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Liberty Northwest Insurance Co. v. Dixon Valve and Coupling Co.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 10, 2017

LIBERTY NORTHWEST INSURANCE CO., individually and as subrogee of Independent Drilling, Inc. and of Mark Durfee, and MARK DURFEE, individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
DIXON VALVE AND COUPLING CO., a Maryland corporation; LEWIS-GOETZ AND COMPANY, INC. dba EVCO House of Hose and/or dba Jolley's EVCO, a Pennsylvania corporation; and FUKU ACCURATE INDUSTRIES CO., LTD., a Taiwan, Republic of China corporation; and JOHN DOES 1-IV; and JOHN DOE CORPORATIONS I-IV, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS (DOCKET NOS. 27, 34 AND 50)

          Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Currently pending before the Court are Defendant Dixon Valve and Coupling Company's (“Dixon Valve”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 27), Defendant Lewis-Goetz and Company Inc.'s (“Lewis-Goetz”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 50), and Dixon Valve's Motion to Compel (Dkt. 34). Having heard oral argument and being otherwise fully advised, the Court enters the following memorandum decision and order.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This is a products liability case brought by Plaintiff Mark Durfee (“Durfee”) and Plaintiff Liberty Northwest Insurance Company (“Liberty Northwest”)[1] to recover for injuries Durfee sustained while conducting a water-well drilling operation in North Dakota on June 13, 2012. Durfee was injured when the foot valve on his drilling operation became pressurized, blew off, and launched a T-shaped piping assembly at Durfee, causing multiple injuries. The “foot valve” was a 4" inch cast-iron valve that Durfee purchased on May 30, 2012, at the Lewis-Goetz retail store in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Durfee alleges that the particular valve was manufactured by Dixon Valve, carried a product identification number of Dixon Valve “DFVS40 foot valve, ” and that it failed prematurely and unexpectedly, proximately causing his injuries.

         Lewis-Goetz operates retail stores in Utah and Idaho, with its main warehouse located in West Valley, Utah. The Idaho Falls location, known as “EVCO House of Hose”, was acquired by Lewis-Goetz in January of 2011. Sokol Aff., Ex. H, Deposition of Lewis-Goetz 30(b)(6) designee Brian Walker (“Walker Dep.”) (Dkt. 27-12), 26:13-20. Sometime prior to January of 2009, Lewis-Goetz changed its primary supplier of foot valves from Dixon Valve to United Pacific Distributors. Sebastian Decl., Ex. D, Walker Dep. (Dkt. 28-1), 19:1-20:14. Between January of 2009 and May 30, 2012, Lewis-Goetz purchased 70 of the 4" foot valves from United Pacific Distributors, eight 4" foot valves from a supplier identified as “PT and Coupling”, and two 4" foot valves from Dixon Valve. Sokol Aff., Ex. G, Lewis-Goetz's Supplemental Answers and Responses to Dixon Valve's First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production (Dkt. 27-11), pp. 1-37. Of the 70 foot valves purchased from United Pacific Distributors over that period, 67 were delivered to Lewis-Goetz's warehouse in West Valley, Utah, and three were purchased by and delivered directly to the Sandy, Utah store. Id. The PT and Coupling foot valves were purchased by and delivered to the Brighton, Utah store. Id. The two Dixon Valve foot valves delivered in that time period were purchased by and delivered to the Sandy, Utah store. Id. During this period from January 2009 to May 30, 2012, the Idaho Falls location did not directly purchase any foot valves.[2] Id.

         The records of foot valve inventory transfers between Lewis-Goetz's stores in the period of January 2009 to May 30, 2012 show that the Idaho Falls store received one 4" foot valve from the West Valley store on or about June 9, 2009; one 4" foot valve from the warehouse on July 10, 2009; and two 4" foot valves from the warehouse on September 16, 2010. Id. The transfer information available does not indicate the manufacturer or the wholesale distributor of those 4" foot valves. Id. Additionally, an “inventory check” on November 8, 2010 revealed an additional 4" foot valve at the Idaho Falls store. Id. However, the record before the court does not identify the source of the foot valve or the date on which it was obtained by the Idaho Falls store. Id.

         On May 30, 2012, when Durfee purchased the 4" foot valve, there was only one 4" foot valve in the store's inventory. Id. The foot valve was on a shelf in the store identified as “DFVS-40 CAST IRON FOOT VALVE-4.” Sokol Aff., Ex. E, Lewis-Goetz's Answers and Objection to Liberty Northwest's First Interrogatories (Dkt. 27-9), p. 10. The invoice provided to Durfee for the purchase identified the valve as a “DFVS-40 CAST IRON FOOT VALVE-4"” Sebastian Decl., Ex. D, Walker Dep., Ex. 42, p. 103 (Dkt. 28-1). However, Lewis-Goetz's representative testified that Lewis-Goetz identified all 4" foot valves with this identification number, regardless of the distributor or the manufacturer. Sokol Aff., Ex. H, Walker Dep., 87:1-17. Durfee testified that there were no markings on the foot valve, other than a sticker labeled “China, ” and the foot valve did not come with any materials or documentation, nor was it contained in any packaging. Sokol Aff., Ex. B, Deposition of Mark Durfee (“Durfee Dep.”) (Dkt. 27-5) 66:5-67:8 94:23-95:8. When he purchased the foot valve, Durfee checked to see if the valve was marked with a pressure rating and did not see one. Id.

         Durfee purchased the 4" foot valve to use in “mud rotary drilling” that he was conducting in North Dakota for his employer, Independent Drilling, and for a North Dakota drilling company, Thompson Drilling. Aldridge Aff., Ex. A, Durfee Dep., 16:11-27:22. Durfee first used the mud rotary drilling method in Idaho and drilled about five wells in 2008-2009 using this method. Id. at 101:18-105:1. Durfee learned mud rotary drilling methods from a man from Arizona named Jim Deere, an acquaintance of Independent Drilling's owner. Id. at 101:24-102:15. When Durfee first went to North Dakota to work in March of 2012, he went out with Ryan Thompson from Thompson Drilling to observe the mud rotary drilling process and setup that Thompson used in drilling wells. Id. at 19:14-22:20. While in North Dakota in 2012, Durfee drilled about 15 wells using the same mud rotary drilling technique set-up as he was using on June 13, 2012, the date of the accident. Id. at 40:2-8. On that date, Durfee was drilling a well that was about 100 feet deeper than previous wells he had drilled, which required that he use a larger pump and larger components and hoses. Id. at 40:6-23, 44:21-45:22. One of these components was the foot valve involved in the accident at issue in this case.

         In drilling this deeper well on June 13, 2012, Durfee was using a 4" foot valve for the first time. Id. at 47:18-49:24, 55:20-67:14. The foot valve is placed in a so-called “mud pit, ” from which a slurry-like mixture is pumped into the drilling cavity to buttress the walls of the drill hole. In the later stages of the drilling process, air pressure is used to “develop” the well. While Durfee was conducting that part of the drilling process, the foot valve blew off of the drilling set-up and the escaping pressure launched a T-shaped piping assembly from the mud pit which struck Durfee in the head and caused his injuries. Id. at 74:14-79:25.

         Defendant Dixon Valve moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiffs have no proof that Dixon Valve designed, manufactured, distributed, or sold the 4" foot valve at issue in this litigation (Dkt. 27). Defendant Lewis-Goetz moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Durfee misused the 4" foot valve and that his misuse was the sole cause of the accident and Durfee's injuries (Dkt. 50).

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). One of the principal purposes of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-34 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. See McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact. See Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support ...


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