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LINDSEY v. CATERPILLAR

August 9, 2005.

ROSARIO LINDSEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CATERPILLAR, INC., et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GARRETT BROWN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant Caterpillar, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). The motion has been extensively briefed by both Plaintiff and Defendant Caterpillar, and the Court has decided the motion based on the parties' written submissions and without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff Rosario Lindsey ("Plaintiff") brought the present diversity action against Defendants Caterpillar, Inc. ("Caterpillar") and Midwestern Manufacturing Company ("Midwestern"). On July 29, 2004, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint alleging claims of strict liability, negligence and breach of warranty based on New Jersey law. The claims arise out of an incident that involved Plaintiff's husband, Charles Lindsey ("the decedent"), which ultimately led to his death. On August 5, 2002, the decedent was operating a sideboom pipelayer tractor that was manufactured by Caterpillar, the CAT 572G. (Caterpillar's 56.1 Statement, ¶ 1). This machine was operating in unison with a second pipelayer manufactured by Midwestern. The machines were traveling one behind the other, in reverse gear, and were attached to the same load by its boom rigging. As the decedent and another worker, Robert Wix, attempted to transport a forty-foot pipe along a slope of approximately twenty degrees, Midwestern's pipelayer lost power and began sliding down the slope. The CAT 572G began to slide as well and eventually flipped over. The decedent suffered fatal injuries. (Id., ¶ 4).

  On July 28, 2005, the Court entered a stipulation of dismissal of all claims asserted against Midwestern. Thus, the remaining claims in this action are against Caterpillar. On May 13, 2005, Caterpillar moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). Caterpillar contends that Count I of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is preempted by the Occupational Safety and Health Act ("OSH Act" or "Act"). Caterpillar further asserts that Counts II and III are precluded under the New Jersey Products Liability Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:58C-1, et seq.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Summary Judgment Standard

  A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1366 (3d Cir. 1996); Healy v. New York Life Ins. Co., 860 F.2d 1209, 1219, n. 3 (3d Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1098 (1989); Hersh v. Allen Prod. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986). 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." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (noting that no issue for trial exists unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict in its favor). In deciding whether triable issues of fact exist, the court must view the underlying facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Pa. Coal Ass'n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995); Hancock Indus. v. Schaeffer, 811 F.2d 225, 231 (3d Cir. 1987).

  A movant must be awarded summary judgment on all properly supported issues identified in its motion, except those for which the nonmoving party has provided evidence to show that a question of material fact remains. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Put another way, once the moving party has properly supported its showing of no triable issue of fact and of an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, for example, with affidavits, which may be "supplemented . . . by depositions, answers to interrogatories, or further affidavits," id. at 322, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. The non-moving party must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the `depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

  B. Preemption Analysis of Count I — Strict Liability

  In Count I of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Caterpillar is strictly liable under the New Jersey Products Liability Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:58C-1, et seq. (Pl.'s Am. Compl., ¶ 20). Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that CAT 572G was defectively designed because it was not equipped with a rollover protection system ("ROPS"). (Id., ¶ 16). Caterpillar argues that Plaintiff's strict liability design defect claim is preempted by the OSH Act, and the regulations promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") pursuant to the Act.

  The preemption doctrine derives from the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. U.S. CONST. art. VI, cl. 2. "[A]ny state law, however clearly within a State's acknowledged power, which interferes with or is contrary to federal law, must yield." Gade v. Nat'l Solid Wastes Mgmt. Ass'n, 505 U.S. 88, 108 (1992) (quoting Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 138 (1988)). Whether a federal statute preempts state law is a question of congressional intent. Schneidewind v. ANR Pipeline Co., 485 U.S. 293, 299 (1988); N.J. State Chamber of Commerce v. Hughey, 774 F.2d 587, 592 (3d Cir. 1985). Regulations promulgated pursuant to federal law have as much pre-emptive effect as federal statutes. Fidelity Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n v. de la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 153 (1982).

  A federal statute may explicitly preempt a state statute if "on the face of the federal statute, Congress expressly stated an intent to preempt a state law." Hughey, 774 F.2d at 592. Preemption may also be implied in one of two ways. Field preemption occurs when "federal law so thoroughly occupies a legislative field as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it." C.E.R. 1988, Inc. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 386 F.3d 263, 269 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516 (1992)). Conflict preemption occurs when "compliance with both state and federal law is impossible, or when the state law `stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objective of Congress.'" California v. ARC Am. Corp., 490 U.S. 93, 100-101 (1989) (citations and quotations omitted).

  In the present case, Caterpillar argues that the OSH Act and OSHA regulations, specifically 29 C.F.R. § 1926.1000 which concerns ROPS for material handling equipment, preempt Plaintiff's strict liability claim. In response, Plaintiff advances three main arguments. First, Plaintiff contends that the OSH Act does not apply to manufacturers, but only to employers, and therefore cannot preempt her claim against Caterpillar. Second, Plaintiff asserts that the Act was not intended to preempt New Jersey's product liability law. Third, Plaintiff ...


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