United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
BENJAMIN H. SETTLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Purdue Foods,
LLC's (“Purdue Foods”) motion for summary
judgment. Dkt. 20. Also before the Court is the motion to
continue of Defendants Joel Craig Johnson and Susan M.
Johnson. Dkt. 35. The Court has considered the pleadings
filed in support of and in opposition to the motions and the
remainder of the file and hereby (1) denies Purdue
Foods's motion for summary judgment and (2) grants the
Johnsons' motion to continue.
December 15, 2016, Purdue Foods filed its complaint in this
action. Dkt. 1. Purdue Foods brings a claim of negligence
against the Johnsons. Id. Specifically, Purdue Foods
alleges that the Johnsons negligently caused a fire by using
a poorly maintained industrial “Brush Hog” mower
to mow a hazardously overgrown field on a hot summer day in
August. Id.; Dkts. 21-24. Ultimately, the fire
spread to an adjacent farm and killed over 204, 400 chickens
belonging to Purdue Foods. Dkt. 22.
October 5, 2017, Purdue Foods moved for summary judgment on
its negligence claims. Dkt. 20. In addition to its argument
on liability, Purdue Foods moved for summary judgment on the
amount of damages. Id. On October 23, 2017, the
Johnsons responded in opposition. Dkt. 31. The Johnsons also
requested that the Court continue its consideration on the
issue of damages pending the disclosure of outstanding
discovery. Id. On October 27, 2017, Purdue Foods
replied. Dkt. 34.
October 30, 2017, the Johnsons moved to continue the
scheduled trial date of February 20, 2017, as well as the
remaining pretrial deadlines. Dkt. 35. They seek additional
time to review documentation underlying Purdue Foods'
damages calculation that was ultimately disclosed on November
10, 2017. On November 15, 2017, Purdue Foods responded. Dkt.
37. On November 16, 2017, the Johnsons replied. Dkt. 39.
Motion for Summary Judgment
Foods has moved for summary judgment on its negligence claim
against the Johnsons. Dkt. 20. Summary judgment is proper
only if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials
on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
“[W]here the moving party has the burden-the
plaintiff on a claim for relief or the defendant on an
affirmative defense- his showing must be sufficient for
the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find
other than for the moving party.” Calderone v.
United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986)
(citation omitted; emphasis in original); see also
Southern Calif. Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d
885, 888 (9th Cir. 2003).
is no genuine issue of fact for trial where the record, taken
as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (nonmoving
party must present specific, significant probative evidence,
not simply “some metaphysical doubt”). See
also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Conversely, a genuine
dispute over a material fact exists if there is sufficient
evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute, requiring a
judge or jury to resolve the differing versions of the truth.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 253
(1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors
Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).
determination of the existence of a material fact is often a
close question. The Court must consider the substantive
evidentiary burden that the nonmoving party must meet at
trial-e.g., a preponderance of the evidence in most civil
cases. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; T.W. Elec.
Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630. The Court must resolve any
factual issues of controversy in favor of the nonmoving party
only when the facts specifically attested by that party
contradict facts specifically attested by the moving party.
The nonmoving party may not merely state that it will
discredit the moving party's evidence at trial, in the
hopes that evidence can be developed at trial to support the
claim. T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630
(relying on Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). Conclusory,
nonspecific 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).
Foods has advanced three theories in favor of its motion for
summary judgment. First, Purdue Foods argues that the
Johnsons were negligent in allowing their field to become a
fire hazard. Second, it argues that the Johnsons were
negligent when Mr. Johnson instructed a worker to operate
their “Bush Hog” mower on the hazardous field
during a hot August day. Third, Purdue Foods argues that the
Johnsons were negligent in maintaining their mower with
inadequate lubrication in the gearboxes. While Purdue Foods
has presented a strong case, the Court cannot conclude that
Purdue Foods has established its right to recovery as a
matter of law and that no reasonable trier of fact could find
other than in its favor.
Foods has presented strong evidence that Johnson's field
constituted a fire hazard by providing evidence in the form
of an admission from Mr. Johnson himself. However, Plaintiff
has not yet established that the Johnsons acted unreasonably
in creating the hazard by allowing the field grow to the
extent that it did or by failing to ameliorate the hazard
once it was known. Moreover, even though Mr. Johnson admits
that the field constituted some type of fire hazard,
Plaintiff has not necessarily proven the extent of the hazard
or, in other words, “that the condition of the [field]
was such that, if a fire did occur in it, it was reasonably
probable that it would spread to the adjacent
property.” Chicago, M., St. P. & P. R. Co. v.
Poarch, 292 F.2d 449, 451 (9th Cir. 1961). Indeed, in a
claim such as this, a jury is properly instructed that a
plaintiff must show “(a) that the condition of
appellant's buildings actually constituted a fire hazard
and (b) that there was reasonable cause for appellant to
foresee and anticipate that because of such condition if
a fire occurred it was reasonably probable that it would
spread to [the plaintiff's]
premises.” Id. (emphasis added).
has also presented strong evidence that Mr. Johnson was
negligent when he decided to use the mower in circumstances
that created a danger of fire. However, in the very case
relied upon by Purdue Foods to argue that this act alone
constitutes negligence as a matter of law, the Supreme ...