Furlandare Singleton, individually and as administrator of the estates of Dequan Singleton, Syndi Singleton, and Haylee Singleton, decedents; Clyde Hatchett, individually and as administrator of the estate of Emily Beaver, decedent; and Marilyn Louise Beavers, individually as an administrator of the estate of Marilyn Beavers, decedent Plaintiffs-Appellants
Arkansas Housing Authorities Property & Casualty Self-Insured Fund, Inc. (specifically, the Jacksonville Housing Authority, also known as Max Howell Place Housing Projects); Evanston Insurance Company, an Illinois corporation; Phil Nix, individually and in his official capacity as executive director of Jacksonville Housing Authority; BRK Brands, Inc.; City of Jacksonville; Jacksonville Fire Department; Engineer Wayne Taylor, individually and in his official capacity; Captain Larry Hamsher, individually and in his official capacity; Engineer Chris McDonald, individually and in his official capacity; Firefighter Tony Sutherland, individually and in his official capacity; Captain Dewan Lewis, individually and in his official capacity; and John and Jane Does, 1-50 Defendants - Appellees
Submitted: January 16, 2019
Appeals from United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Arkansas - Western Division
LOKEN, GRASZ, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
Beavers ("Beavers") and her four children
tragically died from smoke inhalation as a result of a
kitchen fire in their apartment in Jacksonville, Arkansas.
The administrators of their estates sued all of the
following: (1) the Jacksonville Housing Authority
("JHA"), along with its director and its insurer,
alleging they failed to equip the apartment with a working
smoke alarm; (2) the manufacturer of the smoke alarm,
alleging the smoke alarm in the apartment was defective and
failed to sound during the fire; and (3) the City of
Jacksonville, its fire department, and several firefighters,
alleging the firefighters conducted a deficient investigation
when they responded to a report by Beavers's neighbor of
smelling smoke. The district courtgranted summary judgment to
each of the defendants, concluding there was insufficient
evidence of causation. The plaintiffs each appealed. The
administrator of Beavers's estate also appealed the
denial of her motion to exclude the defendants' expert
witness and the district court's imposition of certain
discovery costs on her counsel. We affirm the district court.
early morning of March 22, 2012, Beavers and her children,
Dequan, Syndi, Haylee, and Emily, spoke on the phone with
Beavers's fiancee, Furlandare Singleton, before going to
bed. Phone records show the call began at 2:19 a.m. and
lasted for about four and a half minutes. Shortly thereafter,
a fire erupted in the kitchen. The fire marshal later
determined unattended cooking caused the fire. A pot was
found on a kitchen stove burner and the burner knob was
turned to the on position.
a.m., Beavers's neighbor, Jennifer Gray, whose apartment
shared a wall with Beavers's apartment in their duplex
building, called 911, reporting that she "smell[ed] a
strong smell of smoke." Firefighters arrived at 6:02
a.m. After investigating in Gray's apartment and knocking
on Beavers's apartment door - finding no signs of smoke
or fire - they left at 6:23 a.m.
around 7:25 a.m., two maintenance workers who had been
contacted by Gray walked around the duplex and noticed fire
damage near the kitchen window of Beavers's apartment.
They let themselves inside and found the bodies of Beavers
and her children. Two children were found in one bedroom, a
third child was found in another bedroom, and Beavers and the
fourth child were found together in the bathroom. The cause
of death for each decedent was soot and smoke inhalation. The
coroner was unable to determine the approximate time of the
body was found with severe burns on her hands, arms,
forehead, and neck from attempting to extinguish the fire.
While Beavers's efforts to extinguish the fire were not
successful, the fire marshal determined she likely
interrupted the burning process and the fire burnt itself out
after spreading from the kitchen range to the cabinetry.
alarm that had been mounted in the hallway of the apartment
was found lying on the floor. When the smoke alarm was moved
from the floor, the absence of soot on the carpet underneath
it indicated that it was "on the floor early in the
fire," according to a Jacksonville Police Department
detective. The alarm had been mounted on the ceiling and was
"hard wired," meaning it was directly wired to the
apartment's electricity and was not battery powered. The
detective noted in his report that he believed the heat from
the smoke caused the smoke alarm to lose its form and fall
from its mount, disconnecting from the wires in the ceiling.
But a report by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory said a
visual examination showed the wires appeared to have been
cut. The hallway light switch had soot smears on it and there
was a scratch in the "popcorn" ceiling near where
the smoke alarm had been mounted.
Arkansas state court, Marilyn Louise Beavers ("Marilyn
Louise") (the mother of the decedent, Beavers, and the
administrator of Beavers's estate), sued the JHA, the
director of the JHA, and the JHA's insurance company
(Evanston Insurance Co.) (collectively, "the Housing
Authority Defendants"); the City of Jacksonville, the
Jacksonville Fire Department, and several individual
firefighters (collectively, "the City Defendants");
and the manufacturer of the smoke alarm (BRK Brands, Inc.).
Separately, Singleton (the administrator of the estates of
Beavers's children Dequan, Syndi, and Haylee Singleton)
and Clyde Hatchett (the administrator of the estate of
Beavers's other child, Emily Beavers) sued the same
defendants. Marilyn Louise, Singleton, and Hatchett each
filed suit both individually and in their capacities as
administrators of the decedents' estates. These cases
were consolidated and later removed to federal court.
to any summary judgment motions, BRK filed a motion for the
court to approve of non-destructive and, if necessary,
destructive testing of the smoke alarm found in Beavers's
apartment. BRK included a proposed protocol for the
examination. The motion noted all the defendants agreed to
the testing and all the plaintiffs opposed the testing.
Marilyn Louise formally objected to the motion. Before the
district court ruled on the motion, the parties agreed to a
non-destructive examination of the alarm. All parties were
present at this examination that occurred in December 2015.
According to the defendants, the examination definitively
showed the smoke alarm sounded during the fire.
Louise then moved for additional testing of the smoke alarm,
including destructive testing. BRK, joined by the Housing
Authority Defendants, objected to the additional testing,
noting this was the exact testing it originally proposed but
Marilyn Louise opposed, and the testing could have been done
in the first examination. BRK also noted the examination was
unnecessary since the first one conclusively showed the smoke
alarm had properly functioned during the fire. Additional
testing would impose additional costs on the defendants
because they would have to pay for their experts to travel to
and attend the examination. The district court allowed the
testing, but under the condition that counsel for Marilyn
Louise would be "required to pay all of defendants'
reasonable costs for expert witnesses related to the
additional testing." The court further said that
"[i]f a dispute over costs arises, the parties may move
for a hearing on the issue." But on a motion to
reconsider, the district court limited the cost to be borne
by counsel for Marilyn Louise to $1, 000.
Housing Authority Defendants, the City Defendants, and BRK
each moved for summary judgment. Prior to the district court
ruling on the summary judgment motions, Marilyn Louise moved
to strike the affidavit of the defendants' expert Dr.
Daniel T. Gottuk, who opined that the application of the
enhanced soot deposition ("ESD") methodology showed
the smoke alarm did sound during the fire. The district court
denied the motion, concluding Dr. Gottuk's expert
testimony was "sufficiently reliable and
trustworthy" to be admitted.
district court granted the defendants' summary judgment
motions, finding among other things there was insufficient
evidence to show the decedents' deaths were caused by the
defendants' actions. As to the Housing Authority
Defendants and BRK, the district court concluded there was no
record evidence "as to when Ms. Beavers became aware of
the fire in relation to when decedents became
unconscious," "of how much time she spent trying to
put out the fire," "as to when the alarm sounded in
relation to when decedents became unconscious," or
"that decedents lacked sufficient time to escape the
fire as a proximate result of any claimed issue with the
smoke detector." Marilyn Louise, Singleton, and Hatchett