United States District Court, D. Connecticut
AMENDED RULING RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO CERTIFY
QUESTIONS TO THE CONNECTICUT SUPREME COURT (DOC. NO.
C. Hall, United States District Judge
before the court is a Motion to Certify Questions to the
Connecticut Supreme Court, filed by the defendant General
Motors LLC (“New GM”). See Motion to
Certify Questions to the Connecticut Supreme Court
(“Mot. to Certify”) (Doc. No. 313). New GM seeks
to certify two questions:
(1) Under what circumstances, if any, does Connecticut impose
a post-sale duty to warn?
(2) Does a “product seller” under the Connecticut
Product Liability Act (“CPLA”) include an entity
that purchased certain assets and assumed certain liabilities
of the product's bankrupt manufacturer, but is not a
successor-in-interest of the bankrupt manufacturer and did
not manufacture or sell the product at issue?
Mot. to Certify at 1.
reasons stated below, the Motion to Certify is
plaintiffs, Bernard Pitterman, as administrator of the Estate
of Margaret Rose O'Connor (“M.O.”) and as
guardian of the Estate of Grant O'Connor
(“G.O.”), and Rose O'Connor, sued New GM
under the Connecticut Product Liability Act
(“CPLA”). See Amended Complaint (“Am.
Compl.”) (Doc. No. 239). According to the Amended
Complaint, on July 13, 2011, M.O., then eight years old,
climbed into her parents' 2004 Chevrolet Suburban,
inserted the key into the ignition, and pulled the shift
lever from Park to Neutral. See id. at ¶¶
6-8. Once in Neutral, the Suburban rolled down a sloped yard
and crashed into a tree, killing M.O. See id. at
¶¶ 8, 12.
2004 Suburban was manufactured and sold by General Motors
Corporation (“Old GM”). See id. at
¶¶ 15-17. In June 2009, Old GM fiiled for
bankruptcy, and New GM then purchased certain of Old GM's
assets and liabilities. See Memorandum in Support of
Mot. to Certify (“Mem. in Supp.”) (Doc. No.
313-1) at 2. The plaintiffs alleged that the Suburban was
defective when manufactured and that neither old GM nor new
GM sufficiently warned of the risk of injury caused by
“rollaway” incidents, such as occurred to M.O.
See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 26-28.
trial, the plaintiffs asserted three claims against New GM:
strict liability due to design defect at the time of sale,
failure to warn at the time of sale, and negligence.
See Jury Charge (Doc. No. 292) at 28. The plaintiffs
put forth two bases for the third claim of negligence: (1)
that Old GM had negligently breached its post-sale duty to
warn from December 12, 2007, to July 10, 2009, and that New
GM was responsible for Old GM's liability; and (2) that
New GM had negligently breached its post-sale duty to warn
from July 10, 2009, to July 13, 2011. See id.
plaintiffs could only prevail on either theory of negligence
if Connecticut law recognizes the existence of a post-sale
duty to warn. During trial, New GM argued that no such duty
exists under the CPLA, but the court, interpreting state law,
concluded that, “if this question were before the
Connecticut Supreme Court, they would conclude there was such
a theory of liability under the Connecticut Product Liability
Act.” Redaction of Transcript (“Tr.”) (Doc.
No. 242) at 162; see also id. at 158-162. The court
permitted the claims to advance to the jury.
the plaintiffs could only prevail on the second theory of
negligence, occurring from July 10, 2009, to July 13, 2011,
if, as a matter of law, New GM qualifies as a “product
seller” within the meaning of the CPLA. See
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572q(a) (2017). The court
acknowledged that New GM did not manufacture or sell the 2004
Chevrolet Suburban in that year and model, nor was New GM a
“successor in interest” of Old GM. See
Tr. at 155-57. However, the court concluded that New GM was
nonetheless a product seller because “New GM continues
to manufacture such products, quote unquote, within the
meaning of the CPLA by virtue of its ongoing production of
Chevrolet Suburbans and the use of the goodwill accruing to
the GM name as well as the assumption of some obligations
with respect to servicing and provision of parts for the
model year in question in this case.” Id. at
156. The court thus permitted the plaintiffs to advance their
negligence claim on this theory to the jury. The court noted,
however, that “this is a difficult question” and
“a question best answered by the Connecticut Supreme
Court.” Id. The court declined to certify the
question at that time because the issue was raised ten days
before trial and trial would proceed regardless of the
resolution of the issue. See id. at 156-57.
19, 2017, a jury entered a verdict against New GM in an
amount of $1, 750, 00 to Pitterman as administrator of the
Estate of M.O., $750, 000 to Pitterman as guardian of the Estate
of G.O., and $375, 000 to Rose O'Connor. See
Verdict Form (Doc. No. 296) at 7-8. The jury found that New
GM was not liable to plaintiffs for defective design or
failure to warn at the time of sale, but was liable under
both theories of negligence. See id. On August 23,
2017, New GM filed a Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter
of Law After Trial (“Renewed Mot. for JMOL”)
(Doc. No. 307). New GM then filed the Motion to Certify
currently pending before the court on October 12, 2017.
See Mot. to Certify.
federal court can certify a question of state law to be
answered by the Connecticut Supreme Court “if the
answer may be determinative of an issue in pending litigation
in the certifying court and if there is no controlling
appellate decision, constitutional provision or statute of
this state.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-199b(d) (2017).
Certification is not obligatory any time “there is a
doubt as to local law and where the certification procedure
is available.” Lehman Bros. v. Schein, 416
U.S. 386, 390-91 (1974). Rather, certification is intended to
“save time, energy, and resources and help[ ] build a
cooperative judicial federalism.” Id. at 391.
determining whether to certify a question to the Connecticut
Supreme Court, a federal court can consider a number of
factors, some of which include “whether a state court
decision has ever produced an authoritative answer, the
extent to which the question implicates the weighing of
policy concerns of particular importance, and if the
Connecticut Supreme Court's answer may be determinative
of the appeal.” Corsair Special Situations Fund,
L.P. v. Pesiri, 863 F.3d 176, 183 (2d Cir. 2017)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The
decision whether or not to certify a question “rests in
the sound discretion of the federal court.” Lehman
Bros., 416 U.S. at 391.