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Town of Winthrop v. Bailey Brothers, Inc.

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

March 18, 2014

TOWN OF WINTHROP, Plaintiff,
v.
BAILEY BROTHERS, INC., Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment seeking a judgment in its favor in the lawsuit filed by the Town of Winthrop (the "Town") alleging that Defendant, Bailey Brothers, Inc. ("Bailey Brothers"), is liable for the loss of the 2012 Ford 550 truck (the "Truck") Plaintiff purchased from Bailey Brothers on July 18, 2011 and Plaintiffs Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs complaint alleged breach of contract, breach of warranties, strict liability under 14 M.R.S.A. § 221, common law negligence, and res ipsa loquitor. Defendant purports that it is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has failed to produce any evidence to support its claim that the destruction of the Truck was caused by a defect that existed at the time Bailey Brothers sold the Truck to the Town.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

On July 18, 2011, the Town purchased the Truck from Bailey Brothers to be subsequently converted into a snowplow by H.P. Fairfield.[1] (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶4.) The Truck included only a cab and chassis. (Pl.'s S.M.F. ¶1.) The contract of sale included a factory warranty plan for three years "bumper to bumper" and an Extended Service Plan that extended the factory warranty to six years and "mimic[ed] the factory warranty so that basically everything [was] covered on the truck other than maintenance." (Pl.'s S.M.F. ¶6.)

Prior to November 8, 2011 (when the Truck was delivered to H.P. Fairfield), the Truck underwent and passed a road test and state inspection, both of which were conducted by Bailey Brothers. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶7-9.) As part of the inspection, Bailey Brothers generated a "Pre-Delivery Service Record" (the "PDF'), a checklist that a Bailey Brothers' technician filled out after examining all of the components of the Truck, including, but not limited to fluid levels, engine oil levels, etc.[2] (Bush Aff. Ex. A at 51-53.)

H.P. Fairfield spent two months and 166 hours rebuilding the Truck into a snowplow and road maintenance vehicle. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶12.) The parts and labor were quoted to cost $41, 980.00. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶6.) The work on the Truck included extensive mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic alterations consisting of the installation of a snowplow, wing, plow headgear, and sander body. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶5, 12.) During the course of work performed at H.P. Fairfield, several problems arose, including a problem with the installation of the wing: on January 14, 2012, H.P. Fairfield noticed that the engine of the Truck would not stay running and the battery light had turned on. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶14.) On January 16, 2012, H.P. Fairfield brought the Truck to the local Ford dealer, Hight Ford, for repair.[3] (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶16.) Hight Ford determined that the circuit had experienced an electrical draw greater than the rated fusible link protecting the circuit and replaced the fusible link between the alternator and the battery what restored the charge of the electrical system during operation of the engine. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶17.)

On January 19, 2012, an employee of the Town of Winthrop picked up the Truck from Hight Ford and drove it approximately 47 miles back to Winthrop. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶18.) During the drive back to Winthrop, the employee noticed that the check engine light was illuminated, thus, he called Bailey Brothers to inquire about the issue. (Def.'s S.M.F. 19-20.) Brenda Brochu, the owner of Bailey Brothers, advised him that the "general guide is that if a check engine light is solid where it's monitoring your emission systems, you're fine. If it is flashing, you're to have the Truck towed in or checked immediately." (Pl.'s S.M.F. ¶10.) Ms. Brochu asked the employee if he wanted to stop by and have the light checked, but he said no because a storm was coming. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶21.)

The next morning the Truck was used for plowing. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶23.) After fifteen minutes of plowing, the cab of the Truck began to fill with smoke. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶24.) The employee shut off the engine, but the truck engulfed in flames. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶25.) The driver of the Truck was uninjured, but the truck and plowing accessories were burned so that they were determined to be a total loss. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶25.) The Plaintiffs expert, Thomas A. Bush, was unable to conclude what caused the fire to any degree of scientific certainty and whether a failure existed due to: 1) installation of components by H.P. Fairfield; 2) installation of components by Hight Ford; or 3) original equipment manufacturer components. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶26.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the Court's review of the parties' statements of material fact and cited record evidence indicates that there are no genuine issues of disputed material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Dyer v. Dep't of Tramp., 2008 ME 106, ¶14, 951 A.2d 821 (citation omitted). Courts consider such evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Beal v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2010 ME 20, ¶11, 989 A.2d 733. But "[t]o survive a defendant's motion for a summary judgment, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case for each element of her cause of action." Bonin v. Crepeau, 2005 ME 59, 873 A.2d 346, 348 (quoting Doyle v. Dep 't of Human Servs., 2003 ME 61, ¶9, 824 A.2d 48).

A fact is material if it has the potential to impact the outcome of the case. See Parrish v. Wright, 2003 ME 90, ¶8, 828 A.2d 778 (citation omitted). An issue of fact is genuine when "sufficient evidence requires a fact-finder to choose between competing versions of the truth at trial." Id.

DISCUSSION

Torts Claims

Bailey Brothers argues that Plaintiffs torts claims—negligence, strict liability, and res ipsa loquitor—are barred by the economic loss doctrine. Courts in Maine, generally, follow the economic loss doctrine, which does not permit recovery for a defective product's damage to itself if the complaint is based on torts theories of liability. Oceanside at Pine Point Condo. Owners Ass 'n v. Peachtree Doors, Inc., 659 A.2d 267, 270 (Me. 1995) (citations omitted); McLaughlin v. Denharco, Inc., 129 F.Supp.2d 32, 36 (D. Me. 2001) ("The economic loss rule applies to strict liability and negligence claims based on a defective product."). Further support for the proposition that the doctrine is applicable to claims of strict liability can be found in the language of 14 M.R.S.A. § 221. It mandates that Plaintiff allege physical injury for strict liability to be imposed and, in relevant part, it provides as follows:

One who sells any goods or products in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to a person whom the manufacturer, seller or supplier might reasonably have expected to use, consume or be affected by the goods, or to his property, if the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product and it is ...

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