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HALTIWANGER v. UNISYS CORP.

December 18, 1996

ANDREW HALTIWANGER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNISYS CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRIS

 Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs opposition and defendant's reply. Upon careful consideration of the record, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted. Although "findings of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of motions under Rules 12 or 56," Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 52(a), the Court nonetheless sets forth its reasoning.

 BACKGROUND FACTS

 Plaintiff, Andrew Haltiwanger, has been employed as a clerk with the United States Postal Service (the "Postal Service") from 1980 to the present, during which time he operated a multiple position letter sorter machine (the "MPLSM"). He currently suffers from repetitive stress injuries, including bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. Defendant Unisys Corporation is the successor-in-interest of the Burroughs Corporation, which has assisted in the design and manufacture of the MPLSM since its creation.

 The MPLSM is an automatic letter-sorter machine which is 77 feet long and 9 feet high, consisting of twelve consoles where Postal Service operators use two ten-key, piano-style keyboards arranged in two tiers. As mail is mechanically conveyed past the operator console, the operator reads the zip code and enters a code on the keyboards. The MPLSM then directs the letter to the appropriate sorting bin located on the other side of the machine.

 The original design for the MPLSM was initiated in 1956 by the Rabinow Engineering Company ("Rabinow"). The Postal Service slightly altered the original design and contracted with the Burroughs Corporation ("Burroughs") to build ten prototypes of the Rabinow design, which were installed in Michigan and Washington, D.C. The Postal Service then awarded Burroughs a contract to manufacture MPLSMs that were based on four separate sets of specifications and drawings that had been developed over the years -- the 1970 Model 120/121, the 1974 Model 140/141 with Electronic Sort Processor (ESP), the 1974 Model 140/141 with Zip Mail Translator (ZMT), and the 1976 version of the machine.

 Each adaptation of the design was accompanied by an extensive volume of specifications and procedures that Burroughs was required to follow. The original specifications devoted several sections to the components of the machine related to possible repetitive stress injury, including the operator console, the console keyboards, the key pressure adjustment control, the operator chair and the sorting rates. Extensive descriptions of the machinery were sustained in subsequent variations of the design, and were accompanied by detailed drawings of the proposed keyboard and its features. The guidelines also included precise stipulations regarding the proper materials and workmanship, as well as the necessary safety devices and provisions. Notably, the Postal Service specifically dictated that any element of the manufacturing process or product that "differs in the slightest detail from those specified or shown on the drawings shall be subject to approval by the Postal Service," MPLSM Model 120/121 Specifications ("Spec.") § 3.14. It further was provided:

 
Should any questions arise after award of the contract, concerning the exact meaning of the specification and drawings, the contractor shall provide immediate written notice to the Contracting Officer requesting clarification. The contractor shall not proceed with work on which questions have arisen. Work shall proceed only after written notification by the Contracting Officer of resolution of the questions.

 MPLSM Model 120/121 Spec. § 3.12.7. An extensive nine-page "Engineering Change Procedure" existed as a means by which to implement "all changes relative to engineering documentation." Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 13 at 1.

 Throughout the course of production of each model, there was continuous discussion and cooperation between the Postal Service and Burroughs, exchanging design ideas and possible improvements for the MPLSM. Despite some reciprocity, however, suggestions from Burroughs employees were always subject to the Postal Service's approval. Although Burroughs participated throughout the design process, the ultimate interpretive decision-making power was consistently and exclusively under Postal Service control. The Postal Service evaluated each potential change, specifically accepting those that were ultimately incorporated into the final design. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 13 at 5.

 At each stage of development, extensive testing and inspection was conducted by the Postal Service to ensure that the machines were consistent with its specifications and drawings. An initial test prior to production entailed a physical and functional inspection of the MPLSM to guarantee conformity with the Postal Service requirements in all material respects. The Postal Service and the Defense Contract Administrative Service ("DCAS") continued on-site, in-process inspections throughout manufacturing, and "live mail" tests of the machine were executed after assembly over the course of a regular work shift to verify that operation followed the Postal Service specifications.

 Over the years, studies and analyses of the human factors associated with the MPLSM were conducted by both the Postal Service and Burroughs. In the early 1960's, the Postal Service employed human factors engineers and operated a Bureau of Research and Engineering that studied the interaction between the MPLSM and its operator. Throughout the development of the MPLSM, the Postal Service expanded its work in human factors issues to include a five-year human research and development plan, addressing concerns such as fatigue reduction, keyboard design, and pacing of MPLSM work. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 21. Although many early analyses were inconclusive with respect to the potential danger of the MPLSM, there was a growing awareness of the relevant issues and possible negative impacts of the machine's operation. Links were soon discovered between automatic sorting machines and repetitive stress injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, and a number of the later studies demonstrated direct harm caused by the machines. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Exs. 35, 36, 38. While many of those studies were conducted by other agencies and interest groups, several of the reports were sponsored by divisions of the Postal Service or supported by the assistance of individuals within the Postal Service. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Exs. 35, 36.

 ANALYSIS

 Summary judgment is to be granted only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, all evidence and inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). If a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party based on the record, summary judgment may not be granted. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Differences of opinion on details not directly relevant to the ...


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