A recent Fifth Circuit case reminds us of the interplay, in a diversity setting, of federal and state law.  In Jordan v. Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, L.L.C., No. 19-60364, 2020 WL 5939296 (5th Cir. Oct. 7, 2020), the plaintiffs brought suit after their young child was injured after ingesting Buckyball magnets. After an eight-day trial, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. Appeal ensued.

Buckyball magnets were small neodymium magnets that can be manipulated into various shapes. Prior to 2010, Buckyball magnets were labeled as appropriate for children ages 13 and up. After that, the defendant  worked with the CPSC to change Buckyball magnet labels to indicate that the magnets were not intended for children of any age. The new label appeared on Buckyball magnets in 2011 and warned that they were to be kept away from all children and could cause serious injury or death if swallowed or inhaled. In March 2011, plaintiffs purchased the product, and the injury occurred in 2012.
The case went to trial on the defective design claim.  Under the Mississippi Product Liability Act (“MPLA”), a claimant must demonstrate that the product was defective “at the time the product left the control of the manufacturer, designer or seller.” Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-63(a) (2014). Claimants must also show that “[t]he manufacturer or seller knew, or in light of reasonably available knowledge or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, about the danger that caused the damage for which recovery is sought.” Id. at § 11-1-63(f)(i). “The [MPLA] speaks only of dangers known as of the time the product leaves the control of the manufacturer or seller.” Noah v. Gen. Motors Corp., 882 So.2d 235, 239 (Miss. Ct. App. 2004).

Based on this, defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude post-sale evidence.  Plaintiffs opposed M&O’s motion in limine and sought to introduce various pieces of post-sale evidence, including communications with the CPSC. The district court granted the motion in limine in part and excluded most post-sale evidence.  On appeal, plaintiffs argued that these exclusionary rulings constituted prejudicial error because the rulings prevented them from fully presenting their case and cross-examining M&O’s witnesses. A central issue at trial was whether Buckyball magnets were children’s toys or adult products, and the plaintiffs argued that they were unable to fully present their case on this issue.

Though the Jordans argued that the district court’s ruling deprived them of vital evidence, the 5th Circuit noted that the MPLA requires claimants to prove defect based on what the manufacturer knew at the time the product was soldMiss. Code Ann. § 11-1-63(a). The MPLA makes it clear that the defendant’s alleged conduct here should only be evaluated through March 2011 for the purposes of this lawsuit. Evidence of the CPSC’s 2012 regulation of M&O may have cast certain earlier action in a different light at trial, but this fact does not compel the admission of evidence that was properly excluded. Thus, plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the district court’s exclusion of post-sale evidence was prejudicial error.