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Lowery v. TJX Companies, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 27, 2017

DOROTHY LOWERY
v.
TJX COMPANIES, INC., ET AL.

         SECTION "B"(1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court is defendants and third-party defendants "VH Group, L.L.C. and Covington Specialty Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment." Rec. Doc. 34. Defendants and third-party plaintiffs, TJX Companies, Inc. and Zurich American Insurance Company, timely filed an opposition memorandum. Rec. Doc. 37. Defendants and third-party defendants then requested (Rec. Doc. 39), and were granted (Rec. Doc. 40), leave to file a reply memorandum (Rec. Doc. 41). For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion for summary judgment (Rec. Doc. 34) is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This case arises out of a fall suffered by Dorothy Lowery ("Plaintiff") on September 7, 2015. Rec. Doc. 33 at ¶ 4. Plaintiff was visiting a TJ Maxx store owned by Defendant TJX Companies, Inc. ("TJX") to try on shoes. Id. She leaned against a table for support and "the screw/nail that was holding the table leg onto the table bent, causing the table leg to fold under the table and the table (along with [Plaintiff]) to fall." Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that the table's legs were not adequately fastened by the table's manufacturers, Defendants VH Group, LLC (“VH Group”) and Vietnam Housewares Co., Ltd. (“Vietnam Housewares”). Rec. Doc. 33 at ¶ 5. She is asserting claims under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”) for failure to warn, design defect, and construction or composition defect. Id. at ¶ 7.

         Plaintiff's second amended complaint named TJX; TJX's insurer, Zurich American Insurance Company (“Zurich”); VH Group; VH Group's insurer, Covington Specialty Insurance Company (“Covington”); and unidentified parties as Defendants. Rec. Doc. 33 at ¶ 2.

         TJX filed a third-party complaint against VH Group and Covington, alleging that TJX purchased the table at issue from VH Group pursuant to a Purchase Order dated February 15, 2015. Rec. Doc. 14 at ¶ VI. TJX maintains that VH Group agreed to indemnify and hold TJX harmless for any claims brought by third parties arising from injuries allegedly caused by a defect in the table. Id. at ¶ VII. Accordingly, TJX argues that VH Group is obligated to pay the defense costs arising from this litigation. Id. at ¶ XI.

         II. THE PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         In the instant motion, VH Group maintains that the table identified in the third-party complaint and TJX's discovery responses is not the table that Plaintiff alleges caused her injuries. Rec. Doc. 34-2.

         TJX and Zurich respond that a TJX employee identified the table at issue as the table responsible for Plaintiff's injuries. Rec. Doc. 37 at 2.

         III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         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 nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). 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).

         However, “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).

         Under the LPLA, a product's manufacturer may be held liable for damages caused by a characteristic of a product that rendered it unreasonably dangerous when the damages arose from a reasonably anticipated use of that product. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2800.54(A). Thus, “proving the element of causation requires proof of exposure to the specific product alleged to have caused or contributed to the plaintiff's injuries and identification of the product's manufacturer.” Scaffidi v. Thompson-Hayward Chem., Inc., No. 94-3860, 1997 WL 469966, at *2 (E.D. La. Aug. 12, 1997) (citations omitted). See also, e.g., Maldanado v. State Through Dep't of Transp., 618 So.2d 537, 538-39 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1993) (granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant where, after depositions of both the plaintiff and arresting officer were taken, interrogatories ...


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