battleshipIt is no secret that, in many instances, injured tort plaintiffs would prefer to file their cases in state court as opposed to federal court. One of the many reasons for this preference is that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure place express limits on the amount of discovery available to parties.  Further, the Federal Rules of Evidence tend to be more stringent, as are requirements for expert witnesses.  These, and the notion that federal courts tend to grant motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment more frequently and award lower verdicts, means that plaintiffs would often rather file their cases in state court and conversely, defendants often prefer to litigate these cases in federal court. Consequently, when possible, defendants often will remove a case filed in state court to the applicable U.S. District Court where the state action was pending. One such method of removal is found in 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), the federal-officer removal statute. Specifically, § 1442(a)(1) allows a defendant that acted under any United States agency or officer to remove a plaintiff’s suit to federal court if any of the alleged claims or defenses relate to “any act under color of such office.” This is a frequently used tool of military contractors to get their government contractor defense heard by a federal court.

Government contractor immunity is a recognized federal defense based on public policy (See Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988)). It is an offshoot of the governmental immunity doctrine codified in 28 U.S.C. § 2680, which insulates the federal government from suit in relation to the performance of its discretionary actions. Military contractors may be extended the benefits of §2680 in a product liability action if they can demonstrate that: (1) the government “approved reasonably precise specifications” for their product; (2) the product conformed to those specifications; and (3) the contractor warned the government about the dangers in the use of the product that were known to it but not to the government.”  Boyle, 487 U.S. at 512.

Military contractors of all stripes expressed a collective sigh of relief on January 20, 2017, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals fortified the federal officer removal statute in Zeringue v. Crane Co., 2017 WL 279496 (5th Cir. 2017), a decision which overturned the Eastern District of Louisiana’s remand of an asbestos plaintiff’s suit to Orleans Parish District Court. In Zeringue, the Plaintiff filed suit in Louisiana state court alleging that he first was exposed to asbestos while serving aboard U.S. Navy ships during the 1950s. Crane, one of more than twenty defendants in the case, was a major supplier of asbestos-containing valves, among other equipment, to the Navy. Accordingly, Crane invoked the federal officer removal statute so that it could litigate the case in federal district court. It argued that removal was proper because “any product [Zeringue] alleges Crane Co. manufactured for or supplied to the Navy (and any product literature, labeling, or warnings
Continue Reading Recent Fifth Circuit Ruling a Relief to United States Government Equipment Suppliers

Pennsylvania-supreme-court-buildingOn November 22, 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a 4-2 Opinion in Rost v. Ford Motor Co., No. 56 EAP 2014, 2016 Pa. LEXIS 2638 (Pa. Nov. 22, 2016), in which the court purported to uphold and expand upon prior asbestos causation decisions set forth in Gregg v. V-J Auto Parts, Co., 596 A.2d 274 (Pa. 2007), and Betz v. Pneumo Abex, LLC, 44 A.3d 27 (Pa. 2010). However, when juxtaposed against the dissents of Chief Justice Saylor—the author of both Gregg and Betz—and Justice Baer, it becomes evident that the majority opinion creates an additional obstacle for defendants (particularly low-dose defendants) on the path toward exculpation.

In the opinion, the majority upholds a plaintiff’s verdict against Ford Motor Company for a plaintiff, Mr. Rost, who alleged he had experienced direct occupational bystander exposure to asbestos from Ford products while working as a “gofer” in an automotive repair garage over a three month time period. Ford challenged the verdict on two grounds: i) the plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Frank’s, causation opinion was impermissibly before the jury when the opinion amounted to an “each and every breath” opinion (which the court explicitly rejected in both Gregg and Betz) and, with respect to substantial factor causation, Dr. Frank’s opinion failed to take into account plaintiff’s other industrial occupational exposure during which Mr. Rost was exposed to asbestos “at pretty high levels” over at least a ten year period; and ii) the trial court erred in consolidating Mr. Rost’s case with other non-related mesothelioma cases.

Dr. Frank testified generally that mesothelioma is a dose-response disease wherein as the dose increases, the likelihood of developing the disease increases. He also testified that it is scientifically impossible to identify a particular exposure that caused the plaintiff’s disease where there were four sources of exposure, but that the causative agent was a series of exposures. Mr. Frank asserted that all documented exposures should be considered as contributing to the plaintiff’s development of disease, and concluded that it is not possible to quantify how much asbestos initiates the disease process and that it also varies according to individual susceptibility. After testifying to those opinions generally, Dr. Frank testified using a hypothetical that exposure to Ford products specifically was a substantial contributing factor to the plaintiff developing mesothelioma. Dr. Frank asserted “if [the three month exposure to Ford products] would have been [Mr. Rost’s] only exposure, I would be sitting here saying that that was the cause of his disease. Given that he had other exposures, it was all contributory.” Rost, No. 56 EAP 2014, 2016 Pa. LEXIS 2638, at *13.

Plaintiff’s Expert’s Conclusory Opinion Satisfied the Causation Standard

The majority began its analysis by revisiting two prior decisions—Gregg and Betz. In Gregg, the court rejected the “each and every breath” theory of causation as insufficient to create a factual issue to submit to the jury. In Betz, the court determined that a plaintiff must adduce evidence that exposure
Continue Reading Causation Standard at Center of PA Supreme Court Asbestos Ruling

Lady JusticeOn October 13, 2016, Presiding Justice Alice B. Gibney of the Rhode Island Superior Court ruled on Defendant Dana Companies, LLC’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction pending in the case of Harold Wayne Murray and Janice M. Murray v. 3M Company, et al., granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss upon finding that the court lacked sufficient minimum contacts to exercise personal jurisdiction – either general or specific – over the defendant. With this ruling, Rhode Island joins a growing list of jurisdictions that have applied the United States Supreme Court’s standard passed down in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014).

The Murray case was filed in Providence Superior Court, and involves a Tennessee resident alleging he developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos through his work with and around numerous defendants’ products over the course of his lifetime, predominantly at locations in Tennessee and Virginia. The complaint filed in Murray named hundreds of defendants who allegedly manufactured, sold, or supplied asbestos or asbestos-containing products to which Mr. Murray was allegedly exposed, including Dana Companies, LLC (“Dana”). Dana subsequently moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims on the grounds that a Rhode Island court’s exercise of jurisdiction, either specific or general, would violate its due process rights pursuant to the United State Constitution as well as the Supreme Court’s ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman and its progeny.

Specifically, Dana asserted that as the plaintiff’s claims arose from alleged conduct that occurred entirely outside of Rhode Island with consequences transpiring outside of the State, the court’s exercise of specific personal jurisdiction was clearly improper. During his deposition taken near his home in Johnson City, Tennessee, Mr. Murray confirmed that he’d never lived in, worked in, received treatment in, or visited the State of Rhode Island. Absent a nexus between the plaintiff, the forum, and the litigation to permit the court’s exercise of specific personal jurisdiction, the court’s review of Dana’s motion to dismiss turned on the question of whether there was a basis to exert general jurisdiction over the defendant.

The court’s general jurisdiction analysis began by citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown for the proposition that a court may reasonably exercise general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation where the corporation’s affiliations with the state are so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially “at home” in the forum state. 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011); Int’l Shoe Co. v. State of Wash., Office of Unemployment Comp. and Placement, 326 U.S. 310, 317 (1945)).Upholding Daimler’s elaboration of this “at home” standard, the court reasoned that “with very limited exceptions, a defendant can customarily be subject to general jurisdiction in the state of its incorporation and the state of its principal place of business.” Going further, the court specified that evidence of a corporation’s continuous and systematic contact with a jurisdiction was relevant only to the determination of specific jurisdiction, and was not the


Continue Reading Rhode Island Court Upholds Daimler to Dismiss Claims Against Foreign Corporation for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

Lady JusticeOn September 13, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit partially reinstated a plaintiff’s claims that his decedent developed lung cancer as a result of asbestos exposure that he allegedly experienced from work in the vicinity of switchgear components manufactured by Westinghouse Electric Corporation, a predecessor to CBS Corporation.  In re: Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig. (Frankenberger), — F.3d —-, 2016 WL 4750507 at *1 (3d Cir. 2016).

In Frankenberger, the plaintiff originally filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana and the matter was subsequently transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as a result of consolidation under a multi-district litigation (MDL-875).  Id. at *2.  Plaintiff alleged, via the decedent’s co-worker and expert testimony, that the decedent was exposed to asbestos as a result of: (1) maintenance performed on Westinghouse turbines that required the removal and installation of insulation that may have contained asbestos until 1973; and (2) maintenance and cleaning of Westinghouse switchgear that incorporated asbestos-containing components until approximately 1985.  Id.  Critically, plaintiff did not present evidence that the thermal insulation on the turbines to which he alleged the decedent was exposed was the original insulation supplied by Westinghouse or that Westinghouse supplied the insulation that was used to replace the original insulation.  Id.  In contrast, plaintiff produced evidence that the Westinghouse switchgear contained asbestos and released respirable fibers when cleaned and maintained.  Id.  Westinghouse moved for summary judgment arguing that plaintiff did not satisfy his burden of demonstrating that Decedent’s lung cancer was caused by exposure to Westinghouse products.  Id.  District Judge Robreno held that summary judgment was appropriate because there was no evidence that: (a) the decedent was exposed to asbestos-containing thermal insulation for which Westinghouse was responsible; and (b) the decedent was exposed to asbestos-containing dust from the Westinghouse switchgear.  Id. at *3.  Plaintiff appealed to the Third Circuit.  Id.

On appeal, the Third Circuit partially reversed the District Court and held that plaintiff presented evidence sufficient to present a question of material fact as to the decedent’s alleged switchgear exposure, but failed to demonstrate that Westinghouse was liable for the thermal insulation or even that the thermal insulation to which Decedent was allegedly exposed actually contained asbestos.  Id. at *4-5.  In analyzing plaintiff’s evidence, the Third Circuit applied Indiana’s causation standard, which requires that

A plaintiff . . . must produce evidence sufficient to support an inference that [the decedent] inhaled asbestos dust from the defendant’s product.  This inference can be made only if it is shown that the defendant’s product, as it was used during [the decedent’s] tenure at the job site, could possibly have produced a significant amount of asbestos dust and that the asbestos dust might have been inhaled by [the decedent].

Id. at *4 (internal citations omitted) (ellipsis in original).

In analyzing the plaintiff’s claims related to the switchgear, The Third Circuit held that summary judgment was inappropriate
Continue Reading U.S. Court of Appeals Reverses Summary Judgment in Lung Cancer Asbestos Case

IL court rejects de minimis exposure to asbestos as ‘substantial
contributing factor

Asbestos Litigation

An Illinois federal judge recently barred expert testimony espousing the “Any Exposure” theory, which is also commonly referred to as the “Each and Every Exposure” theory and the “Single Fiber” theory.

In general, the “Any Exposure” theory is a causation theory that postulates that any exposure to asbestos, regardless of dose or amount, (excluding background exposure) is a cause of the injury to the person exposed. In Krik v. Crane Co. (N.D. Ill. Dec. 22, 2014), plaintiff, Charles Krik, filed suit against several defendants alleging he developed lung cancer from exposure to their asbestos-containing products.

Plaintiff sought to offer expert testimony of Dr. Arthur Frank and Dr. Arnold Brody on the issue of medical causation and Frank Parker regarding industrial hygiene. Specifically, these experts were expected to testify that each and every exposure to asbestos caused Mr. Krik’s lung cancer. Several defendants moved to bar such testimony as inadmissible and requested that it be excluded under Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). After acknowledging that the Seventh Circuit has not opined on the admissibility of the “Any Exposure” theory in an asbestos matter, the court ruled that plaintiff failed to establish that the “Any Exposure” theory is sufficiently reliable to be admitted under Rule 702 and Daubert.

In reaching its conclusion, the court noted that plaintiff conceded that his experts believed asbestos-related lung cancer is a dose-responsive disease and yet plaintiff would have his experts testify that any asbestos exposure—regardless of dosage—is sufficient to cause asbestos-related lung cancer. The court also underscored plaintiff’s failure to offer any expert testimony regarding plaintiff’s exposure dose of asbestos, and whether that dose was sufficient to cause his lung cancer.

The opinion that plaintiff’s experts cannot rule out that a single dose of asbestos causes injury, and therefore any and all exposure to asbestos is harmful, “is not an acceptable approach for a causation expert to take.”

The court rejected the notion that de minimis exposure or a single exposure is sufficient to meet Illinois’ substantial contributing factor test. Rather, the correct statement of Illinois law is that more than de minimis exposure is required to prove causation. Moreover, the court found the “Any Exposure” theory was inadmissible because plaintiff’s experts failed to base their opinions on the facts specific to this case in violation of Rule 702(d).

Click here to read the Kirk Opinion in its entirety.
Continue Reading Plaintiff’s Experts Barred from Offering “Any Exposure” Theory in Asbestos Lung Cancer Case