Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied April 29, 1985.
RANDALL, Circuit Judge:
Georgia-Pacific Corporation operates a large number of sawmills and manufacturing plants. In 1978, Georgia-Pacific sold an obsolete sawmill trimmer from its plant in El Dorado, Arkansas, to a used equipment dealer. The trimmer was eventually sold to Moises Galindo's employer and was involved in an accident in which Galindo was severely injured. This appeal presents the question whether, by virtue of the 1978 sale and other sales of used equipment, Georgia-Pacific is "engaged in the business of selling" such equipment for purposes of the doctrine of strict liability for product defects under section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. We conclude from the record before us that unresolved questions of fact preclude an answer to that question at this point in the litigation. Accordingly, we vacate the summary judgment in favor of Georgia-Pacific.
The few facts that have been developed thus far are not in dispute. Moises Galindo (Galindo) worked for Middlebrook Lumber Company (Middlebrook) at a sawmill in Nacogdoches, Texas. On August 21, 1980, he suffered severe injuries while operating a sawmill trimmer. Galindo alleges that the defective condition of the trimmer caused his injuries. Following the accident, he filed this diversity lawsuit for damages under Texas law against several parties that he claims manufactured or marketed the allegedly defective trimmer.
Galindo's complaint alleges that Georgia-Pacific Corporation (Georgia-Pacific) once owned the trimmer that caused his injuries. According to the first amended complaint, Georgia-Pacific sold the trimmer to defendant Modern Iron Works, Inc., (Modern Iron Works) who in turn sold it to Middlebrook. It is undisputed that from 1960 to 1978 Georgia-Pacific in fact owned a trimmer similar to the one involved in Galindo's accident. Georgia-Pacific
Georgia-Pacific moved for summary judgment on the ground that, even if it sold the trimmer involved in Galindo's accident, and even if the trimmer is defective, Georgia-Pacific is not liable for Galindo's injuries because Georgia-Pacific is not engaged in the business of selling sawmill trimmers. According to the motion for summary judgment, Georgia-Pacific's sale of the trimmer was an isolated, "occasional" sale upon which strict liability may not be premised.
The district court granted summary judgment on the strength of an affidavit from Georgia-Pacific which avers that Georgia-Pacific "is not in the business of selling trimmers." The affidavit establishes that Georgia-Pacific sold the trimmer to Rice in 1978 because it was no longer needed in the operation of the Arkansas plant. The affidavit also establishes, however, that sale to equipment dealers and other parties is one of three ways that Georgia-Pacific regularly disposes of equipment that is no longer needed at its various plants and sawmills; Georgia-Pacific also sometimes "scraps" used equipment or transfers it to other places within the corporation.
Galindo opposed the motion for summary judgment on the ground that Georgia-Pacific's affidavit itself establishes that the company is engaged in the business of selling trimmers and other used sawmill equipment. The affidavit demonstrates, in Galindo's view, that sale of used equipment is a regular means of disposition. Answers to interrogatories reveal that Georgia-Pacific operates more than 240 plants and mills around the world. From this, Galindo argued that Georgia-Pacific's sales of used equipment are extensive enough to constitute a "business" in which Georgia-Pacific is "engaged."
Noting the absence of relevant Texas caselaw, the district court made an "Erie guess" that
(Emphasis supplied.) Since Georgia-Pacific uses sawmill trimmers in its business to produce a "line of products," which consists of building materials, pulp, paper, packaging, chemicals, and plastics, the district court granted summary judgment for Georgia-Pacific.
On appeal, Galindo argues, not only that the district court erred in finding Georgia-Pacific to be an occasional seller, but that we should reverse with directions to enter a partial summary judgment that Georgia-Pacific is engaged in the business of selling for strict liability purposes.
Texas substantive law, of course, governs this diversity suit. See Erie Railroad v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938). Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P., however, governs the propriety of summary judgment. Summary judgment "may be granted only if it appears from pleadings, depositions, admissions and affidavits, considered in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." United States v. An Article of Drug, 725 F.2d 976, 984 (5th Cir.1984). Georgia-Pacific, as the moving party, had the burden to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Id. If Georgia-Pacific successfully discharged this burden, the burden shifted to Galindo to "counter [Georgia-Pacific's] affidavits with opposing affidavits or other competent evidence setting forth specific facts to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial." Id. at 984-85. If the burden shifted, Galindo could not demonstrate a fact issue by "resting on the mere allegations of [his] pleadings." Russell v. Harrison, 736 F.2d 283, 287 (5th Cir.1984). In fact, unsupported allegations or affidavits setting forth "ultimate or conclusory facts and conclusions of law" are insufficient to either support or defeat a motion for summary judgment. C. Wright, A. Miller & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 2738 (1983). Moreover, the district court was obliged to resolve all reasonable factual inferences from the record in favor of Galindo, the nonmovant. See Hodges v. Exxon Corp., 727 F.2d 450, 452 (5th Cir.1984). We are governed by the same principles on appeal. See Russell v. Harrison, 736 F.2d at 287. With these principles in mind, we turn to a review of the law governing the substantive issue raised by Georgia-Pacific's motion, followed by a review of the summary judgment proof.
Texas Law of Strict Liability
Texas has adopted section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts.
The district court determined that the Texas courts would exempt from liability, on an occasional seller rationale, those who sell "depreciated owner-user equipment ... if the ... equipment [was] used by the seller in its business and [is] not otherwise any part of a line of products or goods sold by the seller in its ordinary course of business." The court apparently concluded that Texas courts would reach this result regardless of the number of
It is clear that the rationale for imposition of strict liability is served only if the defendant is in the business of releasing products into the stream of commerce. The existence of a business justifies consumer reliance and the assumption that the seller has undertaken a special responsibility for product safety, and supplies the mechanism for loss spreading. According to comment f, "[t]he basis for
As we have already noted, there is no Texas case discussing in detail the requirement that the defendant be engaged in the business of selling the defective product. The district court based its analysis on the following prerequisites to section 402A liability which the court distilled from the Texas cases: "(1) [a] commercial or commercially based transaction is required" and "(2) ... the source of the product must have more than a merely incidental relationship to the transaction, arising either because the product is one the source produces, distributes, or otherwise has a vested interest in placing into the stream of commerce, or because the manner in which the product is passed from the source to the user creates the comment f `forced reliance.'" (Citations omitted.) Even if we agree that this is a fair summary of Texas law, we do not believe that it necessarily follows that "getting rid of the depreciated equipment used for production of the goods and services that constitute the business of the seller" can never constitute a business in which the seller is engaged.
The first principle upon which the district court based this conclusion — that a transaction must be commercial — simply means that the product must be made available to the consuming public. See Armstrong Rubber, 570 S.W.2d at 376 (stream of commerce means "release in some manner to the consuming public"); Thate, 595 S.W.2d at 598 ("[c]hannels of commerce implies that a product is placed for use by or sale to the consuming public"). Clearly, the sale of depreciated equipment may be commercial in this sense. The second principle — that the seller must have a vested interest in placing the product into the stream of commerce or must create forced reliance on the part of consumers — might also exist in the context of depreciated equipment sales. Suppose, for example, that Georgia-Pacific has a policy of purchasing new equipment at all of its sawmills every five years. Suppose further that Georgia-Pacific has a division or department devoted to selling the used equipment, that the department advertises the availability of equipment on a widespread basis, and that it realizes substantial revenues from this activity. Clearly, on such facts, Georgia-Pacific would not be exempted from section 402A liability simply because the equipment is used. In Hovenden, 529 S.W.2d at 302, the court rejected the argument that a seller of used equipment, as opposed to the manufacturer, cannot be held liable under section 402A. Significantly, the court reached its holding by specifically relying on the enterprise theory of liability expressed in the comments to section 402A. Moreover, we can discern no other reason why the rationale underlying section 402A would not apply to the hypothetical case we have described. On such facts, the consuming public might well expect Georgia-Pacific to stand behind the equipment it sells; Georgia-Pacific would
The district court cited no authority that compels a conclusion that Texas courts would construe the occasional seller doctrine to embrace all sellers of depreciated equipment that had been used in the seller's business without regard to the extent of sales activities. Texas courts have given no indication that such a rule is imminent and analogous cases from other jurisdictions do not support such a rule. In fact, our review of the caselaw reveals that most of the decisions that have found the seller of depreciated equipment used in the seller's business to be an "occasional seller" involved a single sale or transaction in which the rationale for imposition of strict liability was lacking.
In short, we find no basis for the district court's conclusion that the Texas Supreme Court will ultimately determine that the seller of depreciated equipment used in his primary business will never be considered engaged in the business of selling such equipment. Rather, we believe that there may well exist circumstances in which, because of the number of sales or
The Summary Judgment Proof
The summary judgment record consists of a meager showing on the issue of Georgia-Pacific's status as a business seller of used sawmill equipment. The affidavit of Arnold Jones, the plant manager of Georgia-Pacific's Arkansas plant, establishes that (1) the trimmer was sold in 1978 because it was no longer needed in the operation of the Arkansas plant; (2) Georgia-Pacific only sells sawmill trimmers and other used equipment when it decides to take equipment out of service at its plants or sawmills; and (3) Georgia-Pacific does not sell every piece of used sawmill equipment that it takes out of service; some equipment is "scrapped" or transferred to other plants or sawmills within the corporation. The affidavit also states the conclusion that Georgia-Pacific "is not in the business of selling trimmers."
Galindo did not specifically counter the averments of the affidavit. We conclude, however, that the affidavit did not discharge Georgia-Pacific's burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that Georgia-Pacific is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We note first that the affidavit's statement that Georgia-Pacific is not engaged in the business of selling sawmill trimmers is merely a conclusion which could not shift the summary judgment burden to Galindo. As we read Texas law, a determination whether one is engaged in the business of selling depends on an analysis of the totality of the circumstances surrounding sales efforts, in the light of the rationale underlying imposition of strict liability. Whether a finding that one is engaged in the business of selling is labelled a conclusion of law, a mixed question of law and fact, or an ultimate fact, the general statement that Georgia-Pacific is not engaged in the business of selling trimmers, without reference to the specific nature of sales activities, is not competent summary judgment proof. We have long recognized that mere statements of conclusions of law or ultimate fact cannot shift the summary judgment burden to the nonmovant. See, e.g., Gossett v. Du-Ra-Kel Corp., 569 F.2d 869, 872 (5th Cir.1978) (conclusory, "bald assertions of ultimate facts are ordinarily insufficient to support summary judgment"); Benton-Volvo-Metairie, Inc. v. Volvo Southwest, Inc., 479 F.2d 135, 138-39 (5th Cir.1973) (nonmovant survives motion for summary judgment, without countering movant's showing, where movant's affidavit "set forth only ultimate facts or conclusions"); Dawkins v. Green, 412 F.2d 644, 646 (5th Cir.1969) (same); Bridges v. Internal Revenue Serv., 433 F.2d 299, 300 (5th Cir.1970) (bare, conclusory allegations that defendant was within scope of authority cannot sustain summary judgment); C. Wright, A. Miller & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 2738 (1983). In Chavers v. Exxon Corp., 716 F.2d 315, 318 (5th Cir.1983), we vacated a summary judgment that, for purposes of the statutory-employer section of the Louisiana workers' compensation law, defendant's trade, business, or occupation included oil drilling operations. Summary judgment was based on defendant's conclusory affidavit that its "trade[,] business and occupation is the location, production and sale of oil and gas." We vacated because resolution of the issue of defendant's status under Louisiana law depended
Absent the conclusory claim that Georgia-Pacific is not engaged in the business of selling sawmill trimmers, the affidavit cannot support the summary judgment. The affidavit leaves many material fact questions about Georgia-Pacific's sales of used sawmill equipment unanswered. For example, Georgia-Pacific made no showing with respect to (1) the number of used equipment sales made by Georgia-Pacific; (2) the amount of revenue generated by those sales; (3) the number of employees or the extent of other corporate resources devoted to making the sales; or (4) the use of advertising or other marketing techniques to publicize the availability of used equipment for sale. While summary judgment may have been proper under the district court's view of Texas law, under which these questions are immaterial, it cannot stand under our understanding of comment f. Since the affidavit leaves open the possibility that these questions will be answered in a manner favorable to Galindo, summary judgment for Georgia-Pacific was improper.
Georgia-Pacific's reliance on Bailey v. ITT Grinnell Corp., 536 F.Supp. at 84, is misplaced. In Bailey, defendant purchased a punch press, used it in its business for a number of years, and then sold it through a used equipment broker. The district court, applying Ohio law, granted summary judgment for the defendant on the ground that the sale was an occasional sale exempted by comment f from section 402A liability. Defendant admitted selling the punch press that allegedly caused plaintiff's injuries, but submitted an affidavit that stated it "is not and has never been, a designer, manufacturer, assembler, marketer, rebuilder, distributor, retailer, or seller of punch presses." The court held that this affidavit was sufficient to shift the burden to the plaintiff to demonstrate a fact question for trial. The court further held that plaintiff could not discharge that burden by reliance on the claim that "[defendant's] corporate size creates an inference that [defendant] transfers numerous presses."
In Bailey, there was nothing in the record to indicate that defendant had made other sales of punch presses. The affidavit stated that, but for the sale of the press involved in the case, defendant had never been a seller of punch presses. In this case, on the other hand, Galindo does not have to infer from Georgia-Pacific's size that it has made more than one sale. The affidavit itself states that other sales have in fact been made. Moreover, the affidavit does not make a prima facie showing that, although other sales have been made, sales efforts do not rise to the level of a business in which Georgia-Pacific is engaged. On the record before us, that is an open question. Cf. Walker v. Skyclimber, Inc., 571 F.Supp. 1176, 1179 (D.V.I.1983) (affidavit that defendant "is not in the business of selling, distributing, advertising, or maintaining any sales agency," sufficient to shift summary judgment burden; nothing in the record to indicate that other sales had been made).
What we have said thus far obviously disposes of Galindo's claim that the record
For the reasons set forth above, the summary judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion. Georgia-Pacific shall bear the costs of this appeal.
VACATED and REMANDED.
Texas courts have not been reluctant, however, to refuse extension of section 402A in cases in which its rationale is thought not to apply. In Armstrong Rubber Co. v. Urquidez, 570 S.W.2d 374 (Tex.1978), for example, the Texas Supreme Court reversed a strict-liability judgment against a tire manufacturer for injuries caused by the blow-out of an allegedly defective tire. The manufacturer supplied the tire to a testing firm with whom it had contracted to test its products. The court held that, because the tire had not been released in some manner to the consuming public (i.e., had not been placed into the stream of commerce), strict liability did not apply to such a "bailment for mutual benefit." Likewise, in Hernandez v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co., 641 S.W.2d 947 (Tex.App. — Corpus Christi 1982, no writ), the court held that strict liability could not be imposed on a railroad company that supplied a stanchion to its wholly-owned trucking subsidiary for use by an employee of the trucking company in unloading trailers from railroad cars. In the court's view, the railroad company had not placed the stanchion into the channels of commerce. See also Thate v. Texas & Pacific Ry., 595 S.W.2d 591 (Tex.Civ.App. — Dallas 1980, no writ) (same).