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Bookhultz v. Sears Authorized Hometown Stores, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 13, 2018

KEITH BOOKHULTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SEARS AUTHORIZED HOMETOWN STORES, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES B. DAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Defendant Sears Authorized Hometown Stores, LLC (“Defendant”) submits before this Court its Motion for Summary Judgment (“the Motion”) (ECF No. 60) and Supplemental Memorandum in Support of its Motion (ECF No. 81). Plaintiff Keith Bookhultz filed responses in opposition to the Motion (EFC No. 61) and the supplemental memorandum (ECF No. 84). The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions and applicable law. No. hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, the Court DENIES the Motion.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on May 9, 2016, alleging manufacturing defect under a theory of negligence against Defendant. ECF No. 20. Plaintiff alleges that on or about May 12, 2013, he was operating a riding lawn mower purchased from one of Defendant's stores when the seat suddenly detached and threw him to the ground, causing injury. Id. at 1.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court may grant summary judgment if the pleadings, discovery responses, and any affidavits, show that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a). Summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). As such, a court's summary judgment inquiry “unavoidably asks whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the [moving party] is entitled to a verdict.” Id. at 252. Finally, “for a court to accurately determine whether there is a factual dispute for a jury, the judge must be assured that the evidence he examines at summary judgment is as authentic as that which the jury will consider.” Yoon v. Sebelius, Civ. A. No. CBD-08-3173, 2010 WL 4293513, at *1 (D. Md. Nov. 1, 2010). Here, Defendant fails to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because 1) the Court is unable to consider certain references to facts which are not supported by record, admissible evidence; 2) there is a genuine issue regarding who bears responsibility for the manufacture of the machine involved; and 3) a number of factors discussed in Shreve v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. weigh in favor of Plaintiff. 166 F.Supp.2d 378 (D. Md. 2001).

         B. The Court is unable to consider a number of references made by both parties to a series of facts unsupported by record, admissible evidence.

         The parties make specific references to facts which are unsupported by record, admissible evidence. This Court has previously ruled that upon a request for summary judgment, “the parties submit materials which create a record; it is on that record only, that the Court rules on summary judgment. . . It is not for the Court to divine whether the legitimate record evidence may be found. The initial burden falls to the moving party.” Yoon, 2010 WL 4293513, at *1. While the Court is cognizant that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 operates under a burden shifting framework, and that the moving party “need not support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim, ” any documents submitted that “appear necessary to [the moving party's] argument and the satisfaction of its initial burden” must be “authenticated by either an affidavit or deposition.” See Yoon, [1] 2010 WL 4293513, at *2-3 (citing to Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323; Deblois v. Gensel, No. CCB-07-2596, 2009 WL 2713947, at *6 (D. Md. Aug. 26, 2009). Indeed, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides certain types of materials which may be considered, including stipulations, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits. “Except for admissions, all of the materials Rule 56 allows in summary judgment are presented under oath.” Yoon, 2010 WL 4293513, at *2. Accordingly, the Court is unwilling to consider either parties' references to documentation which is unsworn or unauthenticated.

         Defendant's Motion relies upon Exhibits A, C, D, E, and I, and Exhibit A, attached to ECF No. 64, as evidence supporting its Motion. However, these exhibits are not supported by affidavits or testimony under oath setting forth what they presume to be. Indeed, “to be admissible at the summary judgment stage, documents must be authenticated by and attached to an affidavit that meets the requirements of Rule 56(e).” Yoon, 2010 WL 4293513, at *4 (quoting Orsi v. Kirkwood, 999 F.2d 86, 91 (4th Cir. 1993) (quotations removed)). Likewise, Plaintiff in his opposition makes reference to unauthenticated documents in Defendant's Exhibit A, C, D, and I, as well as “Bookhultz Ex. 1.” ECF No. 61; ECF No. 84. Accordingly, the Court will not consider these exhibits for purposes of summary judgment.[2]

         C. A genuine issue of material fact exists regarding who bears responsibility for the manufacturing and assembly of the machine at issue.

         Defendant first argues that “any alleged manufacturing defect in the subject lawn tractor cannot be attributed to Sears.” ECF No. 60, p. 8. Defendant argues that it has provided the Court with “undisputed evidence” that it was simply a retailer for the lawn tractor, and that the actual manufacturer fully assembled said tractor, with Defendant receiving the tractor in its fully assembled state. Id. at 4. Accordingly, Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot survive summary judgment on account that Plaintiff cannot show that Defendant participated in the manufacturing process, which allegedly led to Plaintiff's injuries. Id. at 4, 8; ECF No. 64, pp. 2-3. However, Defendant's reference to “undisputed evidence” is unsupported. Defendant failed to provide the record evidence Defendant relies upon. While the Court has previously noted that the moving party is not obligated to provide documentation supporting its Motion, Defendant's overt reference to “undisputed evidence” convinces the Court that such “evidence” is necessary to Defendant's argument.

         Plaintiff counters with two distinct points. First, Plaintiff argues that Defendant failed to disassociate itself from the manufacturing of the lawn tractor, by failing to adequately answer Plaintiff's Interrogatories 4 and 6. ECF No. 61, p. 3. Specifically, Plaintiff points to Defendant's answer to Interrogatory 4, which asked Defendant to identify any party responsible that Defendant contends is wholly or partly responsible for the injuries sustained.[3] Id. Defendant failed to identify any other party as Defendant “participates in the assembly of certain Husqvarna-manufactured machines, [such that] it was only after Sears' own internal investigation that it could evaluate its exposure for negligent manufacture.” ECF No. 64, p. 3. Defendant, as stated earlier, has since denied any involvement in the manufacturing of the model of lawn tractor at issue. Second, Plaintiff argues that Defendant not only failed to identify any other parties which are responsible, but one month later, Defendant further implicated itself by providing Plaintiff with an attachment, which Defendant “referred to as a Husqvarna document, but self-identified as the Sears Operator's Manual which cited the Sears Craftsman Help Line.” ECF No. 61, p. 3. However, Plaintiff failed to provide documentation to support either of these claims, first by failing to include Defendant's Answers to Interrogatories or alternatively by failing to provide a supporting affidavit. Accordingly, Plaintiff's arguments fail as they are not supported in accordance with the standards set forth above.

         The Court is not convinced that summary judgment is the correct course of action in settling what appears to be a genuine issue of material fact. Instead, the Court finds that the issue of who bears responsibility for the manufacturing of the lawn tractor is one for a trier of fact to ...


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