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Burton v. Cyanamid

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

June 12, 2018

GLENN BURTON, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN CYANAMID et al., Defendants; RAVON OWENS, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN CYANAMID et al., Defendants; CESAR SIFUENTES,, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN CYANAMID et al.,, Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          LYNN ADELMAN DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs bring these negligence and failure to warn claims against various manufacturers of white lead carbonate pigment (WLC), alleging that they were harmed by ingesting paint containing WLC when they were children. Defendants Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and Sherwin Williams now move for summary judgment on the failure to warn claims on grounds that, as suppliers of WLC to paint manufacturers, they owed no legal duty to warn end users of the hazards of using paint containing WLC.

         I note that plaintiffs contest the characterization of Atlantic Richfield's predecessors and Sherwin Williams as component parts suppliers rather than manufacturers of finished products. I will not address that factual dispute here. Because issues of material fact exist as to whether component part suppliers of WLC to the paint industry owed a duty to warn, the characterization of defendants as component part suppliers or finished product manufacturers is immaterial to my denial of their motions for summary judgment.

         I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         When I consider a motion for summary judgment, I am to treat the evidence of the non-movant as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). I am to grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there are no genuine issues of material fact such that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Blasius v. Angel Automotive, Inc., 839 F.3d 639, 644 (7th Cir. 2016).

         II. LEGAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs proceed under the risk-contribution theory of liability, which the Wisconsin Supreme Court extended to plaintiffs alleging injury from WLC in Thomas ex rel. Gramling v. Mallet, 285 Wis.2d 236 (2005). Thomas permits such risk-contribution claims to sound in negligence or in strict products liability. Id. at ¶¶ 161-62. The instant plaintiffs bring claims of both kinds.

         Among the elements required to prevail on the strict liability claim, plaintiffs must prove “that the white lead carbonate was defective when it left the possession or control of the manufacturers.” Id. at ¶ 162. Plaintiffs rely on the failure-to-warn theory of product defect recognized by Wisconsin law: “a product is defective based on a failure to adequately warn when an intended use of the product is dangerous, but the manufacturer did not provide sufficient warning or instruction.” Godoy ex. rel. Gramling v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., 319 Wis.2d 91, ¶ 29 (2009).

         Separately, the negligence claim detailed in Thomas requires proof “that the Pigment Manufacturers' conduct in producing the white lead carbonate constituted a breach of a legally recognized duty to [the plaintiffs].” Thomas, 285 Wis.2d at ¶ 161. Plaintiffs proffer the duty to warn as one such legally recognized duty, while reserving the possibility that parallel negligence claims might be pursued on the basis of other sorts of duty.

         Defendants argue that, as component suppliers to the paint industry, WLC manufacturers had no legally recognized duty to warn purchasers of paint about the hazards of paint containing WLC. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has not directly addressed this legal question. Thomas, 285 Wis.2d at ¶ 3, n. 2. I must therefore derive my conclusion regarding WLC manufacturers' duty to warn from Wisconsin tort law.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. The Restatement (Third) Framework for Component Seller Liability

         The defendants argue that, with certain exceptions, Wisconsin law assigns the duty to warn end users of a finished product of hazards associated with that product only to the manufacturer of that finished product and not to suppliers of component parts. They argue that only paint manufacturers, and not WLC manufacturers, bore any duty to warn purchasers of paint containing WLC about the product's hazards.

         Defendants base this argument on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals' adoption of the approach to component supplier liability described in the Restatement (Third) of Torts § 5 (1998). Schreiner v. Wieser Concrete Products, Inc., 2006 WI.App. 138, ¶ 14, 294 Wis.2d 832, 720 N.W.2d 525; also see Spychalla v. Boeing Aerospace Operations,Inc., ...


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