J. JONES, Justice.
This appeal arises out of a products liability case. In early June of 2007, Karrin Massey consumed at least one, but perhaps several, poultry pot pies that were manufactured by ConAgra Food, Inc. and sold under the Banquet brand name. Soon after, Karrin, who was six months pregnant at the time, developed salmonellosis. After an outbreak of salmonella was linked to Banquet pot pies, it was discovered that Karrin's strain of salmonella matched the strain of salmonella found in the contaminated pot pies. Karrin, her husband, Mark Massey, and their daughter Emma filed suit against ConAgra, alleging claims of product liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. The district court eventually granted ConAgra's motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the Masseys had failed to establish the pot pies in question were defective. The Masseys filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. The Masseys then appealed to this Court.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In early May of 2007, the Centers for Disease Control ("CDC") identified a salmonella outbreak in several states, including Idaho. After an extensive investigation, the most likely source of the outbreak was identified as pot pie filling that was manufactured by ConAgra and marketed as part of the Banquet brand.
Appellant Karrin Massey had long enjoyed pot pies as part of her diet. In the first part of June, 2007, Ms. Massey consumed one or more Banquet pot pies. Ms. Massey does not remember if she cooked the pot pies in the oven or in the microwave. She testified that she usually — but not always — cooked them in the oven, and that she "always followed [cooking] time instructions." During the first week of June, Ms. Massey began to experience diarrheal symptoms and was hospitalized twice due to dehydration. On June 10, 2007, a stool sample was cultured for salmonella. The sample tested positive, and Ms. Massey was hospitalized on June 13 for treatment. On June 14, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare ("IDHW") interviewed her in hopes of determining a possible source of her infection. At this time, Ms. Massey was approximately six months pregnant with her daughter, Emma. Because she was pregnant, Ms. Massey declined to take certain medications that may have been more effective in treating salmonellosis, but could have harmed her unborn child. Emma Grace Massey was born on October 3, 2007. On appeal, the Masseys do not delve into how Emma was injured, although ConAgra notes that Emma's birth itself was without complications.
Ms. Massey was treated for salmonellosis until approximately September 4, 2007, at which time three consecutive stool samples tested negative for the presence of salmonella.
According to the Masseys, near the end of 2007, CDC investigators collected samples of pot pie crust and filling at ConAgra's plant, which were found to contain salmonella enterica, serovar 4, 5, 12:i:-, the same strain present in Ms. Massey's stool sample. Con-Agra disputes this, stating that in fact, "no salmonella was ever found within ConAgra's pot pie facility." In any event, salmonella enterica, serovar 4, 5, 12:i:-, the same strain present in Ms. Massey's stool sample, was later found in Banquet pot pies sampled from a Boise store.
Ms. Massey and her husband Mark filed a complaint on April 2, 2010, individually and on behalf of their daughter Emma. Therein, they alleged claims based on product liability, breach of warranty, and negligence. On March 21, 2012, ConAgra moved for summary judgment, alleging that the Masseys' claims were barred because of the statute of limitations and that the Masseys could not establish that the pot pies in question were defective. The district court, upon request, granted the Masseys a continuance so that they could depose Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, an Idaho State Deputy Epidemiologist. Shortly after Dr. Tengelsen's deposition was taken, ConAgra filed a renewed motion for summary judgment. The district court held a hearing on ConAgra's renewed motion on June 4, 2012. In its resulting July 3, 2012 order ("Summary Judgment Order"), the district court found in ConAgra's favor, holding that the Masseys had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact with regard to whether a product defect existed. The Masseys filed a timely motion for reconsideration, arguing that the district court misunderstood the main issue of the case and misconstrued certain facts. The district court entered an order denying the Masseys' motion on September 28, 2012 ("Order Re: Motion for Reconsideration"). The Masseys filed a timely appeal.
ISSUES ON APPEAL
A. Standard of review.
The applicable standard of review is well-settled:
B. The district court erred in determining that the Masseys failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact that the pot pies were defective.
In their complaint, the Masseys put forth three claims: products liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. In order "[t]o establish a prima facie case in a products liability action, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that `1) he was injured by the product; 2) the injury was the result of a defective or unsafe product; and 3) the defect existed when the product left the control of the manufacturer.'" Liberty, 155 Idaho at 733, 316 P.3d at 649 (quoting Farmer v. Int'l Harvester Co., 97 Idaho 742, 746-47, 553 P.2d 1306, 1310-11 (1976)). The district court granted summary judgment on the grounds that the Masseys did not show that a genuine issue of material fact existed with regard to whether the pot pies were defective. In its Summary Judgment Order, the district court determined that "[a] pot pie contaminated with salmonella is not defective because salmonella in an uncooked or under cooked product is not considered an adulterant." The district court explained that "[e]ven assuming that a pot pie eaten by Massey was contaminated by salmonella, the deposition testimony of Dr. Tengelsen clearly fails to establish that a pot pie contaminated with salmonella is defective." The district court also concluded that a Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) investigation and its "conclusions drawn therefrom does not determine that any of the pot pies were adulterated, and therefore, defective."
The Masseys argue that Karrin's affidavit established a defect under Idaho law, that Dr. Tengelsen's testimony did the same, and that the district court erred in its analysis of certain nonbinding case law. ConAgra disputes all of these assertions, and adds that the district court did not err in failing to find evidence of a defect based on USDA guidelines.
"[T]he term `defect' is not susceptible of a general definition but must be considered on a case by case basis." Farmer, 97 Idaho at 747, 553 P.2d at 1311. In defining what constitutes a defect, this Court has favorably quoted the Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 402A (comment g 1965) as follows: "Defective condition. The rule stated in this Section applies only where the product is, at the time it leaves the seller's hands, in a condition not contemplated by the ultimate consumer, which will be unreasonably dangerous to him." Id. Comment i to § 402A defines "unreasonably dangerous" as "dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics." Id. This Court has also quoted Prosser on Torts for the proposition that "`the prevailing interpretation of "defective" is that the product does not meet the reasonable expectations of the ordinary consumer as to its safety.'" Id. (citing Prosser, Torts, § 99, p. 659 (4th ed.1971)). A defect can be shown either by direct evidence, or by circumstantial evidence. Id. "A circumstantial evidence showing under the Farmer case [requires] proof of: (1) the malfunction of the product; (2) the lack of evidence of abnormal use; and (3) proof excluding the possibility of other `reasonable causes.'" Doty v. Bishara, 123 Idaho 329, 332, 848 P.2d 387, 390 (1992).
When circumstantial evidence is presented, it is the trier of fact who "is invited to infer the existence of a defect." Edwards v. Conchemco, Inc., 111 Idaho 851, 852, 727 P.2d 1279, 1280 (Ct.App.1986). Furthermore, the defect may be established solely based upon the "[t]estimony of the user [or] operator of the product as to the circumstances of the event." Farmer, 97 Idaho at
The district court erred in its analysis of what constitutes a product defect under Idaho law. Specifically, it was error to equate "defective" with "adulterated." The origin and rationale behind using these terms interchangeably is unclear, although it was the Masseys who first made mention of the term in their complaint.
Instead of determining that a pot pie must be "adulterated" to be defective, the district court should have looked to existing case law to determine what constitutes a product defect in Idaho. Under Farmer, a defect can be established solely based on the testimony of the user.
Because the district court erred in its analysis of what constitutes a product defect under Idaho law, and because a jury could reasonably conclude that Karrin's testimony sufficiently demonstrated product defect, we vacate the district court's grant of summary judgment.
C. The district court erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of negligence.
The district court also granted summary judgment on the Masseys' negligence claim,
Regardless of whether a products liability case "is based on warranty, negligence or strict products liability, plaintiff has the burden of alleging and proving that 1) he was injured by the product; 2) the injury was the result of a defective or unsafe product; and 3) the defect existed when the product left the control of the manufacturer." Farmer, 97 Idaho at 746-47, 553 P.2d at 1310-11. Thus, product defect is a necessary element in a products liability case that is based on negligence.
Because we hold that the district court erred in its product defect analysis, the Masseys' negligence claim survives. We thus vacate the district court's decision as to the Masseys' negligence claim.
D. The Masseys did not waive their right to challenge the district court's denial of their motion to reconsider.
In its response brief, ConAgra asserts that because the Masseys "never challenge or request this court to reverse" the district court's Order Re: Motion for Reconsideration, the Masseys have waived both the right to contest that order, as well as the right to make any arguments on appeal that were first made in their memorandum in support of their motion for reconsideration. The Masseys reply that the district court's two orders — its Summary Judgment Order and its Order Re: Motion for Reconsideration — are "inextricably intertwined" because the Order Re: Motion for Reconsideration essentially just reiterates what had already been decided in the previous Summary Judgment Order.
For its assertion that the Masseys waived some of their arguments, ConAgra relies on the following oft-cited rule and other variations thereof: "When issues cited on appeal are not supported by propositions of law, authority, or argument, they will not be considered." Langley v. State Indus. Spec. Indem. Fund, 126 Idaho 781, 784, 890 P.2d 732, 735 (1995). ConAgra states that the Masseys' "waiver is further highlighted by their omission of the appropriate standard of review that" guides this Court when analyzing orders granting or denying motions to reconsider.
This argument is unpersuasive. The notice of appeal and a subsequent amended notice both indicate that the Masseys are appealing both the Summary Judgment Order and the Order Re: Motion for Reconsideration. Moreover, the contents of both orders are much the same, with one exception. In its Order Re: Motion for Reconsideration, the district court addressed for the first time the issue of whether the Masseys sufficiently pleaded a failure to warn claim. The Masseys have unequivocally raised the appropriateness of this holding as an issue on appeal. ConAgra cites to no authority that holds the omission of one of the applicable standards of review constitutes a waiver of that argument when that argument is otherwise made within the appellate brief. The Masseys are obviously disputing the holdings in the district court's Order Re: Motion for Reconsideration, and while they may have omitted the applicable standard of review, that does not constitute a waiver of the arguments that they otherwise supported with authority and argument.
E. The district court erred in finding that the Masseys' failure to warn claim was not adequately pleaded.
The Masseys argue that the district court erred in its Order Re: Motion to Reconsider when it determined, sua sponte, that the Masseys did not adequately plead a failure to warn claim. The Masseys allege that the factual allegations within the complaint put ConAgra on actual notice that a failure to warn claim was being made. ConAgra counters that "[i]n reality, Appellants did not even attempt to suggest they had [pleaded] such a claim until after the [d]istrict [c]ourt had granted [s]ummary [j]udgment and Appellants realized they had no evidence of product defect." ConAgra's full response to
In its Order Re: Motion for Reconsideration, the district court stated: "It is obvious at this point that Plaintiffs are making a standard failure to warn argument.... However, Plaintiffs failed to plead a failure to warn claim in their Complaint." The district court subsequently denied the Masseys' motion to reconsider "as it relates to their failure to warn arguments." Notably, ConAgra did not — at any point — assert in its district court briefing that the Masseys insufficiently pleaded a failure to warn claim.
The district court's sua sponte determination was in error. First, while their complaint could have been clearer, the Masseys did adequately plead a failure to warn claim. Second, a district court's sua sponte dismissal of a claim based on an insufficient pleading is in error when neither party raised the issue and no opportunity was given to argue that, in fact, the claim was sufficiently pleaded.
The language that constitutes a failure to warn claim is found in paragraph 19 of the Masseys' complaint, under a "Product Liability" heading. That paragraph states in part: "[t]he pot pie consumed by [Ms. Massey] was contaminated with Salmonella because ConAgra... failed to ensure that its cooking instructions would, if followed by the consumer, kill Salmonella and other pathogens."
In its brief in support of its motion to reconsider, the Masseys wrote:
ConAgra's response brief in opposition of the Masseys' motion to reconsider indicates that the adequacy of the cooking instructions was raised earlier. ConAgra wrote:
Again, noticeably absent from ConAgra's response brief is any allegation that the Masseys did not adequately plead a failure to warn claim. At the hearing on the motion to reconsider, however, the following exchange took place:
This appears to be the only instance in the record where ConAgra had anything to say about whether a failure to warn claim was, or was not, pleaded.
Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(1) requires a complaint to include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." I.R.C.P. 8(a)(1). This Court has long abandoned any technical rules of pleading. Clark v. Olsen, 110 Idaho 323, 325, 715 P.2d 993, 995 (1986). "The general policy behind the current rules of civil procedure is to provide every litigant with his or her day in court." Id. Additionally, "[t]he purpose of a complaint is to inform the defendant of the material facts upon which the plaintiff bases his action." Id. To reiterate, "[a] complaint need only contain a concise statement of the facts constituting the cause of action and a demand for relief." Id. "Failure to warn can be a basis for recovery in a products liability action, whether alleged under a theory of strict liability in tort or negligence." Puckett v. Oakfabco, Inc., 132 Idaho 816, 823, 979 P.2d 1174, 1181 (1999). While jurisdictional issues and the illegality of a contract may be raised sua sponte by a court at any time (See, Dep't of Health & Welfare v. Doe I, 147 Idaho 314, 315, 208 P.3d 296, 297 (2009); Trees v. Kersey, 138 Idaho 3, 6, 56 P.3d 765, 768 (2002)), there does not appear to be any case law discussing a district court's ability to dismiss certain claims based on its sua sponte determination that the claim in question was not adequately pleaded in the complaint.
While the Masseys' complaint is nothing if not concise, it nonetheless satisfied the barebones standard under Rule 8(a). Because a failure to warn claim is a specific type of products liability action, the inclusion of certain language such as: "[ConAgra] failed to ensure that its cooking instructions would, if followed by the consumer, kill Salmonella and other pathogens" under a general "Products Liability" heading is sufficient for ConAgra to infer that a failure to warn claim was being alleged. And, importantly, ConAgra did make that inference. Thus, the general purpose behind a complaint — to inform the defendant of the plaintiff's allegations — was not circumvented here. ConAgra acknowledged in its response brief in opposition of the Masseys' motion to reconsider that the Masseys had raised the issue of inadequate instructions prior to the district court's ruling on ConAgra's summary judgment motion. ConAgra did, in response to the district court's inquiry at hearing, state that a failure to warn claim was not pleaded, but in doing so appears to have misconstrued the import of paragraph 19 of the complaint and the parties' briefing with respect to that issue. The district court erred in dismissing the Masseys' failure to warn claim based on a failure to plead. Furthermore, the Masseys had no notice that the sufficiency of their complaint was at issue.
We vacate the judgment and award costs to the Masseys.
Chief Justice BURDICK, and Justices EISMANN, W. JONES, and HORTON concur.
21 U.S.C. § 453.