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Ramon Reyes v. Keith Machinery Corp.

June 8, 2011

RAMON REYES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KEITH MACHINERY CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Debevoise, Senior District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

On September 27, 2007, Plaintiff Ramon Reyes suffered severe injuries to his hand when it inadvertently became trapped in a three-roll ink mill that he was cleaning for his employer, Union Ink Company ("Union Ink"). Plaintiff has brought suit against the manufacturer of the ink mill and the equipment dealer who sold it to his employer, alleging that the ink mill was defective and unreasonably dangerous as designed, manufactured, and sold. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for his physical injuries, psychological trauma, and lost earnings. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages.

Presently before the court are motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants Makino, Inc., Littleford Brothers, Inc., Littleford Day, Inc., and LFB Inc. (collectively "Littleford") and Defendant Keith Manufacturing Corp. ("Keith Manufacturing"). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are GRANTED as to the negligence and breach of warranty counts of Plaintiff's complaint and otherwise DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

The basic facts of the accident are not in dispute. Plaintiff Ramon Reyes was hired in 2004 by Union Ink, a company that manufactures ink for clothing and signs. (Littleford Ex. A, 14-15). Reyes worked first as an ink packer, packaging finished ink for shipment to customers. Id. at 28. He was later trained to operate one of Union Ink's eight three-roll mills. Id. at 29-30. A three roll mill is a machine that uses three horizontally positioned rolls rotating at opposite directions and different speeds relative to each other to mechanically mix, refine, disperse, or homogenize viscous materials. Such mills are widely used to mix electronic thick film inks, high performance ceramics, cosmetics, plastisols, carbon/graphite, paints, printing inks, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, glass coatings, dental composites, pigment, coatings, adhesives, sealants, and foods. Union Ink uses its three-roll mills to pulverize powdered ink so that it can be mixed smoothly and completely into a liquid. Id. at 30.

Union Ink produces several colors of ink. The different colors of powdered ink must be kept separate, so mill operators are required to periodically clean their machines so that a new color of ink can be processed. Id. at 83-84. To clean the machine, the mill operators pour a solvent onto the mill rollers and wipe them down with a rag while the mill is running at its slowest rate of speed. Id. at 37.

In the evening of September 27, 2007, Reyes began to clean his ink mill so that the color could be changed. While cleaning, the rag in Reyes's hand became caught in the "nip point" of the mill where two of its three rollers came together. Id. at 61. In an instant, Reyes's hand was pulled into the machine, badly crushing his thumb. Id. at 81. Unable to stop the mill, Reyes grabbed a nearby tube with his other hand and pulled himself free. Id. at 61. His supervisor, Steve Pabon, called 911 and Reyes was taken by ambulance to receive treatment for his injuries. (Littleford Ex. B, 13).

The ink mill involved in the accident is very old. While no conclusive documentary evidence has been found, it appears to have been manufactured by J.H. Day Company ("J.H. Day") some time prior to 1950. (Littleford Ex. E, 19). Defendant Littleford is the current successor in interest to J.H. Day, though it has no records of the ink mill's production or initial sale. Id. at 51-53.

As originally manufactured, the ink mill had no safety devices that would prevent a worker's hands from becoming accidentally trapped in the nip point between the mill's rollers. Later models of ink mills manufactured by J.H. Day included additional safety features to prevent this sort of accident. Id. at 28. These features include removable nip point guards, also called "wash up sticks" which are triangular wedges placed above the rollers during cleaning. The wash up sticks prevent any objects from becoming caught in the nip point. Other safety features include various forms of rapid shutdown devices such as "mushroom buttons" and "airplane cords" which permit a worker to quickly halt the machine if an accident occurs.

Defendant Keith Machinery purchased the ink mill from Warren Paint & Color Company ("Warren Paint") in 1989. (Littleford Ex. D, 10). Keith Machinery refurbished the mill, brought it into compliance with all applicable OSHA and ANSI requirements, attached warning placards, and then resold it to Union Ink in 1995. Id. at 42, 129. In particular, Keith Machinery claims to have installed rapid shutdown switches on the machine and provided wash up sticks for use in cleaning the rollers. Id. at 41. At the same time, Keith Machinery claims to have supplied Union Ink with a copy of the J.H. Day product manual associated with the device and the applicable ANSI standards. (Littleford Ex. C). Defendant Littleford also claims to have sent Union Ink copies of the updated ANSI standards. (Littleford Ex. E, 54-55).

Keith Machinery inspected the ink mill three times after the sale, in 2003, 2006, and 2007. (Littleford Ex. D at Ex. 6). In 2003 and 2006, the inspection reports note that the wash up stick is missing and needs to be replaced to comply with ANSI guidelines. Id. The 2007 report indicates that only routine maintenance is required. Id. Plaintiff admits that the use of a wash up stick would have prevented the accident, but contends that he was never instructed to use a wash up stick while cleaning the ink mill and that a wash up stick was never available for him to use. (Littleford Ex. A, 42-43). Plaintiff argues that Littleford and Keith Machinery are each strictly liable as manufacturers and sellers of dangerously defective machinery.

On the basis of these facts, Defendants each move for ...


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