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Markel v. Douglas Technologies Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 1, 2019

Anthony Markel, Plaintiff,
Douglas Technologies Group, Inc., a California corporation, d/b/a Douglas Wheel Technologies, Defendant.

          Brian D. Stofferahn, Gregory N. Bittle, and Keith J. Kerfeld, Tewksbury & Kerfeld, P.A., for Plaintiff.

          Kyle A. Eidsness and Russell S. Ponessa, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, for Defendant.



         This case is about a wheel manufactured by Defendant Douglas Technologies Group (“DWT”), and whether an alleged defect in that wheel caused Plaintiff Anthony Markel's all-terrain vehicle (“ATV”) to crash during an ATV race on June 16, 2013. DWT now moves for summary judgment as to all of the claims Markel has asserted against it. In so doing, DWT primarily argues that Markel's liability expert, Mr. Christopher Brand, failed to provide the requisite expert opinions needed to advance a products liability claim past summary judgment. In response, Markel contends that Mr. Brand's expert testimony sufficiently raises disputes of material fact, and that, to the extent Mr. Brand's analysis is lacking, this case does not require expert opinion. The parties also dispute whether Markel's related “failure to warn” claims should survive summary judgment.

         Because the Court agrees with DWT in all relevant respects, it will grant its summary judgment motion in full.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Parties

         Plaintiff Anthony Markel (hereinafter “Markel”) lives in Harris, Minnesota (see Compl. [Doc. No. 1] ¶ 1), and was, at the time of this accident, an amateur ATV racer who had raced in “100 to 200 races.” (See Markel Dep. [Doc. No. 42] at 174.)

         Defendant Douglas Technologies Group, Inc., d/b/a Douglas Wheel Technologies (hereinafter “DWT”), is a California Corporation with its principal place of business in Vista, California. (See Compl. ¶ 2; An. [Doc. No. 8] ¶ 2.) DWT has been manufacturing ATV wheels since the early 1990s. (See Leibelt Dep. [Doc. No. 45-2] at 21.) One of DWT's products is an aluminum “Sport Blue Label” wheel, which is apparently meant for “recreational” ATV use. (See id. at 38-41.)

         B. The Accident

         At some point in 2010, Markel purchased an eight-year-old Sport Blue Label wheel for his “2004 Honda TRX ATV.” (See Brand Supp. Ex. Rep. [Doc. No. 42] at 2 (when Markel purchased the wheel); ESI Ex. Rep. [Doc. No. 42] at 7-8 (age of wheel); id. at 5 (brand of ATV).) Although new Blue Label wheels come with a separate “recommended usage chart” stating that the wheels are not meant for racing (see Brand Ex. Rep. [Doc. No. 42] at 6-7; ESI Ex. Rep. at 6; see also 2009 DWT Catalogue [Doc. No. 45-5] (stating that “Blue Label” wheels are meant for “recreation, ” in comparison to the “Red Label” “racing” wheels)), Markel claims not to have seen that warning, or “recommended usage chart, ” when he purchased his Blue Label wheel. (See ESI Ex. Rep. at 2-3.)

         In any event, three years (and an unclear number of races) later, on June 16, 2013, the “rim” of the at-issue wheel came undone while Markel was in the final lap of an ATV race in Ogilvie, Minnesota. (See Brand Ex. Rep. at 2; ESI Ex. Rep. at 2-3.) Markel's ATV then rolled over and crashed, and Markel was flung from his vehicle into a nearby wall. (Id.) This collision severely injured Markel. (Id.; see also Pl.'s Statement of the Case [Doc. No. 12] at 2 (listing Markel's various medical expenses).)

         C. Litigation and Procedural History

         On May 30, 2017, Markel filed the present complaint, asserting claims of (1) products liability, (2) failure to warn, (3) breach of warranty, (4) negligence, and (5) post-sale duty to warn, all related to DWT's manufacture and sale of the broken Sport Blue Label wheel rim. DWT answered a little less than a month later, and asserted numerous affirmative defenses. (See Answer [Doc. No. 8].) In June 2018, after Markel's counsel inadvertently missed the deadline to file expert witness disclosures, Markel moved for, and received, a four-month extension of the discovery period. (See Mag. Judge's Aug. 10, 2018 Order [Doc. No. 34].) At the end of the discovery period, on December 14, 2018, DWT filed its motion for summary judgment. The parties filed briefs in support of and in opposition to the motion, and the Court heard oral argument on January 25, 2019. (See Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Summ. J. [Doc. No. 39] (“DWT Br.”); Pl.'s Br. in Opp. to Summ. J. [Doc. No. 41] (“Markel Br.”); Def.'s Reply Br. [Doc. No. 47] (“DWT Reply Br.”).)


         Summary judgment is proper if there are no disputed issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must “view[] the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Grinell Mut. Reinsurance Co. v. Schwieger, 685 F.3d 697 (8th Cir. 2012). However, a party opposing summary judgment “‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial,' and ‘must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment.'” Ingrassia v. Schafer, 825 F.3d 891, 896 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256-57).

         A. The Products Liability Claim

         Because Markel's “products liability, ” “breach of warranty, ” and “negligence” claims are best classified as a single “products liability claim, ” the Court will address the three claims as such. See Westbrock v. Marshalltown Mfg. Co., 473 N.W.2d 352, 356 (Minn.Ct.App. 1991) (noting that, under Minnesota law, “strict liability, negligence, and implied warranty remedies” have all “merged” “into a single products liability theory”); accord In re Shigellosis Litig., 647 N.W.2d 1, 11 (Minn.Ct.App. 2002); Hammes v. Yamaha Motor Corp., No. 03-cv-6456 (MJD/JSM), 2006 WL 1195907, at *13 (D. Minn. May 4, 2006).

         1. ...

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