United States District Court, D. Minnesota
B. Caswell, III and Nicholas A. Dolejsi, ZELLE LLP, for
R. Christie, Thomas P. Mannion, and Yueh Leun Timothy Chai,
LEWIS BRISBOIS BISGAARD & SMITH; John N. Bisanz, Jr. and
David Bradley Olsen, HENSON & EFRON, P.A.; Jeffrey M.
Embleton and Brendon P. Friesen, MANSOUR GAVIN LPA, for
defendant Swagelok Company.
Stephen Tillitt and Marissa K. Linden, GISLASON & HUNTER
LLP, for defendant San Diego Valve & Fitting Co., Inc.
Patrick J. Schiltz United States District Judge
McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing, Inc.
(“McNeilus”) manufactures commercial trucks. This
action arises out of an explosion that occurred on January
11, 2017, at McNeilus's manufacturing facility. McNeilus
alleges that the explosion was caused by the failure of a
hose assembly designed and manufactured by defendant Swagelok
Company (“Swagelok”) and distributed by defendant
San Diego Valve & Fitting Co., Inc. (“SDVF”).
According to McNeilus, the hose assembly, which McNeilus had
installed on a truck, came apart during the manufacturing
process, leaking compressed natural gas and causing the
explosion. McNeilus brings claims of negligence, strict
liability, and breach of express and implied warranties.
matter is before the Court on the parties' motions for
summary judgment: First, defendants seek judgment
against McNeilus on all of McNeilus's claims, contending
that, as matter of law, McNeilus's own negligence was a
superseding and the sole proximate cause of the explosion.
For the reasons stated on the record at the November 13, 2019
hearing, there are genuine issues of material fact concerning
whether McNeilus was negligent and whether any such
negligence was a superseding cause of the explosion.
Defendants' motion for summary judgment is therefore
McNeilus moves for a declaration that Swagelok and SDVF are
joint venturers and that therefore their fault must be
aggregated for purposes of applying Minnesota's
comparative fault statute, Minn. Stat. § 604.01. As
discussed at the hearing, there is a genuine issue of fact
concerning whether Swagelok and SDVF share profits, a
necessary element of a joint venture. See Meyers v.
Postal Fin. Co., 287 N.W.2d 614, 61718 (Minn. 1979)
(identifying the four elements of a joint venture, including
“[s]haring of profits”). As for McNeilus's
alternative argument that defendants are a joint enterprise:
Because McNeilus did not raise this argument until its reply
brief, defendants have not had an opportunity to respond to
it. The Court therefore cannot grant judgment to McNeilus on
the issue of joint enterprise. The Court also believes that
it would be preferable to develop a full trial record before
deciding whether Swagelok and SDVF were involved in a joint
venture, a joint enterprise, or both. McNeilus's motion
is therefore denied.
McNeilus moves for summary judgment on defendants'
affirmative defense of spoliation. This is a rather unusual
summary judgment motion, as it is asking the Court to declare
(months in advance of trial) that it will not give
an adverse inference instruction to the jurors an instruction
that Swagelok and SDVF have not yet requested. (Swagelok and
SDVF have not argued that any of McNeilus's claims or
defenses should be dismissed as a sanction for spoliation;
instead, Swagelok and SDVF appear to be contemplating
requesting an adverse inference instruction at the close of
trial.) As discussed at the hearing, the Court would not,
based on its limited knowledge of the facts, give an adverse
inference instruction to the jury. Even if the Court could
find that McNeilus destroyed evidence that it knew was
relevant to anticipated litigation and McNeilus has a good
argument that it did not the Court cannot find on the current
record that the reason why McNeilus destroyed
evidence was “to suppress the truth.” Burris
v. Gulf Underwriters Ins. Co., 787 F.3d 875, 879 (8th
Cir. 2015). But the Court will defer a final decision as to
jury instructions and any other spoliation remedies until
after it has heard the evidence at trial. McNeilus's
motion regarding defendants' spoliation defense is
therefore denied without prejudice.
on the foregoing, and on all of the files, records, and
proceedings herein, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
Defendants' motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 41] is
Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment ...