Valerie Rountree et al v. Ching Feng Blinds et al
Order on Motion for Summary Judgment
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF ALASKA
VALERIE ROUNTREE, individually
and as Personal Representative of
the ESTATE OF APRIL LYNNE COX;
MORGAN SCHEDIWY, a minor
through her natural mother and
guardian VALERIE ROUNTREE; and
CHING FENG BLINDS INDUSTRY
CO., LTD., et al.,
ORDER FROM CHAMBERS
Motion at docket 99]
I. MOTION PRESENTED
At docket 99, defendant Window Covering Manufacturers Association (“WCMA”)
moved for summary judgment. Plaintiffs opposed the motion which has now been fully
briefed. Oral argument has not been requested and would not assist the court.
This lawsuit arises from the death of a child, April Lynne Cox, who allegedly
became entangled in the cord of a window blind at the home of her grandparents and
died from strangulation on May 27, 2002.1 As a consequence of the child’s death,
plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against WCMA and three other defendants. WCMA is a nonprofit trade association incorporated in New Jersey and maintaining its principal place of
business in New York. WCMA moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that this court
lacked personal jurisdiction over it. In its initial order addressing the motion, this court
wrote the following:
It is not clear that specific jurisdiction exists because it is not clear
that plaintiffs have a cause of action against WCMA arising from its
contacts with Alaska. Plaintiffs’ most likely cause of action would
be for failure to provide adequate warnings on the blinds sold to
April’s grandparents. WCMA is a trade association, and in some
jurisdictions trade associations have been held liable for harm
cause by inadequate warnings on their members’ products. But
before the court can determine whether plaintiffs have a cause of
action against WCMA, they must make two showings. First, they
must demonstrate what law governs this case. Second, they must
show that under the applicable law, trade associations may be held
liable for harm caused by inadequate warnings on their members’
The court invited further briefing from both parties. After considering the additional
briefing, the court concluded that Alaska law applied, and that under Alaska law
plaintiffs’ had made out a prima facie case that WCMA had assumed the duty of the
manufacturer of the blinds to non-negligently give an adequate warning of risks inherent
in use of the blinds.3
WCMA continues to maintain that it owes no duty to plaintiffs, but recognizing
that the law of the case is that a trade association may owe such a duty, it premises its
motion on two subordinate arguments. First, says WCMA, there is no evidence to
support the proposition that the warnings given in this case was inadequate. Second,
says WCMA, even if the warning were inadequate, there is no evidence to show that an
Doc. 6, p. 2, ¶ 3.
Doc. 24, pp. 3-4.
adequate warning would have been heeded; hence, an inadequate warning could not
have proximately caused April’s death.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment should be
granted when there is no genuine dispute about material facts and when the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The moving party has the burden to
show that material facts are not genuinely disputed.4 To meet this burden, the moving
party must point out the lack of evidence supporting the nonmoving party’s claim, but
need not produce evidence negating that claim.5 Once the moving party meets its
burden, the nonmoving party must demonstrate that a genuine issue exists by
presenting evidence indicating that certain facts are so disputed that a fact-finder must
resolve the dispute at trial.6 The court must not assess the credibility of this evidence,
and must draw all justifiable inferences from it in favor of the nonmoving party.7
As noted above, WCMA’s motion is based first on the argument that the warning
given was adequate, and second on the proposition that even if inadequate, the warning
did not proximately cause the child’s death. The court addresses each in turn.
A. Adequacy of the Warning Given
The parties are in agreement that there was a warning on the bottom of the
bottom rail of the blind which read as follows: “Young children can become entangled
and strangle in cord or bead loops. Use safety devices to reduce access or eliminate
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
Id. at 325.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).
Id. at 255.
loops.”8 This is the warning prescribed in ¶ 5.1.1 of the 1996 version of the
ANSI/WCMA Standard of Safety for Corded Window Covering Products.9 Plaintiffs
contend that the warning was inadequate for two reasons. First, it was placed on the
bottom of the bottom rail where it would not be seen unless the blinds were opened.
Second, they contend that even if seen, the warning did not address the possibility of
strangulation in the inner cords of the blind which allegedly was the mechanism involved
in April’s death. Hence, conclude plaintiffs, the warning was inadequate. The court
concludes that whether the warning given was adequate or inadequate cannot be
determined as a matter of law. It follows that WCMA is not entitled to summary
judgment on the basis that as a matter of law the warning was adequate.
B. Proximate Cause
Citing a long list of less than sterling safety practices followed by the adults
responsible for April’s safety, WCMA asserts that as a matter of law, the adult plaintiffs
would not have heeded an adequate warning. While the court recognizes that there is
evidence from which a jury might conclude that the adults responsible for the
circumstances which resulted in April’s death would not have paid attention to an
adequate warning, that evidence is insufficient to show as a matter of law that an
adequate warning would have been ignored. On this issue, too, WCMA comes up short
in its quest to establish that as a matter of law plaintiffs' claim lacks merit.
For the reasons set out above, defendant WCMA’s motion for summary judgment
at docket 99 is DENIED.
DATED at Anchorage, Alaska, this 9th day of November 2006.
JOHN W. SEDWICK
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Doc. 100, at 4; doc. 104 at 2-3.
Doc. 104, Ex. 1 ¶ 5.1.1.
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