Judge chamber with gavel

Defendant’s “Conclusory” Affidavit Not Enough to Meet Burden on Summary Judgment

Court: Supreme Court of New York, New York County

In this asbestos-related lawsuit, defendant, Perkins Engines, filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that plaintiff could not have used its brakes, clutches, or gasoline engine gaskets. In support of its motion, defendant proffered the affidavit of Kevin Klein, a technical coordinator in Litigation Technical Support for Caterpillar Inc. Klein asserted the defendant never manufactured, designed, or distributed any brakes or clutches, and that it supplied gaskets only for diesel engines. According to the defendant, partial summary judgment must be granted.

The plaintiff opposed the defendant’s motion regarding the use of clutches and gaskets, stating the defendant failed to meet its prima facie burden, and that issues of fact exist. According to the plaintiff, the Klein’s affidavit is insufficient to establish entitlement to summary judgment, as such statements are unsupported by any documentation. 

The court noted that summary judgment is a drastic remedy and should only be granted if the moving party has sufficiently established it is warranted as a matter of law. See Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 N.Y.2d 320, 324, 501 N.E.2d 572, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 (1986). “The proponent of a summary judgment motion must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to eliminate any material issues of fact from the case”. Winegrad v New York University Medical Center, 64 NY2d 851, 853, 476 N.E.2d 642, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316 (1985). Despite the sufficiency of the opposing papers, the failure to make such a showing requires denial of the motion. See id. at 853. Additionally, summary judgment motions should be denied if the opposing party presents admissible evidence establishing that there is a genuine issue of fact remaining. See Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 560, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595 (1980). The court’s role is “issue-finding, rather than issue-determination”. Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395,404, 144 N.E.2d 387, 165 N.Y.S.2d 498 (1957) (internal quotations omitted).

Here, the court found defendant’s affidavit was conclusory and without specific factual basis, and thus did not establish the prima facie burden of a proponent of a motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, defendant failed to meet its initial burden, and triable issues of fact exist. The court denied the motion in part as to clutches and gasoline engine gaskets. The portion of the defendant’s motion which was conceded to by the plaintiff, with regards to brakes, was granted.

Read the full decision here.