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Wiese USA, Inc. v. Haulotte Group / Bil-Jax, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

December 2, 2019

Wiese USA, Inc., Plaintiff,
Haulotte Group / Bil-Jax, Inc., Defendant.


          Jeffrey J. Helmick United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Wiese USA, Inc., seeks a declaratory judgment requiring Defendant Haulotte Group / Bil-Jax, Inc. (“Bil-Jax”), to indemnify and defend Wiese in three state-court lawsuits arising out of an alleged accident involving one of Defendant's products and filed in Illinois. (Doc. No. 1). Both Wiese and Bil-Jax have filed motions for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 22; Doc. No. 27). The parties have completed briefing on the motions. For the reasons stated below, I deny Wiese's motion and grant Bil-Jax's motion.

         II. Background

         Wiese and Bil-Jax, in some capacity, have had a business relationship dating back to early 2008. (Doc. No. 24-1 at 13-15). Bil-Jax designs and manufactures certain products for use in construction fields, including an aerial boom lift which allegedly in the genesis of this litigation. (Doc. No. 1 at 3). Wiese contracts with manufacturers to be an authorized dealer of the products and equipment produced by those manufacturers. (Doc. No. 22-1).

         In 2012, Wiese and Bil-Jax negotiated an agreement, pursuant to which Wiese would stock, rent, and service Bil-Jax products within a given territory (the “Dealer Agreement”). (Doc. No. 1-1). The Dealer Agreement included an indemnification provision, which states, in part, that Bil-Jax “shall indemnify and hold [Wiese] harmless against and assume the full responsibility for the defense and disposition of all claims or suits asserted against [Wiese] in which it is alleged that death, bodily injury[, ] or property damage has been suffered as a result of an occurrence which is due in whole or in part from a producr (sic) defect caused by Haulotte Group / BilJax in the design, manufacture, containerization[, ] or identification of the Products . . . .” (Id. at 7).

         Wiese alleges that, in January 2016, a Bil-Jax aerial boom lift malfunctioned while in use by two employees of a roofing company, causing the employees to fall approximately 30 feet. The roofing company, Sentry Roofing, Inc., had purchased the aerial boom lift from Airworx Construction and Equipment Supply, LLC, and had contracted with Wiese to inspect, maintain, repair, and service the aerial boom lift. (Doc. No. 1 at 3). Following the accident, Sentry and the two employees each filed suit against Airworx, Wiese, and Bil-Jax. Bil-Jax refused Wiese's tender of defense for those lawsuits, leading to this litigation.

         III. Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant demonstrates there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). All evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, White v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 533 F.3d 381, 390 (6th Cir. 2008), and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the nonmovant's favor. Rose v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 766 F.3d 532, 535 (6th Cir. 2014). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could resolve the dispute and return a verdict in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A disputed fact is material only if its resolution might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law. Rogers v. O'Donnell, 737 F.3d 1026, 1030 (6th Cir. 2013).

         IV. Analysis

         Wiese and Bil-Jax have filed cross motions for summary judgment. Wiese argues the indemnity provision of the Dealer Agreement is enforceable and that it is entitled to a declaratory judgment in its favor. (Doc. No. 22). Bil-Jax argues the indemnification provision is not enforceable because the Dealer Agreement does not contain the signature of an individual authorized to sign on Bil-Jax's behalf, and that Wiese's claim for common-law indemnification also fails. (Doc. No. 27-1).

         Wiese abandoned its claim for common-law indemnity, (Doc. No. 33 at 3 n.1), but argues the indemnification provision is enforceable because it is excepted from the Statute of Frauds under the leading-objection exception or because the Dealer Agreement satisfies the Statute of Frauds. I conclude the indemnity provision of the Dealer Agreement is unenforceable because it does not comply with the Statute of Frauds.

         Ohio law[1] requires that an indemnity agreement be in writing and signed by the party who would be required to provide indemnity to another party. Ohio Rev. Code § 1335.05 (“No action shall be brought whereby to charge the defendant, upon a special promise, to answer for the debt, default, or miscarriage of another person . . . unless the agreement upon which such action is brought, or some memorandum or note thereof, is in writing and signed by the party to be charged therewith or some other person thereunto by him or her lawfully authorized.”).

         While the Dealer Agreement fulfills the writing requirement, no party has produced a copy of the Dealer Agreement which contains the signature ...

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