Federal Court Grants and Denies Various Summary Judgment Motions, Based on Maritime and Civil Law

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Defendants Crown Cork & Seal, CBS Corporation, General Electric, Crane Co., Gardner Denver, John Crane, Link-Belt Construction Equipment, and Riley Power filed motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The case had been removed to federal court pursuant to the Federal Officer Removal Statue. The plaintiff alleged he developed pleural mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure during Naval service and while employed by Louisville Gas & Electric. Many other defendants moved for summary judgment on other grounds; this case addressed those filed by the defendants listed above. The court granted the defendants’ summary judgment motions for claims related to the plaintiff’s work at Louisville Gas. The court had different rulings for the plaintiff’s maritime claims.

The plaintiff served on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier and worked around others performing repair, rebuild, or overhaul work on equipment using asbestos gaskets, insulation, or packing. At Louisville Gas & Electric, the plaintiff worked as a mechanic’s helper and insulator’s helper, and later became a mechanic in the powerhouse where he worked with turbines, pumps, and other equipment. Years before bringing this claim, the plaintiff filed a claim for asbestosis.

The court applied maritime law, finding that the location test (the plaintiff was exposed while on board the Roosevelt when it was docked in navigable water) and connection test (asbestos exposure on the Roosevelt could disrupt maritime commerce) was satisfied. The court applied Indiana choice-of-law rules to find that Kentucky substantive law applied; most of the plaintiff’s exposure occurred while working in Kentucky, he was employed by a Kentucky company, and he worked throughout Kentucky.

The court also addressed the issue of whether the one-disease (the plaintiff has one cause of action even if it leads to multiple diseases) or two-disease rule (the plaintiff has more than one cause of action if asbestos exposure leads to multiple diseases) was procedural or substantive, because the plaintiff argued that Indiana procedural rules applied and argued that these rules were procedural. The court found that these rules are substantive, not procedural, because they define the parties’ rights and obligations. Kentucky substantive law applies the one-disease rule, while maritime law applies the two-disease rule. Because Kentucky law applied to the plaintiff’s non-maritime claims, and Kentucky follows the one-disease rule, the plaintiff’s claims arising out of his work for Louisville Gas were barred because he previously filed a claim for asbestosis.

Regarding the various summary judgment motions: Crown Cork & Seal and Riley Power had their request granted, as plaintiff conceded to defendants’ argument of no exposure; CBS Corporation had their request granted, because the plaintiff did not argue that CBS was liable for maritime claims; Link-Belt also had their request granted, as the plaintiff did not allege exposure while in the Navy.

Regarding the summary judgment of General Electric, GE argued the plaintiff did not have any evidence showing that GE turbines were on the Roosevelt, and the turbines were provided to the Navy without insulation. The court cited the federal multi-district litigation opinion: “In order to establish causation for an asbestos claim under maritime law, a plaintiff must show, for each defendant, that ‘(1) he was exposed to the defendant’s product, and (2) the product was a substantial factor in causing the injury he suffered.’… Substantial factor causation is determined with respect to each defendant separately… Accordingly, a mere “minimal exposure” to a defendant’s product is insufficient to establish causation.” The court also cited other standards as well in finding that the plaintiff still must show he was exposed to asbestos in some way attributable to GE; since there was no evidence that the turbines were made of anything but metal, summary judgment was granted. The court also granted Gardner Denver’s summary judgment because while Gardner Denver was identified as having pumps on the Roosevelt, there was no evidence to show that plaintiff was exposed to original component parts of these pumps.

The summary judgment of Crane Co. was denied, because the plaintiff testified regarding Crane Co. products on the Roosevelt, he worked close to those replacing packing on these valves, and Crane Co. admitted that it supplied parts to the Roosevelt, with certain of the valves possibly having asbestos components. The court likewise denied the summary judgment of John Crane.

The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s wife’s loss of consortium claims in accordance with the above rulings, because they were derivative.

Read the full decision here.