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

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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In 2015, consumers owning Samsung top-load washing machines experienced issues with the door detaching mid-cycle. Litigation ensued across the country, with the cases consolidated into the multidistrict litigation underlying this appeal. Class counsel and the defendants negotiated a Settlement Agreement that provided class members five forms of relief. The district court, over objector-appellant John Morgan’s objection, granted final class certification and final approval to the settlement. Essential to Morgan’s objections was the Settlement Agreement’s inclusion of a “kicker” agreement and a “clear-sailing” agreement relative to the award of attorneys’ fees and costs. Morgan argued that under the “clear-sailing” agreement, Samsung agreed not to contest any request by class counsel for attorneys’ fees and costs of up to $6.55 million. Attempting to resolve his objections, Morgan and Samsung sought to negotiate a side agreement providing for the possible distribution to the class of a portion of the difference between the $6.55 million maximum permissible attorneys’ fees and costs, and the actual amount awarded by the district court. Ratification of this side agreement, however, never occurred, with Morgan walking away based on a purported fear that class counsel might sue him and his counsel if he and Samsung finalized the side agreement. On appeal, Morgan argued: (1) the district court made clear errors of fact regarding settlement negotiations and the side agreement; (2) the district court abused its discretion by granting final approval to the Settlement Agreement where it included both a “kicker” and a “clear-sailing” agreement; and (3) the district court abused its discretion by granting final class certification and allowing class counsel to continue in its role after class counsel placed its interests ahead of the class’s interests. The Tenth Circuit held a district court must apply heightened scrutiny before approving a settlement that includes both a “kicker” agreement and a “clear-sailing” agreement. But its review of the record gave the Court confidence the district court did just that. And although the district court made one clear error in its fact-finding process, the Tenth Circuit concluded the error was harmless to its ultimate decisions regarding final class certification, final approval of the Settlement Agreement, and its award of attorneys’ fees and costs. View "In re: Samsung Top-Load" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Nathan Petersen Plaintiff injured himself while operating the Raymond Model 4200 stand-up counterbalance lift truck (“Raymond forklift”). The Raymond forklift had an open compartment. So it did not fully enclose the operator’s lower extremities. When Plaintiff lost control of the Raymond forklift, his left leg slid out of the open compartment and he crushed it against warehouse racking. Plaintiff argued the district court impermissibly closed the door on the strict products liability claim he brought against Defendant Raymond Corporation (“Raymond”) alleging it defectively manufactured a forklift. In support of his claim he sought to offer expert testimony that the forklift would be safer if it had a literal door on it. The district court found the expert’s testimony unreliable and excluded it. It then granted a related motion for summary judgment in Raymond’s favor. Plaintiff appealed. "The district court serves as a gatekeeper, shutting the door on unreliable expert testimony." Finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony, the Tenth Circuit affirmed judgment. View "Petersen v. Raymond Corporation" on Justia Law

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In 2013, a refinery unit (“Unit”) at the Sinclair Wyoming Refinery Co. (“Sinclair”) in Sinclair, Wyoming caught fire and exploded because its “FV-241” control valve fractured and released flammable hydrogen gas. A high temperature hydrogen attack (“HTHA”) weakened the valve and caused the fracture. FV-241 was made from carbon steel, which was more susceptible to HTHA than stainless steel. Sinclair had purchased the Unit in 2004. Sinclair moved the Unit from California to Wyoming and converted it from its previous use to a hydrotreater, a refinery unit that introduced hydrogen to remove impurities from the product stream. Sinclair contracted the design, engineering, and construction work to other companies. During the moving and conversion process, FV-241 was remanufactured and installed on the Unit. Sinclair brought a diversity action against seven companies involved in dismantling the Unit, converting it to a hydrotreater, rebuilding it in Wyoming, and remanufacturing and installing FV-241. Sinclair alleged various contract and tort claims. The district court granted several motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment that eliminated all of Sinclair’s claims. The court also entered summary judgment in favor of certain Defendants’ indemnity counterclaim. Although its analysis diverged from the district court's judgment in some respects, the Tenth Circuit affirmed orders dismissing or granting summary judgment on all of Sinclair's claims, and granting summary judgment on the indemnity counter claim. View "Sinclair Wyoming Refining v. A & B Builders" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Amber Brooks and Jamie Gale brought tort claims based on injuries they sustained when their breast implants began to deteriorate. The district court found they failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and dismissed their complaint with prejudice. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that though Congress heavily regulated the production and use of medical devices, there was a narrow preemption by which plaintiffs could plead their claim arising from the failure of that medical device. They also alleged the district court abused its discretion by denying their motion for leave to amend their complaint. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that federal law preempted all of plaintiffs' claims, and any any state-law claims were insufficiently pled. With respect to the trial court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice, the Tenth Circuit determined plaintiffs elected to "stand by their 'primary position,' and took no available avenue to amend their complaint. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit declined to grant their request now, and found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Plaintiffs' request for leave to amend. View "Brooks v. Mentor Worldwide" on Justia Law

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Zen Magnets, LLC's small rare-earth magnets were shiny and smooth, resembling candies that commonly garnish cookies and desserts. The appearance sometimes leads young children to put the magnets in their mouths. Older children also sometimes put the magnets in their mouths to magnetize braces or mimic facial piercings. When put in children’s mouths, the magnets were sometimes swallowed, lodging in the digestive system and causing serious injury or death. The Consumer Product Safety Commission tried to address this danger through both rulemaking and adjudication. The Commission conducted two proceedings involving the making of small rare-earth magnets: (1) a rulemaking affecting all manufacturers of these magnets; and (2) an adjudication affecting only one manufacturer: Zen Magnets, LLC. For the adjudication, the Commission needed to provide Zen with a fair proceeding under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Zen contended the adjudication was unfair for two reasons: (1) the Commissioners conducted the adjudication after engaging in a rulemaking on closely related issues; and (2) three Commissioners participated in the adjudication after making public statements showing bias. The district court found: (1) the Commission had not denied due process by simultaneously conducting the adjudication after the related rulemaking; (2) two of the Commissioners had not shown bias through their public statements; but (3) one Commissioner did show bias through a public statement specifically about Zen. Both parties appealed: the Commission appealed the district court's decision as to the third Commissioner's statements; Zen cross-appealed, arguing a due process violation, and that the district court issued an advisory opinion on the merits. After its review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the Commissioners’ participation in the rulemaking and their statements did not result in a denial of due process, so the district court's judgment as to Commissioners Robinson and Kaye were affirmed. The Court reversed, however, as to Commissioner Adler. The Court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to decide whether the district court rendered an advisory opinion. View "Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety" on Justia Law

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Deborah and Dallas Platt purchased a 2016 Winnebago Era RV in 2016. This purchase was subject to Winnebago’s New Vehicle Limited Warranty, which required the Platts to bring the RV for repairs to an authorized dealer and then, if those repairs were insufficient, to Winnebago itself before they could bring an action against Winnebago. The RV suffered from a litany of defects and the Platts took it in for warranty repairs to Camping World of Golden, Colorado (Camping World), an authorized Winnebago dealership, on numerous occasions for numerous separate defects within the first seven and a half months of their ownership. When the Camping World repairs did not resolve the Platts’ issues with the RV, they scheduled an appointment for repairs with Winnebago in Forest City, Iowa, but they subsequently cancelled the appointment, claiming they had "lost faith" that Winnebago would repair their RV. The Platts sued Winnebago for breach of express and implied warranties under both the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and Colorado state law, and also for deceptive trade practices in violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). Winnebago filed a motion for summary judgment which the district court granted, dismissing all of the Platts’ claims. The Platts appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Platt v. Winnebago Industries" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a group of fourteen diversity cases that were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and transferred to the Northern District of Oklahoma. The plaintiffs in all fourteen cases were cancer treatment providers who purchased multi-dose vials of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, from defendant Genentech, Inc. (Genentech). Plaintiffs alleged that Genentech violated state law by failing to ensure that each vial of Herceptin contained the labeled amount of the active ingredient, and by misstating the drug concentration and volume on the product labeling. After the cases were consolidated, Genentech moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs’ claims were pre-empted by federal law. The district court agreed with Genentech and granted its motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs' claims were preempted, and consequently, reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: MDL 2700 Genentech" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Jacob McGehee and Steven Ray Heath appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to defendants Forest Oil Corp. and Lantern Drilling Co. Forest and Lantern leased a drilling device from Teledrift, plaintiffs’ employer, and returned the device after using it in drilling operations. Plaintiffs then proceeded to clean and disassemble it. McGehee discovered several small bolts had fallen into the device. While he attempted to remove them, the lithium battery inside the device exploded, injuring himself and Heath. They sued Forest and Lantern for negligently causing the explosion by allowing bolts to fall into the device. Following discovery, Forest and Lantern moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted, holding they did not owe the plaintiffs a duty of care under Oklahoma tort law. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "McGehee v. Southwest Electronic Energy" on Justia Law

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The Cervenys sued the manufacturer of Clomid (Aventis, Inc.), asserting various tort claims under Utah law: failure to warn under theories of strict liability and negligence, breach of implied warranty, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud. They presented two theories, pointing to two types of warning labels that Aventis had allegedly failed to provide: (1) a label that warned of risks to the fetus when a woman takes Clomid before becoming pregnant; and (2) a label that unmistakably warned about harm to the fetus when Clomid is taken during pregnancy. The district court rejected the Cervenys’ claims based on preemption. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court ruling was correct on the Cervenys’ first theory, because the undisputed evidence showed that the FDA would not have approved a warning about taking Clomid before pregnancy. But on the second theory, the Tenth Circuit found the district court did not explain why a state claim based on the FDA’s own proposed language would be preempted by federal law. The district court also erred in failing to distinguish the remaining claims (breach of implied warranty, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud) from the failure-to-warn claims. These claims are based at least partly on affirmative misrepresentations rather than on a failure to provide a warning. The district court failed to explain why claims involving affirmative misrepresentations would have been preempted. View "Cerveny v. Aventis, Inc." on Justia Law

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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