United States District Court, D. New Jersey
July 6, 2005.
JOEL BOWMAN, Plaintiff,
PARKER HANNIFIN CORP., et al. Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge
This matter arises from injuries sustained by Plaintiff while
he was servicing a military aircraft for the New Jersey Air
National Guard at the Atlantic City Airport. Plaintiff used a
locally designed and assembled device to remove fuel from an
aircraft system with high-pressure nitrogen. A low-pressure hose
manufactured by Defendant was incorporated as a component of the
device. This hose burst during the procedure, injuring the
Plaintiff. Before this Court is a motion for summary judgment by the Defendant Parker Hannifin Corporation. For the following
reasons, the motion for summary judgment is granted.
During the period relevant to this case, Plaintiff, Joel
Bowman, was a resident of New Jersey and a Staff Sergeant in the
177th Fighter Interceptor Group, New Jersey Air National Guard,
based at the Atlantic City Airport in New Jersey. (Pl. Ex. A at
14:13-21, 20:4-5, 39:4-5.) Mr. Bowman was assigned to perform
maintenance on the fuel systems of the unit's F-16 fighter
aircraft. (Id. at 20:6-9, 21:6-9.) One of his duties was to
purge the aircraft's Emergency Power Unit (EPU) of its toxic
hydrazine fuel to render the aircraft safe for certain
maintenance work. (Id. at 22:8-15, 33:18-24.) Mr. Bowman was
trained and experienced in this procedure. (Id. at 21:22-25,
Fuel system specialists purge EPUs by attaching a hose to the
aircraft, and then force hydrazine out with pressurized nitrogen.
(Id. at 35:19-25, 40:1-7.) Certain procedures require
specialists to switch between 200 and 400 pounds per square inch
(psi) over the course of the purge. (Id. at 24:19-25, 25:1-8)
Normally, he or she must disconnect one hose and attach another
supplying a different pressure. (Pl. Ex. E at 11:15-23.) Master
Sergeant Randall Mason, also an aircraft mechanic in the unit,
sought to expedite purges by joining the two hoses into a "T"
fitting that connected to the aircraft through a single hose. (Id. at 11:15-25, 13:11-17.) Maintenance personnel could then
change the pressure simply by switching the position of a valve.
(Id. at 11:15-25.)
Mr. Mason collected several parts from various shops on base to
create the device. (Id. at 15:2-25, 16:1-25.) One component was
a length of rubber hose manufactured by Defendant, Parker
Hannifin, a Texas Corporation. (Id. at 14:6-9; Compl. at 1.)
There is a factual dispute as to whether Mr. Mason assembled the
device himself, or the fabrication shop assembled it for him.
(Pl. Ex. A at 82:23-25, 83:1-5; Ex. E at 18:1-12.) It is
undisputed, however, that this device was locally fabricated, and
in use for approximately one year prior to the accident. (Pl. Ex.
A at 48:25, 49:1-9; E at 22:17-19.)
Defendant supplied the rubber hose in bulk to the Department of
Defense ("DOD") for low-pressure air and vacuum systems; it is
approximately one half inch wide, and rated for 200 psi. (Def.
Ex. B at 2:6, 3:14-15; Pl. Ex. B at 3.) Mason's device subjected
the hose to 400 psi during EPU purges. (Pl. Ex A at 54:5-18.) In
accordance with DOD requirements, the hose was marked
"LP-MIL5-593-4." (Def. Ex. B at 2:8; F at 9:17-21; Pl. Ex. B at
4.) The letters "LP" indicate that the hose is designed for low
pressure. (Pl. Ex. B at 4.) U.S. Air Force Technical Order
42E1-1-1 requires technicians to consult it when they manufacture
hose assemblies, and that same order indicates the hose was
limited to 200 psi. (Def. Ex. B at 2:10, 3:15.) This technical
order was available on the base at the time of assembly. (Def. Ex. E at
15:24-25, 16:1-16.; F at 28:15-25.) Plaintiff does not contest
that the hose was improperly incorporated into the Mason device,
and in violation of Technical Order 42E1-1-1.
On January 28, 2002, Plaintiff's supervisor instructed him to
perform an EPU purge on an aircraft. (Id. at 39:4-18.) The
Mason device was the only connector available for the purge, and
it was the first time Plaintiff ever personally attached it. (Pl.
Ex. A 49:3-16.) Mr. Bowman did not read the markings on that or
any purge hose at any time before or during the purge in
question. (Id. at 51:8-13.) The hose developed an audible leak
under high pressure. (Id. at 52:1-17.) While Mr. Bowman
investigated the leak, the hose burst in his face and injured
him. (Id. at 52:20-23.) An examination revealed that the
rupture was "consistent with the type [of] failure one would
expect if a properly fabricated MIL-H-5593 hose were repeatedly
subjected to pressures which were twice the operating pressure of
the hose." (Pl. Ex. B at 3.)
Mr. Bowman subsequently filed suit against Defendant Parker
Hannifin Corporation and others. Plaintiff claims Defendant
breached a "duty to warn of the dangers of foreseeable use" of
the hose, and was strictly liable for his injuries. (Compl. at
7.) Defendant subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment. II. DISCUSSION
Defendant argues that it cannot be held strictly liable for
Plaintiff's injuries because: (1) its product was substantially
altered and not used as intended; and (2) Defendant had no
additional duty to warn, and in any case a warning defect did not
proximately cause Plaintiff's injuries. For the following
reasons, this Court does not find that the hose was substantially
altered, but agrees that Defendant, as manufacturers of this
component part, had no additional duty to warn beyond the
markings provided. Because no reasonable fact finder could
conclude that the warnings were insufficient under New Jersey
law, summary judgment will be granted without reaching the
proximate cause issue.
For the purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1332, Plaintiff is a citizen of
New Jersey, and Defendant corporation is a citizen of Texas.
28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), (c)(1). This Court therefore has subject
matter jurisdiction over the case on the basis of diversity of
citizenship.*fn1 Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1652, the laws of
New Jersey will serve as rules of decision in the matter. B. Standard of Review for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record
"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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A dispute is "genuine" if "the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the non-moving party." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it
might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of
law. Id. Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not
preclude a grant of summary judgment. Id.
In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact,
the court must view the evidence in favor of the non-moving party
by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in
other words, "the nonmoving party's evidence `is to be believed,
and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that party's]
favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999) (quoting
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). The threshold inquiry is
whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can
be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably
be resolved in favor of either party." Liberty Lobby,
477 U.S. at 250; Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., 72 F.3d 326,
329-30 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).
The moving party always bears the initial burden of showing
that no genuine issue of material fact exists, regardless of which party ultimately would have the burden of persuasion at
trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986); Country Floors v. Partnership of Gepner and Ford,
930 F.2d 1056, 1061-63 (3d Cir. 1991).
C. Defendant's Grounds for Summary Judgment
Defendant presents its initial arguments under two headings:
"Intended Use/Substantial Change" and "Failure to Warn." (Def.
Mem. at 4, 7.) This Court finds it necessary to treat the two
elements of the first point separately, since they present
distinct legal issues. Also, Defendant's "Failure to Warn"
argument addresses proximate cause in the event that its product
did not incorporate an adequate warning. (Def. Mem. at 7.) In
accord with Defendant's reply, however, this Court first examines
whether or not Defendant had a duty to warn in the context of the
product's intended use. (Def. Reply at 9.) Based on this
analysis, the Court does not find that the subject hose was
substantially changed. However, the intended use of the hose did
not impose a duty to warn beyond the markings provided, and
summary judgment is warranted on this basis. The issue of whether
any warning defect proximately caused Plaintiff's injuries is
therefore not reached.
1. Substantial Change
Defendant contends that members of the New Jersey Air National
Guard incorporated their hose "into an assembly for which it was
not rated," amounting to a "substantial change" that absolves the corporation from strict liability under New Jersey
law. (Id.) (emphasis omitted). This Court disagrees.
New Jersey Statute 2A:58C-2 provides for strict product
liability, but the statute is not applicable to every instance of
injury by a product. Defendant argues this case falls into an
exception, citing Soler v. Castmaster, 98 N.J. 137 (1984). In
Soler, the court found that, for the statute to apply, "a
product must reach its user without substantial change in the
condition in which it is sold." Id. at 147 (citation omitted).
Defendant points to the following language: "A substantial
alteration is one that involves not only a material change in the
design or function of the product but also affects the risk of
danger in its use." Id. at 148. Defendant argues that
incorporation of its low-pressure hose into the high-pressure
purge device was "a substantial alteration to the intended
function of the product [that] adversely affected the risk of
danger of its use." (Def. Mem. at 6.) This Court finds the
Defendant does not contend that the hose was physically
altered, but that its improper use amounted to an alteration
through increased risk. This Court finds no support for a
"substantial alteration" that is not a physical alteration. If
the Soler court intended such an interpretation it was
certainly in dicta, since the plaintiff in that case altered a
die-casting machine by mechanically modifying it. 98 N.J. at 143. Furthermore, the Soler court expands on alteration by increased
"risk of danger" by citing Hanlon v. Cyril Bath Co.,
541 F.2d 343, 345 (3d Cir. 1975), which involved physically modifying the
starting mechanism on a machine. Soler, 98 N.J. at 148. This
Court cannot, as a matter of law, determine that Defendant is not
subject to strict liability through the substantial alteration of
its product, where the evidence suggests that the hose was not
physically altered. Summary judgment is therefore denied on this
2. Duty to Warn and Intended Use
Defendant argues that incorporation of its product into the
purge device was not an intended use under New Jersey law. (Def.
Mem. at 6-7.) Plaintiff responds that Defendant is still strictly
liable because it did not warn against this foreseeable misuse.
(Pl. Br. at 7.) Defendant replies that the markings on the hose
adequately communicated its capabilities, and that it had no
further duty to warn as a manufacturer of a component. (Def.
Reply at 9.) This Court agrees with Defendant.
Plaintiff does not claim that the Defendant's hose was
defective in design or manufacture, but argues it had a warning
defect. (Def. Br. at 3.) New Jersey Statute 2A:58C-2 provides:
A manufacturer or seller of a product shall be liable
in a product liability action only if the claimant
proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the
product causing the harm was not reasonably fit,
suitable or safe for its intended purpose because it
. . . failed to contain adequate warnings or
instructions. . . .
N.J.S.A. 2A:58C-2. (emphasis added). Furthermore, 2A:58C-4
An adequate product warning or instruction is one
that a reasonably prudent person in the same or
similar circumstances would have provided with
respect to the danger and that communicates adequate
information on the dangers and safe use of the
product, taking into account the characteristics of,
and the ordinary knowledge common to, the persons by
whom the product is intended to be used. . . .
N.J.S.A. 2A:58C-4. (emphasis added). Defendant submits that the
markings provided on the hose were adequate within the meaning of
2A:58C-2 to communicate its performance characteristics to
intended users. (Def. Reply at 8.) Although the Court finds this
argument persuasive, it resolves the issue on Defendant's
compliance as a component manufacturer.
The subject hose had no independent use; it was supplied in
bulk as "a flexible connection on low pressure air and vacuum
systems." (Def. Ex. B at 3.) Defendant asserts its markings
complied with DOD requirements, a fact supported by Plaintiff's
own exhibit. (Id. at 7; Pl. Ex. B at 4.) Plaintiff does not
disagree that the hose met every other design and manufacturing
requirement, nor is there disagreement that this hose was subject
to high pressures of 400 psi, or double its design capacity of
200 psi. Components that satisfy an owners's requirements are subject to unique treatment under New Jersey products liability
In Zaza v. Marquess and Nell, Inc., 144 N.J. 34 (1996), the
New Jersey Supreme Court squarely confronted the limits of
products liability for component manufacturers. The defendant in
that case supplied a stainless steel tank that formed one
component of a complex coffee processing system. Id. at 42-43.
The manufacturer built the tank to specifications, with holes
prepared for safety devices to prevent overflow. Id. at 43-44.
However, the owner failed to attach safety devices before
operating the processor, and an employee was injured by
overflowing hot liquid. Id. at 44.
The court stated that the legislature intended the products
liability statute to "balance the interests of the public and the
individual with a view towards economic reality." Id. at 47-48
(citation omitted). Under this reasoning, the tank was not
defectively designed because it was ordered without safety
devices installed, and the defendant had no duty to warn of the
lack of those devices. Id. at 63. The court noted policy
concerns in extending liability to bulk and component suppliers
a fabricator of a component part who builds a
component of a system in accordance with the
specifications of the owner, which part itself is not
defective and is not dangerous until it is integrated
into the larger system, has no legal duty to ensure
that the owner and installer-assembler properly integrate the
component into the system. So long as the
specifications were not obviously dangerous, a
fabricator of a component part is not strictly liable
to an injured employee of the owner under the
Products Liability Act.
Id. at 65. Summary judgment for the tank manufacturer was
therefore warranted. Id.
This Court finds that Zaza applies to the instant complaint.
Although the tank in Zaza was designed for a specific complex
system, and the subject hose was designed for general use in
low-pressure systems, this Court finds that difference
immaterial. This is particularly so since the hose bore markings
to accurately communicate its capabilities to any system
assembler, denominating it as a low pressure component hose.
Defendant's component was built to the owner's specifications,
and did not become dangerous until improperly incorporated into
the EPU purge device. No reasonable fact finder could conclude
that Defendant failed to conform this component to the
Government's specifications, or that those specifications for
this low-pressure hose were "obviously dangerous" as required by
New Jersey law. Therefore, as a matter of law, Defendant had no
additional duty to provide warnings or instructions regarding its
product, and is not liable under New Jersey's products liability
law. Summary judgment is therefore granted for the Defendant. Since the component was not defective, the Court does not reach
For the reasons explained above, this Court grants the motion
for summary judgment by Defendant Parker Hannifin Corporation.
This Court dismisses all counts of the Complaint against Parker
Hannifin Corporation, and enters judgment in its favor and
against Plaintiff. The accompanying Order is entered.