United States District Court, D. Nevada
TAWNDRA L. HEATH, Plaintiff,
TRISTAR PRODUCTS, INC., a Pennsylvania Corporation; ZHONGSHAN JINGUANG HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCE MANUFACTURE CO., LTD., a foreign corporation; Defendants.
M. NAVARRO, DISTRICT JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
before the Court is Defendant Tristar Products, Inc.’s
(“Defendant’s”) Motion in Limine, (ECF No.
82). Plaintiff Tawndra Heath (“Plaintiff”) filed
a Response, (ECF No. 85), and Defendant filed a Reply, (ECF
pending before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for
Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 78). Plaintiff filed a Response,
(ECF No. 86), and Defendant filed a Reply, (ECF No. 93).
reasons stated below, Defendant’s Motion in Limine is
DENIED, and Defendant’s Motion for
Summary Judgment is DENIED.
case arises from injuries that Plaintiff suffered when the
lid of her Power Pressure Cooker, Model No. PPC770 (the
“Cooker”) allegedly exploded open after she used it
to prepare corned beef brisket. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶
4–20, ECF No. 62); (Dep. Tawndra Heath
31:16–33:20, Ex. C to Mot. in Limine
(“MIL”), ECF No. 82-3). Defendant was the seller
and distributor of that Cooker. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶
states that she prepared the corned beef brisket in the
Cooker through two cooking cycles at her home. In the first
cycle, she set the Cooker for a sixty-minute cook cycle, then
“left for . . . Bible study.” (Dep. Tawndra Heath
34:3–36:24, Ex. C to MIL). When she returned, she saw
that the corned beef was not finished. She accordingly set it
for a second cooking cycle-following the same steps of using
the Cooker as the first cycle. (Id. 39:5–
42:16). Plaintiff states that when she closed the
Cooker’s lid with each cycle, it did not take any force
at all. (Id. 35:23–25).
the first cycle, Plaintiff opened the lid easily and without
issue. (Id. 41:3–12). For the second cycle,
Plaintiff states that she approached the Cooker roughly
fifteen to twenty minutes after it emitted a “beeping
noise” to indicate the cook cycle was complete.
(Id. 44:1– 45:5). However, when she attempted
to open the Cooker’s lid, she claims that water
exploded out onto her face, neck, chest, and arm.
(Id. 53:23–56:19). Plaintiff then went to the
hospital, and received treatment for first, second, and
third-degree burns. (Report of Benjamin Rodriguez, M.D., Ex.
3 to Resp., ECF No. 86-3).
October 12, 2017, Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit against
Defendant in the Eighth Judicial District Court for Clark
County, Nevada. (Compl. at 1, Ex. 1 to Pet. Removal, ECF No.
1-1). Defendant removed the case to this Court on November
15, 2017. (Pet. Removal, ECF No. 1). Plaintiff currently
asserts four claims for relief against Defendant: (1)
negligence; (2) breach of warranty; (3) strict products
liability; and (4) violation of Nevada consumer protection
laws. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21–58). She also
seeks punitive damages against Defendant. (Id.
support her claims for relief, Plaintiff retained John Pratt,
Ph.D. as an expert witness to inspect the Cooker, determine
if any defects existed, and provide an opinion about whether
such defects could have caused Plaintiff’s injuries.
Through the instant Motion in Limine, (ECF No. 82), Defendant
now seeks to exclude Dr. Pratt’s expert opinions.
Defendant also moves for summary judgment in its favor on all
of Plaintiff’s claims. (Def.’s Mot. Summ. J.
(“MSJ”), ECF No. 78).
Motion in Limine
general, “[t]he court must decide any preliminary
question about whether . . . evidence is admissible.”
Fed.R.Evid. 104(a). In order to satisfy the burden of proof
for Federal Rule of Evidence (“FRE”) 104(a), a
party must show that the requirements for admissibility are
met by a preponderance of the evidence. See Bourjaily v.
United States, 483 U.S. 171, 175 (1987) (“We have
traditionally required that these matters [regarding
admissibility determinations that hinge on preliminary
factual questions] be established by a preponderance of
the [FRE] do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the
practice has developed pursuant to the district court's
inherent authority to manage the course of trials.”
Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984)
(citing FRE 103(c)). In limine rulings “are not binding
on the trial judge, and the judge may always change his mind
during the course of a trial.” Ohler v. United
States, 529 U.S. 753, 758 n.3 (2000); see also
Luce, 469 U.S. at 41.
have broad discretion when ruling on motions in limine.
See Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663,
664 (7th Cir. 2002). However, a motion in limine should not
be used to resolve factual disputes or weigh evidence.
C&E Servs., Inc., v. Ashland, Inc., 539
F.Supp.2d 316, 323 (D.D.C. 2008). To exclude evidence on a
motion in limine, the evidence must be inadmissible “on
all potential grounds.” See, e.g., Ind.
Ins. Co. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d 844, 846 (N.D.
Ohio 2004). “Unless evidence meets this high standard,
evidentiary rulings should be deferred until trial so that
questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice
may be resolved in proper context.” Hawthorne
Partners v. AT&T Tech., Inc., 831 F.Supp. 1398, 1400
(N.D. Ill. 1993).
Motion for Summary Judgment
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary
adjudication when the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that “there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the
case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine
if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a
reasonable fact-finder could rely to find for the nonmoving
party. See Id . “The amount of evidence
necessary to raise a genuine issue of material fact is enough
‘to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties'
differing versions of the truth at trial.’”
Aydin Corp. v. Loral Corp., 718 F.2d 897, 902 (9th
Cir. 1983) (quoting First Nat’l Bank v. Cities
Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288–89 (1968)).
“Summary judgment is inappropriate if reasonable
jurors, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party, could return a verdict in the nonmoving party’s
favor.” Diaz v. Eagle Produce Ltd.
P’ship, 521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir. 2008)
(citing United States v. Shumway, 199 F.3d 1093,
1103–04 (9th Cir. 1999)). A principal purpose of
summary judgment is “to isolate and dispose of
factually unsupported claims.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323–24 (1986).
determining summary judgment, a court applies a
burden-shifting analysis. “When the party moving for
summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it
must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a
directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at
trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial
burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact
on each issue material to its case.” C.A.R. Transp.
Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480
(9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). In contrast, when the
nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or
defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways:
(1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of
the nonmoving party’s case; or (2) by demonstrating
that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient
to establish an element essential to that party’s case
on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.
See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323– 24. If the
moving party fails to meet its initial burden, summary
judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the
nonmoving party’s evidence. See Adickes v. S.H.
Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159–60 (1970).
moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden then
shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine
issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
585–86 (1986). To establish the existence of a factual
dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material
issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient
that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a
jury or judge to resolve the parties’ differing
versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Elec. Serv.,
Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass’n, 809 F.2d
626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). However, the nonmoving party
“may not rely on denials in the pleadings but must
produce specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible
discovery material, to show that the dispute exists, ”
Bhan v. NME Hosps., Inc., 929 F.2d 1404, 1409 (9th
Cir. 1991), and “must do more than simply show that
there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts.” Orr v. Bank of America, 285 F.3d 764,
783 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). “The
mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
plaintiff's position will be insufficient.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. In other words, the
nonmoving party cannot avoid summary judgment by relying
solely on conclusory allegations that are unsupported by
factual data. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040,
1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Instead, the opposition must go beyond
the assertions and allegations of the pleadings and set forth
specific facts by producing competent evidence that shows a
genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S.
summary judgment, a court’s function is not to weigh
the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether
there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249. The evidence of the nonmovant is “to
be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn
in his favor.” Id. at 255. But if the evidence
of the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.
See Id . at 249–50.
Motion in Limine
argues that Dr. Pratt’s expert opinions are
inadmissible based on Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 403
as well as Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceutical,
Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 591 (1993). (MIL 1:22–25, ECF
No. 82). More specifically, Defendant advances three reasons
to exclude Dr. Pratt’s expert opinions: (1) his
opinions about the Cooker’s defectiveness do not fit
the facts in this case; (2) his opinions are not the product
of reliable scientific methodology nor based on sufficient
data; and (3) he is not an expert with regard to warnings or
human factors, and thus cannot testify about
“misleading information in the [Cooker’s]
Owner’s Manual.” (Id. 8:24–13:18).
Court’s below discussion addresses each reason in turn.
However, the Court first notes that Defendant does not
directly challenge Dr. Pratt’s qualifications to render
expert opinions concerning the mechanics and defects of the
Coker. Based on Dr. Pratt’s applicable engineering
background, training, experience, and education, the Court
finds him to possess sufficient qualifications to proffer
expert testimony here. (See Expert Report of John
Pratt, Ph.D. at 3–4, Ex. 1 to Resp., ECF No. 85-1);
(Curriculum Vitae, Ex. 1 to Expert Report, ECF No. 85-1);
(Prior Testimony, Ex. 2 to Expert Report, ECF No. 85-1);
see Fed. R. Evid. 702.
Relevance of Dr. Pratt’s Testimony
first reason to exclude Dr. Pratt’s expert opinion
focuses on his October 17, 2018 report, which details four
scenarios that could have occurred with Plaintiff’s
Cooker and caused her injuries. (MIL 8:1–10:12).
Scenario 1 concerns the potential for Plaintiff to
misguidedly close the Cooker lid by rotating it and only
“marginally overlapping the locking lugs and
compressing the gasket.” (Expert Report of John Pratt,
Ph.D. at 10–11, Ex. 1 to Resp.). Scenario 2 involves a
pot lid liner that is “mistakenly assembled into the
lid upside down.” (Id. at 11). In Scenario 3,
Plaintiff could have attached the Cooker’s lid by
initially closing it to the fully locked position, but
“backing off the lid . . . when the pressure [inside]
was between about .2 and 1.0 psig.” (Id.
11–12). Finally, Scenario 4 could occur if Plaintiff
initially secured the lid, yet opened it “shortly after
completion of the second cook cycle when the internal
pressure had dropped below about 3 ...