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Reynolds v. Bordelon

Supreme Court of Louisiana

June 30, 2015

RICHARD L. REYNOLDS
v.
ROBERT J. BORDELON III, ROBERT J. BORDELON JR., USAGENCIES CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, AUTOMOBILE CLUB INTER-INSURANCE EXCHANGE, AND/OR AUTO CLUB FAMILY INSURANCE COMPANY D/B/A TRIPLE A INSURANCE, NISSAN NORTH AMERICA, INFINITY DIVISION OF NISSAN NORTH AMERICA, INC., A LUXURY CAR DIVISION OF NISSAN MOTORS, INSURANCE AUTO AUCTIONS CORP., ABC INSURANCE COMPANY, DEF INSURANCE COMPANY AND XYZ INSURANCE COMPANY CONSOLIDATED WITH STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY AS SUBROGEE OF/AND LINDA DUPUY
v.
ROBERT BORDELON AND USAGENCIES CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY

Page 608

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIRST CIRCUIT, PARISH OF ST. TAMMANY.

Christine Yvonne Voelkel, For Applicant.

Richard Allan Chopin, CHOPIN, WAGAR, RICHARD & KUTCHER, LLP; Keith W. McDaniel, Quincy T. Crochet, Meghan Brianne Shumaker, Zachary Popovich, MCCRANIE, SISTRUNK, ANZELMO, HARDY, MCDANIEL & WEL; Michael Quirk Walshe, Jr., Justin Paul Leamire, STONE PIGMAN WALTHER WITTMANN, LLC, For Respondent.

CLARK, J. Hughes, J., dissenting.

OPINION

Page 609

[2014-2371 La. 1] CLARK, J.

The instant case presents a claim under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (" LPLA" ). We granted its companion case to determine the viability of negligent spoliation of evidence as a cause of action in Louisiana.[1] We now address the underlying products liability case and review the appropriateness of the lower court's grant of summary judgment. For the reasons expressed below, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 15, 2008, a multi-vehicle accident occurred in St. Tammany [2014-2371 La. 2] Parish.

Page 610

Robert J. Bordelon, III is alleged to have caused the accident when he swerved two separate times from the left lane of traffic to the right lane, colliding with two vehicles. The second collision involved the instant plaintiff, Richard Reynolds, who was driving a 2003 Infiniti G35S, which was manufactured by Nissan North America (" Nissan" ). After the initial impact, the plaintiff was pushed into another vehicle and came to rest in a ditch. The accident caused the plaintiff to sustain serious injuries.

On March 12, 2009, the plaintiff filed suit against Bordelon and other defendants. With regard to Nissan, the plaintiff asserted claims under the LPLA for the failure of the air bags to deploy and/or operate. Specifically, he alleged the Infiniti was defective (1) due to a construction or composition defect; (2) due to a design defect; (3) for failure to contain an adequate warning; and (4) for failure to conform to an express warranty.

On July 8, 2013, Nissan filed a motion for summary judgment. In opposition, the plaintiff filed the affidavit of Dr. Richard Baratta. Ultimately, the trial court made several evidentiary rulings and concluded that there was an absence of factual support for any of the product liability theories, and it granted summary judgment in favor of Nissan. The court of appeal affirmed the judgment, finding no error in the evidentiary rulings and that there were no genuine issues of material fact upon which to survive summary judgment.[2] We granted the plaintiff's writ application to review the grant of summary judgment.[3]

APPLICABLE LAW

A motion for summary judgment is a procedural device used when there is no genuine issue of material fact for all or part of the relief prayed for by a [2014-2371 La. 3] litigant.[4] A summary judgment is reviewed on appeal de novo, with the appellate court using the same criteria that govern the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate; i.e. whether there is any genuine issue of material fact, and whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[5]

A motion for summary judgment will 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 material fact, and that mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." [6] The burden of proof remains with the movant. However, if the movant will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the matter that is before the court on the motion for summary judgment, the movant's burden on the motion does not require him to negate all essential elements of the adverse party's claim, action, or defense, but rather to point out to the court that there is an absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense. Thereafter, if the adverse party fails to produce factual support sufficient to establish that he will be able to satisfy his evidentiary

Page 611

burden of proof at trial, there is no genuine issue of material fact.[7]

This court explained the summary judgment procedure as follows:

[The summary judgment procedure] first places the burden of producing evidence at the hearing on the motion for summary judgment on the mover (normally the defendant), who can ordinarily meet that burden by submitting affidavits or by pointing out the lack of factual support for an essential element in the opponent's case. At that point, the party who bears the burden of persuasion at trial (usually the plaintiff) must come forth with evidence (affidavits or discovery responses) which demonstrates he or she will be able to [2014-2371 La. 4] meet the burden at trial.... Once the motion for summary judgment has been properly supported by the moving ...

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