United States District Court, D. Maine
ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Z. SINGAL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No. 22). For reasons explained herein, the Court GRANTS the
a party is entitled to summary judgment if, on the record
before the Court, it appears “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).
“[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of
material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). An issue is
“genuine” if “the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Id. at 248. A “material
fact” is one that has “the potential to affect
the outcome of the suit under the applicable law.”
Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701,
703 (1st Cir. 1993).
party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate an absence
of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).
In determining whether this burden is met, the Court must
view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.
See Santoni v. Potter, 369 F.3d 594, 598 (1st Cir.
the moving party has made this preliminary showing, the
nonmoving party must “produce specific facts, in
suitable evidentiary form, to establish the presence of a
trialworthy issue.” Triangle Trading Co., Inc. v.
Robroy Indus., Inc., 200 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1999)
(quotation marks and internal ellipsis omitted); see
also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). “Mere allegations, or
conjecture unsupported in the record, are
insufficient.” Barros-Villahermosa v. United
States, 642 F.3d 56, 58 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting
Rivera-Marcano v. Normeat Royal Dane Quality A/S,
998 F.2d 34, 37 (1st Cir. 1993)); see also Wilson v.
Moulison N. Corp., 639 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2011)
(“A properly supported summary judgment motion cannot
be defeated by conclusory allegations, improbable inferences,
periphrastic circumlocutions, or rank speculation.”).
“As to any essential factual element of its claim on
which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial,
its failure to come forward with sufficient evidence to
generate a trialworthy issue warrants summary judgment for
the moving party.” In re Ralar Distribs.,
Inc., 4 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir. 1993). “However,
summary judgment is improper when the record is sufficiently
open-ended to permit a rational factfinder to resolve a
material factual dispute in favor of either side.”
Morales-Melecio v. United States (Dep't of Health and
Human Servs.), 890 F.3d 361, 368 (1st Cir. 2018)
(quotation marks omitted).
Dal Riley holds a propane and natural gas technician's
license in Maine, and previously held a propane and natural
gas technician's license in New Hampshire. He has also
previously worked as a gas technician in New Hampshire.
Between approximately 2014 and 2017, Riley owned a three-unit
residential property located at 16 Sunk Haze Road, Union,
Maine (hereinafter, the “Riley Property”). In the
winter of 2016, Riley, along with one of his tenants, Robert
Boynton, were renovating the Riley Property. As part of those
renovations, they operated a temporary propane heater that
Boynton had acquired from another individual.
Riley had been staying in a camper parked at the Riley
Property while working on the renovations, on the evening of
January 13, 2016, Riley departed for his camp in New
Hampshire. He left the temporary propane heater, which that
had been installed by Amerigas earlier that week, in
operation at the Riley Property, which was
unoccupied. On January 14, 2016, an explosion and fire
occurred at the Riley property. At the time, Plaintiffs Wilda
Lopez, Darrell Moody, and Joel Wentworth owned adjacent
properties that were damaged following the explosion.
fire was investigated by the State Fire Marshals' office.
Investigator Mary-Ann MacMaster conducted interviews and
investigated the site following the explosion on behalf of
the Fire Marshals' office. Ultimately, she was not able
to determine with the requisite level of certainty the cause,
origin, or location of the apparent propane leak, nor was she
able to determine the sequence of events that led to any
propane leak at the Riley Property.
Moody, and Wentworth have little or no direct personal
knowledge of the sequence of events leading to the explosion
that occurred at the Riley Property on January 14, 2016.
Nonetheless, on January 12, 2018, Lopez, Moody, and Wentworth
filed the pending Complaint (ECF No. 1) claiming that Riley
was liable for their damages under both theories of
negligence and strict liability.
the course of discovery, Plaintiffs designated Kurt Ruchala,
P.E., as their liability expert on the 2016 explosion at the
Riley Property. Ruchala concluded that the sequence of events
that led to any propane leak at the Riley Property on or
about January 13-14, 2016 cannot be determined. Likewise, he
has concluded that the cause, source, and location of any
propane leak at the Riley Property on or about January 13-14,
2016 cannot be determined.
points to a lack of trialworthy evidence on proximate cause
as grounds for summary judgment on both of Plaintiffs'
claims. “An essential element of a claim for negligence
is that the defendant's negligence was the proximate
cause of the plaintiff's harm.” Darney v.
Dragon Prod. Co., LLC, 771 F.Supp.2d 91, 117 (D. Me.
2011). Here, the Court agrees that Plaintiffs have failed to
put forward any evidence from which a reasonable factfinder
could conclude that their damages were proximately caused by
Riley breaching his duty of care. Most notably, both
designated experts have testified that the cause, origin, and
location of any propane leak cannot be
determined. Thus, even viewing the record in the light
most favorable to Plaintiffs. Defendants are entitled to
summary judgment on Plaintiffs' negligence claim. See
Estate of Smithv. Salvesen, 143 A.3d 780, 786
(Me. 2016) (“If, however, there is so little evidence
tending to show that the defendant's acts or omissions
were the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries that
the jury would have to engage in conjecture or speculation in
order to return a verdict for the plaintiff, then the
defendant is entitled to summary judgment.”);
Durham v. HTH Corp., 870 A.2d 577, 579 n.2 (Me.
2005) (affirming a grant of summary judgment & noting a
“lack of evidence with regard to causation” where
the plaintiff did not know what caused her fall and there was
“no other evidence” ...