303 F.Supp.2d 51 (2004) | Cited 1 time | D. Puerto Rico | February 9, 2004


Plaintiff, domiciled in Puerto Rico, instituted this action againstECOLAB, INC., a Minnesota corporation, and its unknown insurers underdiversity jurisdiction principles. In essence, plaintiff seeks relief forloss of eyesight as a result of contact with a product named Super Trump.According to the complaint, "while using Super Trump an amount of itsplashed on the right side of plaintiff's face and right eye."1Despite the medical treatment provided, plaintiff "became blind of hisright eye and is losing vision in his left eye."2 Plaintiff claimsdefendant ECOLAB, INC. is liable under strict products liabilityprinciples due to the allegedly inadequate warnings and/or instructionsprovided for the Super Trump product.Page 2

Plaintiff alleges both in the complaint and in the Joint InitialScheduling Conference Memorandum that ECOLAB, INC. is the manufacturer3and distributor4 of the product.

Defendant ECOLAB, INC. has moved to dismiss the complaint alleging thatit did not manufacture, sell or deliver the product in question.According to the statement under penalty of perjury submitted by thedefendant,5 it was ECOLAB MANUFACTURING, INC., its wholly ownedsubsidiary with its principal place of business in Puerto Rico, whichmanufactured, sold and delivered the product to plaintiff's place ofemployment.6

In response to defendant's disclaimer of liability plaintiff arguesthat due to the fact that the information on the product's labelspecifically makes reference to ECOLAB, INC. — with no mention ofthe local subsidiary — and that the product's Material Safety DataSheet was issued by ECOLAB, INC. "it leads any person reading the labelto reasonably believe that the manufacturer is ECOLAB, INC."7Page 3

Hence, plaintiff concludes, ECOLAB, INC. is responsible to plaintiffunder the "apparent authority" doctrine.

Apparent Authority Doctrine

This is an action based on diversity of jurisdiction and therefore,local substantive law applies. Correa v. Cruisers, 298 F.3d 13, 22 (1stCir. 2002); Torres v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 219 F.3d 13 (1stCir. 2000); Fitzgerald v. Expressway Sewerage Constr., Inc., 177 F.3d 71,74 (1st Cir. 1999); Servicios Comerciales Andinos, S.A. v. Gen. Elec. delCaribe, Inc., 145 F.3d 463, 479 (1st Cir. 1998).

In Berrios v. U.P.R., 116 D.P.R. 88 (1985) the Puerto Rico SupremeCourt made reference to the apparent authority doctrine. The issue inBerrios was who was responsible for the administration of a medicalentity charged with negligence resulting in the death of plaintiffs'relative. Throughout the years of proceedings both the COMMONWEALTH OFPUERTO RICO and the pertinent MUNICIPALITY disclaimed knowledge of thereal party in interest as well as denied any liability on their part.However, the evidence eventually demonstrated that the COMMONWEALTH OFPUERTO RICO, through its HEALTH DEPARTMENT, had transferred control overthe hospital to a third party approximately seven months prior todecedent's demise. The Supreme Court severely censured the defendants andruled that through their silence, evasive conduct and appearances thesetwo defendants had portrayed and cloaked themselves at all times withPage 4authority and control over the medical center thereby inducing plaintiffsinto a reasonable belief of such misrepresentation. Id. at 96. TheSupreme Court also noted that it was almost impossible for personsseeking medical assistance at the municipality's health care center toascertain that they were being treated by a non-municipal or statefacility nor did they have any way of knowing. The name of the enterprisewas nowhere to be seen. Rather, the building signs, ambulances, recordsand documents all made reference to the municipal and/or stategovernment.

The MUNICIPALITY was found jointly liable because, according to theSupreme Court, through its intentional conduct concurrently with theCOMMONWEALTH it induced plaintiffs into believing that those who operatedand managed the health care center were its agents acting within thescope of their authority.

The case, however, was resolved based on equitable principles of goodfaith and the "doctrine of one's own acts". Berrios, 116 D.P.R. at 98(translation ours). The apparent authority doctrine was mentioned by theCourt while making reference to the "tendency" in the United States. Itspecifically noted that "[t]he North American custom is to impose thistype of liability under the "apparent authority' doctrine . . . [which]is rooted on estoppel principles." Id. at 97 n.2 (translation ours).

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court, however, has unequivocally rejectedapplication of the estoppel doctrine as developed in thePage 5common law to its local legal system. The court has forewarned againstpossible conflicts created by incorporating doctrines from otherjurisdictions, particularly from the common law, into Puerto Rico's civillaw tradition. Instead, it has utilized a similar equitable principleknown as "doctrina de actos propios" and loosely translated as the"doctrine of one's own acts." Corraliza Rodriguez v. Banco DesarrolloEconomico, 2001 TSPR 2, 6, 2001 JTS 5 (January 9, 2001).

The doctrine of one's own acts flows from art. 7 of the Puerto RicoCivil Code, 31 P.R. Laws Ann. § 7 (1993),8 which allows the court tointerject equity principles in the absence of a specific applicable legalprovision. Corraliza, 2001 TSPR at 6. "This principle is parallel to thedoctrine of estoppel in English law," Int'l Gen. Elec. v. ConcreteBuilders of P.R., Inc., 104 D.P.R. 871, 877 (1976) (translation ours) andeven though some connections exist between the two, there are differencesin their development and content. Corraliza, 2001 TSPR at 7; Berrios, 116D.P.R. at 97 n.2Page 6(1985); Lausell Marxuach v. Diaz de Yanez, 103 D.P.R. 533, 537 (1975).

According to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, the underlying premise ofthe doctrine of one's acts is that all parties are bound to act in goodfaith and hence, must not engage in conduct contradictory to previousbehavior. In order to establish liability under this doctrine, plaintiffmust present evidence of (a) specific conduct, (b) which has broughtabout an apparent situation contrary to reality and capable ofinfluencing the conduct of others, and (c) another party who has acted ingood faith and in reliance thereto would be prejudiced should its trustbe defrauded. Corraliza.

Even assuming arguendo that the label information and the factthat the Material Safety Data Sheet for the product was submitted byECOLAB, INC. are sufficient grounds to support plaintiff's good faithbelief that it was manufactured by the defendant herein, plaintiff stillfails to meet the remaining requirements for application of the doctrine.

The underlying premise of the "doctrine of one's own acts" is that theproponent relied on another party's representations and disallowing themwould operate to his detriment. Plaintiff has failed to adduce any factsevidencing reliance on his part regarding the manufacturer's identity.The product at issue was purchased by plaintiff's employer. There is noevidence that the true identity of the manufacturer was in any waydeterminative of plaintiff's use of it. Nor can we fathom how plaintiffcould possibly be prejudiced byPage 7his purported reliance that ECOLAB, INC. was the manufacturer asopposed to its local subsidiary but for the fact that he would have toseek relief in the local forum.

In other words, we fail to grasp how plaintiff's good faith reliance asto the identity of the manufacturer would work to his detriment in theseproceedings. It is important to bear in mind that when applying thisdoctrine we are dealing with equitable principles and we do not see wherethe unfairness to plaintiff lies.

Based on the foregoing, the complaint filed in this case is herebyDISMISSED.9

Judgment shall be entered accordingly.



The court having dismissed the complaint filed in this case through itsOrder issued on this date, it is hereby

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the complaint filed in this case be and thesame is hereby DISMISSED.


1. Complaint ¶ III-8.

2. Complaint ¶ III-11.

3. Joint ISC Memorandum (docket No. 10) p.6.

4. Complaint ¶ III-1.

5. Attached to defendant's Informative Motion, filed on November 20,2003 (docket No. 13).

6. including the local corporation as a party defendant woulddestroy diversity between the parties.

7. Motion Showing Cause, filed on January 15, 2004 (docket No. 20)p. 3.

8. In pertinent part, it reads: When there is no statute applicable to the case at issue, the court shall decide in accordance with equity, which means that natural justice, as embodied in the general principles of jurisprudence and in accepted and established usages and customs, shall be taken into consideration.

9. See Omnibus Order for plaintiff to show cause, filed on December5, 2003 (docket No. 16); plaintiff's Motion Showing Cause, filed onJanuary 15, 2004 (docket No. 20) and defendant's Reply tendered onJanuary 26, 2004. The Motion for Leave to File Reply, filed on January26, 2004 (docket No. 23) is GRANTED.

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