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Seguin v. Remington Arms Co. LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 16, 2017

PRECIOUS SEGUIN, ET AL.
v.
REMINGTON ARMS COMPANY, LLC, ET AL.

         SECTION “B” (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Precious Seguin (“Precious” or “Plaintiff”) and Defendant Remington Arms Company, LLC (“Remington” or “Defendant”). Rec. Docs. 151, 152. Both parties timely filed opposition memoranda. Rec. Docs. 154-1, 155. For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Rec. Doc. 151) is GRANTED;

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (Rec. Doc. 152) is DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         As previously discussed, this case arises out of a tragic hunting accident in which Precious suffered significant injuries. On October 28, 2013, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Precious went out into the woods near Loranger, Louisiana with her father, James Seguin, Jr. (“J.R.”), her brother, James Seguin, III (“Bubba”), and a family friend, Matthew Perilloux (“Perilloux”), to hunt a wounded deer. See Rec. Docs. 150 at 1; 53-3 at 2; 61-3 at 1-2. J.R. was carrying a Remington Model 710 bolt-action rifle (“the rifle”). Rec. Doc. 150 at 1. The party moved through the woods in a single file in the following order: Perilloux, J.R., Precious, and then Bubba. Rec. Docs. 53-3 at 3; 61-3 at 2. Plaintiff maintains that, at one point, she bent over, facing the opposite direction of the group, to look for a blood trail. Rec. Doc. 61-3 at 2. The rifle, then pointed in Plaintiff's direction, discharged and struck Plaintiff in the right buttocks, traveling through her hip and exiting through her right elbow. Id. at 3; see also Rec. Doc. 150 at 1.

         On October 24, 2014, Precious, J.R., Bubba, and Precious's mother, Joy, filed suit against Remington, Sporting Goods Properties, Inc. (“SPS”), and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (“E.I”). Rec. Doc. 1. Plaintiffs amended their complaint, naming Remington as the sole defendant. Rec. Doc. 8. They then voluntarily dismissed SPS and E.I. Rec. Doc. 13. On July 5, 2016, this Court granted Plaintiffs' unopposed motion to dismiss with prejudice all claims brought by Joy, J.R., and Bubba. Rec. Doc. 125. The only remaining claim is Precious's products liability claim against Remington.

         During a telephone status conference on March 21, 2017, counsel for both parties informed the Court that they would like to submit cross-motions for summary judgment instead of proceeding to trial. Rec. Doc. 146. After an extension, the parties filed the instant motions. Rec. Docs. 151, 152. The only issue before the Court is whether or not Plaintiff may assert and recover on a claim for design defect under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”). Rec. Doc. 150 at 2 (citing La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 9:2800.56, 9:2800.60). If the Court finds that Plaintiff may assert and recover on such a claim, then, pursuant to the parties' stipulations, judgment is to be entered in Plaintiff's favor in the amount of $500, 000; otherwise, judgment is to be entered in Defendant's favor, dismissing all claims with prejudice. Rec. Docs. 150 at 2-3; 152-1 at 2. Oral arguments on the motions were received by teleconference on Friday, May 12, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. with parties' counsel. See Rec. Doc. 149.

         II. PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         Plaintiff argues that “[t]he decision before this [C]ourt is whether any firearm, irrespective of how horrific the design, can ever be the subject of a § 9:2800.60 claim.” Rec. Doc. 151-1 at 1. In other words, assuming that Plaintiff could demonstrate a design defect under § 9:2800.56, this Court must determine whether or not § 9:2800.60(B) prohibits Plaintiff from bringing such a claim against Defendant.

         Even though the issue is not before the Court, we will briefly describe Plaintiff's allegation that the rifle's “Walker fire control mechanism” is defectively designed.[1] See Rec. Doc. 151-1 at 2. According to Plaintiff, the mechanism uses a “connector” that “floats on top of the trigger inside of the gun . . . .” Id. at 3. “When the trigger is pulled, the connector is pushed forward . . . allowing the sear to fall and fire the rifle.” Id. Before the trigger is pulled, the connector and sear overlap only slightly, by about 25/1000ths of an inch. Id. at 4. Because the connector is not bound to the trigger, it allegedly separates from the trigger during the recoil after each firing. Id. Dirt, debris, and manufacturing scrap can then become lodged between the connector and the trigger. Id. If too much debris accumulates, the connector will no longer be able to support the sear. Id. at 5. The rifle may then fire without the trigger being pulled if the rifle is jarred or dropped, when the safety is released, or when the bolt is open or closed. Id.[2] According to Plaintiff, “[t]here have been over 4, 000 documented complaints of unintended discharge with respect to” the Model 710 rifle and its predecessor, the Model 700. Id. at 2.[3]

         Assuming Plaintiff could demonstrate a design defect, Defendant argues that recovery is precluded by § 9:2800.60(B). Rec. Doc. 152-1 at 1. Plaintiff maintains that this statute is ambiguous and, if applied literally, would lead to an absurd result. Rec. Doc. 154-1 at 2.

         III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. APPLICABLE LAW

         1. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is appropriate only 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 any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). See also TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002). A genuine issue exists if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Generally, the movant must point to “portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If and when the movant carries this burden, the non-movant must then go beyond the pleadings and present other evidence to establish a genuine issue. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Though, “where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial.” Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir. 1994). Conclusory rebuttals of the pleadings are insufficient to avoid summary judgment. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Liljeberg Enter., Inc., 7 F.3d 1203, 1207 (5th Cir. 1993).

         However, where the parties “seek summary judgment solely on a question of law, the usual rules about burden-shifting and whether a genuine issue of material fact exists do not apply.” Weeks Tractor & Supply Co., LLC v. Arctic Cat Inc., 784 F.Supp.2d 642, 646 (W.D. La. 2011) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50).

         2. THE LPLA

         The LPLA provides “the exclusive theories of liability for manufacturers for damage caused by their products.” La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2800.52. It establishes four theories of liability: (1) a manufacturing defect under § 9:2800.55; (2) a design defect under § 9:2800.56; (3) failure to adequately warn under § 9:2800.57; and (4) failure to conform to a manufacturer's express warranty under § 9:2800.58. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2800.54. Nevertheless, the question before this Court is whether or not § 9:2800.60, enacted by the Louisiana legislature in 1999, bars Plaintiff's design defect claim against Defendant. This section, titled “Liability of manufacturers and sellers of firearms, ” provides in full:

A. The legislature finds and declares that the Louisiana Products Liability Act was not designed to impose liability on a manufacturer or seller for the improper use of a properly designed and manufactured product. The legislature further finds and declares that the manufacture and sale of firearms and ammunition by manufacturers and dealers, duly licensed by the appropriate federal and state authorities, is lawful activity and is not unreasonably dangerous.
B. No firearm manufacturer or seller shall be liable for any injury, damage, or death resulting from any shooting injury by any other person unless the claimant proves and shows that such injury, damage, or death was proximately caused by the unreasonably dangerous construction or composition of the product as provided in R.S. 9:2800.55.
C. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no manufacturer or seller of a firearm who has transferred that firearm in compliance with federal and state law shall incur any liability for any action of any person who uses a firearm in a manner which is unlawful, negligent, or otherwise inconsistent with the purposes for which it was intended.
D. The failure of a manufacturer or seller to insure that a firearm has a device which would: make the firearm useable only by the lawful owner or authorized user of the firearm; indicate to users that a cartridge is in the chamber of the firearm; or prevent the firearm from firing if the ammunition magazine is removed, shall not make the firearm unreasonably dangerous, unless such device is required by federal or state statute or regulation.
E. (1) For the purposes of this Chapter, the potential of a firearm to cause serious injury, damage, or death as a result of normal function does not constitute a firearm malfunction due to a defect in design or manufacture.
(2) A firearm may not be deemed defective in design or manufacture on the basis of its potential to cause serious bodily injury, property damage, or death when discharged legally or illegally.
F. Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, no manufacturer or seller of a firearm shall incur any liability for failing to warn users of the risk that:
(1) A firearm has the potential to cause serious bodily injury, property damage, or death when discharged ...

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