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BOWMAN v. PARKER HANNIFIN CORP.

July 6, 2005.

JOEL BOWMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
PARKER HANNIFIN CORP., et al. Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge

OPINION

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.

  I. BACKGROUND

  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, 22:1-7, 23:5-16.)

  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.

  A. Jurisdiction

  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 ...


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