S.F. v Archer Daniels Midland Co (2014) H&FLR 2015-19

S.F. v Archer Daniels Midland Co, Cargill Inc, Ingredion Inc, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas LLC and Roquette America Inc (2014) H&FLR 2015-19

United States Court of Appeals (Second Circuit)

11 December 2014

Coram: Chin and Carney JJ, Sweet DJ

Appearing for the Plaintiff: John Michael Hayes (of Law Office of J. Michael Hayes)
Appearing for the First, Second, Third and Fourth Defendants (Archer, Cargill, Ingredion, and Tate): Stephen Victor D’Amore, Dan K. Webb, Scott P. Glauberman, Cornelius M. Murphy and William P. Ferranti (all of Winston & Strawn LLP) and Kevin M. Hogan (of Phillips Lytle LLP)
Appearing for the Fifth Defendant (Roquette): David Ray Adams (of Hurwitz & Fine PC) and Peter N Wang (of Foley & Lardner LLP)

Catchwords: New York – High Fructose Corn Syrup – diabetes – negligence – products liability – defective design – market share liability

Facts: The plaintiff was the father of SEF, an infant who had consumed high fructose corn syrup, of which the defendants were (and are) major manufacturers.  It was alleged that this product was a substanial factor in SEF’s development of Type 2 diabetes.  SF brought proceedings against the defendants based on negligence, gross negligence, strict products liability (in relation to defective design), and failure to warn.  The defendants sought and were granted summary dismissal of the claim: S.E.F. v Archer Daniels Midland Co (2014) H&FLR 2014-8.  The plaintiff appealed.

Held: Per curiam, dismissing the appeal, that –

1. In general, New York law views claims based on strict products liability and negligence to be functionally synonymous.  To state a claim for defective design in relation to a products liability (or, by extension, negligence) claim, the plaintiff must allege that the the product as designed posed a substantial risk of harm, that it was practicable to design the product more safely, and that the defective design was a substantial factor in causing injury.  The plaintiff’s claim failed because she did not allege a safer alternative design.

Lewis v Abbott Labs, No. 08 Civ. 7480(SCR)(GAY), 2009 WL 2231701 (S.D.N.Y. July 24, 2009); Voss v Black & Decker Manufacturing Co, 59 N.Y.2d 102 (1983); Goldin v Smith & Nephew Inc., No. 12 Civ. 9217(JPO), 2013 WL 1759575 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2013).

2. Obiter, a complete ban on a product is not a permissible “safer alternative design” in a design defect case

Clinton v Brown & Williamson Holdings Inc., 498 F.Supp.2d 639 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) and Adamo v Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp, 11 NY.3d 545 (2008), considered.

3. The case was not appropriate for analysis under the principle of “market share liability” for the substantially the same reasons as those outlined by the trial court.

Hymowitz v Eli Lilly & Co, 73 NY.2d 487 (1989), considered.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

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S.E.F. v Archer-Daniels-Midland Co & Ors (2014) H&FLR 2014-8

S.E.F. v Archer-Daniels-Midland Co & Ors (2014) H&FLR 2014-8

United States District Court (W.D.N.Y.)

21 April 2014

Coram: Skretny CJ

Appearing for the Plaintiff: J. Michael Hayes (of Law Offices of J. Michael Hayes)
Appearing for the Defendant: Kevin Hogan (of Phillips Lytle LLP) and Dan K. Webb, Stephen V. D’Amore, Scott P. Glauberman and Cornelius M. Murphy (all of Winston & Strawn LLP)

Catchwords: New York – high-fructose corn syrup – diabetes – negligence – product liability – failure to warn – market-share liability – feasible redesign

Facts: The defendants* were manufacturers of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The plaintiff was a 14 year old girl who alleged that she had consumed HFCS in common foods and that this caused her to develop Type 2 diabetes. She sought compensation from the defendants based on negligence, gross negligence, strict products liability and failure to warn of the danger of a product. She relied on the doctrine of market-share liability, whereby a defendant can be presumed liable for a plaintiff’s injury to the extent of its share of the relevant market**.

The defendants’ position was that the plaintiff could neither connect her condition to HFCS, nor to any particular defendant. It was also contended that Federal food-additive laws pre-empted her claim. The defendants applied to dismiss the claim.

Judicial notice was taken that type 2 diabetes could be caused by a number of factors including diet, exercise (or lack thereof) and family history. It was common ground that the law of the state of New York applied to the claim.

Held, dismissing the plaintiff’s claim,

(1) The plaintiff had failed to state a plausible ground for relief and therefore the claim failed.

(2) An implausible claim ought not be allowed to proceed on the basis that may be validated or undermined through discovery.

Ashcroft v Iqbal, 556 US 662 (2009) and Bell Atl. Corp. v Twombly, 550 US 544 (2007), followed.
Pelman v McDonald’s Corp., 396 F.3d 508 (2d Cir., 2005), not followed.

(3) New York law does not allow “market share liability” to apply in cases where the manifestation of injury is not alleged to be far removed from the time of the allegedly harmful product’s consumption. It also does not allow the doctrine to apply where there is no signature injury conclusively linking the product to the harm, and certainly not where there is no clear public policy that it should apply.

Hamilton v Beretta USA Corp., 96 NY.2d 222, 750 NE.2d 1055 (2001) and Brenner v American Cyanamid Co., 263 AD.2d 165 (4th Dept, 1999), followed.

(4) New York law recognizes claims of strict liability in relation to design defects where it can be shown that: the product as designed presented a substantial risk of harm; it was feasible to design it in a safer manner; and the design defect was a substantial factor in causing injury. However, if the necessary redesigning causes the product to cease to exist, a design defect claim must fail.

DiBartolo v Abbott Labs., 914 F. Supp. 2d 601 (S.D.N.Y., 2012) and Clinton v Brown & Williamson Holdings Inc., 498 F. Supp. 639 (S.D.N.Y., 2007), followed.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

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* Archer-Daniels-Midland Co, Cargill Inc, Ingredion Inc, Penford Products Co, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas LLC and Roquette America Inc.
** Hymowitz v Eli Lilly & Co, 73 NY.2d 487; 539 NE.2d 1069 (1989).