Court Denies Defendant’s Motion to Apply Federal Maritime Law

Plaintiffs Ralph Elliott Shaw and Joan Sanderson Shaw initiated this action by filing a complaint in the Superior Court of Delaware on February 26, 2015 asserting various causes of action arising out of Mr. Shaw’s alleged exposure to asbestos throughout his employment. Specifically, the plaintiff’s allegations include Mr. Shaw’s occupational exposure as a sheet metal worker in Groton, Connecticut from approximately 1952 to 1954 and 1957 to 1967. Mr. Shaw alleged exposure to asbestos throughout his employment, at various submarine factories and shipyards with respect to building new submarines using metal and sheet metal. As a result, Mr. Shaw developed malignant mesothelioma.

On August 21, 2015, the case was removed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware by the defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), the federal officer removal statute. On July 15, 2016, the parties notified the court of their dispute concerning the applicable substantive law and requested leave to file legal memoranda on their respective positions. The court granted the parties’ request on July 21, 2016 and issued a decision on December 29, 2016,

The key issue in dispute is a question of federal law and the initial step in the choice of law analysis is to determine whether this case sounds in admiralty. In order for maritime law to apply, a plaintiff’s exposure underlying a product’s liability claim must meet both a locality test and a connection test. Each test has been defined as follows: A court applying the location test must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water. The connection test raises two issues. A court, first, must “assess the general features of the type of incident involved,” to determine whether the incident has “a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce”. [Citation Omitted].

In the current matter, the court found that defendant failed to satisfy the locality test as the alleged exposure occurred on submarines that were in the process of being built, and therefore do not qualify as vessels. Further, the court noted in order for maritime law to apply, a plaintiffs exposure must meet both the locality test and the connection test. Therefore, as the locality test was not satisfied, the application of the connection test was unnecessary. Accordingly, the plaintiff’s motion to establish the applicable substantive law was GRANTED and Defendants motion to establish federal maritime law was DENIED.

Read the full decision here.