United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
C. COUGHENOUR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Amtrol's
motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 31). Plaintiff also
asks the Court to strike exhibits presented in support of
Defendant's motion. (Dkt. No. 38.) Having thoroughly
considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record,
the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby DENIES
Plaintiff's motion to strike and GRANTS in part and
DENIES in part Defendant's motion for summary judgment
for the reasons explained herein.
20, 2015, a leak occurred on the third floor of a condominium
complex owned by Cypress Place Condominium Association
(“Cypress Place”), causing water damage to
multiple units in the complex. (Dkt. Nos. 1-1 at 3, 32-1 at
2.) The leak originated from a water expansion tank-the
THERM-X-TROL Model No. ST-5-designed, manufactured, and sold
by Defendant Amtrol, Inc. (“Amtrol”). (Dkt. Nos.
6 at 4, 31 at 2.) Water flow into the tank was controlled by
a water pressure regulating valve manufactured, supplied, and
distributed by Defendant Watts Regulator Co.
(“Watts”). (Dkt. Nos. 1-1, 31 at 2.) Plaintiff
Eagle West Insurance Company (“Eagle West”),
subrogree of Cypress Place Condominium Owner's
Association, brought a product liability claim against both
Amtrol and Watts for damages resulting from the
leak. (Dkt. No. 1-1.)
expansion tanks are paired with hot water heaters in domestic
and commercial water systems to manage routine changes in
pressure and volume resulting from use and temperature
change. (Dkt. No. 32-1 at 18.) Expansion tanks contain a
sealed-in flexible rubber bladder that separates the internal
chamber into water and air sides. When thermal expansion
occurs, the bladder compresses into the air side to provide
space for increased water volume. (Dkt. No. 31-1 at 21.) The
air side of the tank is pre-pressurized to match domestic
water pressure and balance expansion, so when pressure
decreases, the bladder relaxes. (Dkt. No. 32 at 3.) In
systems like the one at Cypress Place, increased water
pressure cannot be forced back into the municipal supply line
and must be absorbed by the internal system; without an
expansion tank or other pressure relief mechanism, a water
heater and plumbing system risk unsafe pressure buildup.
Id. at 20.
manufactures expansion tanks in a variety of sizes and with a
variety of features. Tanks are sized according to the size
and temperature setting of the attached hot water tank and
system pressure. (Dkt. No. 31 at 3.) The subject ST-5 tank is
the smallest model and does not come with features offered on
more expensive tanks, such as American Society of Mechanical
Engineers (“ASME”) certification or a sight
glass. (Dkt. No. 31 at 3; Dkt. No. 42 at 11.) The ST-5 is
indicated for systems with a 50 gal tank and static supply
pressure of 60 psi and has a maximum working pressure of 150
psi. (Dkt. No. 32-1 at 14.) The tank is shipped with a
pre-charge in the air side of the tank of 40 psi, which
product instructions state must be adjusted at installation
to match the system's static water pressure.
(Id. at 4, 14.) Water pressure at Cypress Place was
regulated by a Watts automated control valve
(“ACV”). (Dkt. No. 32-1 at 5.) The valve was set
to maintain a maximum pressure of 80 psi, but Plaintiff's
expert, Kent Engineering (“Kent”), testified that
routine pressure on the third floor was between 45 and 60
psi. (Dkt. Nos. 32-1 at 8, 44 at 2.) Kent measured water
pressure at the third floor on the day of the leak at 90 and
98 psi. Id. At no point in Kent's investigation
were pressures measured to be over 123 psi. (Id.)
December 21, 2015, Kent produced a preliminary opinion
attributing the tank rupture to an AVC malfunction that
allowed over pressurization in the water system. (Dkt. No.
32-1 at 2, 5.) Kent initially reported that excess pressure
caused the internal bladder in the Amtrol tank to develop a
leak, permitting water to enter and corrode the air side of
the tank. Id. Kent issued a follow-up report on June
21, 2017, revising its opinion after further laboratory
testing of the valve and tank. (Dkt. No. 32-1.) The new
report concluded that tank failure was not, in fact, caused
by over pressurization in the water system. Id.
Rather, Kent believed that internal corrosion on the bare air
side of the tank chamber began a chain reaction that led the
tank to rupture. Air added at installation to balance tank
pressure introduced humidity into the air side of the tank,
which condensated on the internal tank wall, causing
corrosion. The corrosion produced a rough surface at the
point of contact with the rubber bladder, eroding the bladder
and leading the bladder and seal to fail. Water was then able
to flow freely into the tank's air side, causing further
corrosion, and ultimately, tank rupture. (Dkt. No. 32-1 at
9). Based on these findings, Plaintiff's expert opined
that the Amtrol ST-5 tank was defectively designed in that it
failed to prevent this failure at multiple points. (Dkt. No.
32-1 at 11.)
brought a product liability claim against Defendants Amtrol
and Watts alleging the valve and tank were “designed,
manufactured and sold . . . in a defective and unreasonably
dangerous condition.” (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Defendant Watts
was dismissed from this action. (Dkt. No. 18.) Defendant
Amtrol now moves for summary judgement on Plaintiff's
product liability claims. (Dkt. No. 31.)
Summary Judgement Standard
Court shall grant summary judgment if the moving party
demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In making
such a determination, the Court views the facts and
justifiable inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255. The moving party bears the initial burden to
show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
The opposing party must then “come forward with
‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). Material facts are those that may affect
the outcome of the case, and a dispute about a material fact
is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable
jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party.
Id. at 248-49. Conclusory, non-specific statements
in affidavits are not sufficient, and “missing
facts” will not be “presumed.” Lujan v.
Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888-89
(1990). Ultimately, summary judgment is appropriate against a
party who “fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477
U.S. at 324.
Plaintiff's Motion to Strike
initial matter, Plaintiff asserts that all exhibits
supporting Defendant's summary judgment motion should be
stricken because they are not appropriately authenticated.
(Dkt. No. 38.) In reply, Defendant asks the Court to sanction
Plaintiff for presenting this “frivolous”
argument. (Dkt. No. 42 at 3.)
is not required to produce evidence supporting a motion for
summary judgment in a form that would be admissible at trial,
as long as it can explain the anticipated admissible form of
the evidence. Block v. City of Los Angeles, 253 F.3d
410, 418-19 (9th Cir. 2001); see Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c)(2) commentary to 2010 amendment; see also Fraser v.
Goodale, 342 F.3d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court
is satisfied with Defendant's explanation of how the
disputed evidence could be authenticated at trial.
(See Dkt. No. 42 at 2-3.)
Court therefore DENIES Plaintiff's motion to strike
Defendant's exhibits. (Dkt. No. 38). The Court does not
find sanctions appropriate here.
Washington Product Liability Act
Court has diversity jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1332, and as such must apply Washington law.
Snead v. Metro Prop & Cas. Ins. Co., 237 F.3d
1080, 1090 (9th Cir. 2001). Plaintiff's claim arises
under the Washington Product Liability Act
(“WPLA”), the exclusive remedy for product
liability claims in Washington. Washington Water Power
Co. v. Graybar Elec. Co., 774 P.2d 1199, 1203-04 (Wash.
1989). The WPLA imposes liability on a manufacturer for a
claimant's harm proximately caused by a product
“not reasonably safe as designed”
(“defective design”) or “not reasonably
safe because adequate warnings or instructions were not
provided” (“failure to warn”). Wash. Rev.
Code § 7.72.030(1). A plaintiff can establish liability
for defective design ...