacturer, for strict products liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. Polaris argued there was no evidence Birch’s vehicle was defective at the time of sale, and moved for summary judgment. Well after the deadlines for amending the pleadings and for discovery had passed, Birch’s survivors filed motions: (1) to add new theories to their complaint; and (2) for additional discovery. A magistrate judge denied both motions as untimely, and the district court affirmed the magistrate’s ruling. Based on the allegations in the unamended complaint, the district court then granted summary judgment to Polaris on all claims. The survivors appealed the district court’s denial of their two motions and the grant of summary judgment. But finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Birch v. Polaris Industries" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Larry Kirkbride was injured while attempting to dislodge a foreign object from a portable rock-crushing plant manufactured by the predecessor of Defendant Terex USA, LLC. Kirkbride brought a products-liability action against Terex, and a jury found the company liable for failure to adequately warn of the plant’s dangers, for defectively manufacturing a critical part inside the crushing plant that led to Kirkbride’s injury, and for breaching an implied warranty of merchantability. Terex argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that Kirkbride failed to present sufficient admissible evidence to establish his claims, and that the jury was wrongly instructed on the implied-warranty claim. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed that there was insufficient evidence to hold Terex liable on any of the theories of recovery that went to the jury, and as a result, Terex was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. View "Kirkbride v. Terex USA" on Justia Law

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Medtronic, Inc. produced "Infuse," a device that stimulates bone growth to repair damaged or diseased vertebrae. When it approved the device for sale, the FDA required the company to include a warning label instructing that Infuse should "be implanted via an anterior" surgical approach. Patricia Caplinger brought a state law tort suit against Medtronic, alleging that Medtronic promoted Infuse for use in a posterior surgical approach, which was considered an off-label" use. Caplinger alleged that Medtronic’s conduct exposed the company to liability under a variety of state tort theories. But the district court held all of these state law claims either insufficiently pleaded or preempted. Agreeing with the district court's conclusion that Caplinger's state law claims were insufficiently pleaded or preempted, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Caplinger v. Medtronic" on Justia Law

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This case arose when 702 plaintiffs from 26 different states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico filed twelve nearly identical product liability actions against the defendants in the District Court of Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma. The defendants are manufacturers of transvaginal mesh medical devices. The plaintiffs were women who were implanted with the devices and their husbands, who assert loss-of-consortium claims. None of the individual actions contained 100 or more plaintiffs. Each of the actions included at least one New Jersey resident plaintiff. Each complaint specifically disclaimed federal question and federal diversity jurisdiction, and included provisions that admitted the claims had been joined for the purpose of pretrial discovery and proceedings but disclaimed joinder for trial purposes. All twelve actions were assigned to the same state court judge. The defendants, corporate residents of New Jersey, removed the actions to the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, relying on both diversity jurisdiction and Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) removal jurisdiction, arguing that complete diversity existed between the parties because in each action, the New Jersey citizen plaintiff had been fraudulently joined and should therefore be disregarded for diversity purposes. They further contended that jurisdiction was available under CAFA’s "mass action" provision because, by filing all of the suits in the same court before the same judge, plaintiffs had proposed a joint trial of claims involving more than 100 plaintiffs. Plaintiffs moved to remand eleven of the actions, involving 650 plaintiffs, to state court. The district court granted their motion. It declined to adopt the procedural misjoinder doctrine raised by the defendants, and concluded that plaintiffs had not in fact proposed a joint trial of their claims. Defendants appealed that order to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the remand of those cases to state court. View "Teague, et al v. Johnson & Johnson, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Susan and Steven Schrock filed suit against manufacturers of the drug metoclopramide, alleging that Susan's use of the generic drug caused her to develop tardive dyskinesia. In a series of orders, the district court dismissed all claims in favor of the manufacturer. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the dismissal of their claims against PLIVA USA, Inc., Qualitest Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Schwarz Pharma, Inc., and Wyeth, Inc. The Tenth Circuit abated this appeal pending the Supreme Court’s decision in "Mutual Pharmaceutical Co., Inc. v. Bartlett" (133 S. Ct. 2466 (2013)). In light of "Bartlett," the Tenth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs' breach-of-warranty claims against PLIVA and Qualitest were preempted by federal law. The Court also agreed with the district court that plaintiffs' non-warranty claims against the generic manufacturers were barred by Oklahoma’s two year statute of limitations. With respect to the plaintiffs' claims against Schwarz and Wyeth, the Court agreed with the district court’s determination that Oklahoma tort law would not provide a remedy. Finally, the Court rejected the argument that the plaintiffs' notice of appeal was untimely as to certain orders they sought to appeal. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court. View "Schrock, et al v. Wyeth Inc., et al" on Justia Law

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After Dr. Brian Howard received a knee implant manufactured by Sulzer Orthopedics, Inc. that failed to bond properly, Howard and his wife filed suit against Sulzer alleging negligence per se. Following the completion of earlier consolidated litigation, the district court dismissed the Howards' negligence per se claim, predicting that it would not be cognizable under Oklahoma state law. The Tenth Circuit stayed the Howards' appeal pending the resolution of a question of state law certified to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. That question was answered, and the Tenth Circuit now reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The Oklahoma Court held that Oklahoma law allowed private individuals to maintain a parallel claim for negligence per se based on violation of a federal regulation whose enforcement lies with a governmental entity. The court further concluded that "[t]he existence of a provision in federal law providing that all enforcement proceedings 'shall be by and in the name of the United States' did not prohibit a state law claim for negligence per se based on violation of the federal regulation." Noting that Howard did not claim he should have been entitled to bring a private action under the FDCA, but rather brought a state claim based on duties that "parallel, rather than add to, federal requirements," the court determined that Howard's negligence per se claim should have been allowed to proceed. View "Howard, et al v. Zimmer, Inc., et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Arrienne Mae Winzler brought state law claims against Defendant-Appellee Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc. (Toyota) on behalf of a proposed nationwide class of 2006 Toyota Corolla and Toyota Corolla Matrix owners and lessees. She alleged that the cars harbored defective "Engine Control Modules" ("ECMs"), making them prone to stall without warning. As relief, she asked for an order requiring Toyota to notify all relevant owners of the defect and then to create and coordinate an equitable fund to pay for repairs. Before addressing whether Plaintiff's class should be certified, the district court held her complaint failed to state a claim and dismissed it under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). As Plaintiff began her appeal, Toyota announced a nationwide recall of 2005-2008 Toyota Corolla and Corolla Matrix cars to fix their ECMs. Arguing that these statutory and regulatory processes were exactly the relief sought in Plaintiff's complaint, Toyota asked the Tenth Circuit to find that its recall rendered Plaintiff's case moot. "Because prudential mootness is arguably the narrowest of the many bases Toyota has suggested for dismissal, and because it is sufficient to that task, [the Court has] no need to discuss any of Toyota's other arguments for the same result." The Court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. View "Winzler v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc" on Justia Law