Louisiana District Court Denies Defendant’s Multiple Motions to Dismiss

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana, March 31, 2020.

Plaintiff, Harry F. Marsh, was diagnosed with mesothelioma allegedly as a result of his exposure to asbestos during his time as a seaman. He filed a Complaint in state court against several defendants on January 18, 2019.  Shortly thereafter, Defendant and Cross-Claim Plaintiff, Huntington Ingalls removed the matter to federal court.  Defendant, International Paper, filed three motions to dismiss, which were opposed by Huntington Ingalls.

International Paper filed a Motion to Dismiss based upon lack of personal jurisdiction since it is a New York Corporation with its principal place of business in Tennessee. Accordingly, International Paper argues that Plaintiff was required to show that International Paper had minimum contacts within the forum state. Specifically, although Plaintiff alleged he was exposed to asbestos aboard vessels in Louisiana’s jurisdiction, he was also required to allege that any asbestos-containing products associated with International Paper were disturbed on the vessels in Plaintiff’s vicinity while he was within the jurisdiction of this Court. Since he did not, International Paper argued that Plaintiff did not establish personal jurisdiction as to it. Cross-claim Plaintiff, Huntington Ingalls, claims Plaintiff did establish jurisdiction here. The court agreed, finding that since Plaintiff specifically asserted that he was exposed to asbestos aboard various ships in the territorial waters and ports of Louisiana, that International Paper “designed, evaluated, manufactured, packaged, furnished, stored, handled, transported, installed, distributed, sold and/or supplied asbestos-containing products to Plaintiff’s exposure sites” and that exposure to the asbestos-containing products caused Plaintiff’s illness, that Plaintiff adequately demonstrated that the controversy arose from International Paper’s contacts with the forum state, giving rise to personal jurisdiction.

With regard to International Paper’s Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim under F.R.C.P. Rule 12(b)(6) the court explained that the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’”  Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).  Further, a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must offer more than mere labels, legal conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Id. . Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 8(a) requires only that the pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” International Paper argued Plaintiff did not provide any set of facts under which it could be liable for Plaintiff’s injuries other than speculative and conclusory allegations. Huntington Ingalls argued Plaintiff plausibly stated all three elements of an asbestos claim: (1) the defendant manufactured or distributed the asbestos-containing product to which exposure is alleged, (2) plaintiff was exposed to the defendant’s product, and (3) the product was a substantial factor in causing the injury suffered.  Again, the court agreed with Huntington Ingalls finding that the allegations alleged by Plaintiff in the Complaint demonstrated a products liability claim made under the general maritime law.

Finally, F.R.C.P. Rule 12(e) allows a defendant to move for a more definite statement before responding “if a pleading fails to specify the allegations in a manner that provides sufficient notice.” Here, International Paper moved under Rule 12(e), alleging Plaintiff failed to plead facts with enough specificity to give notice. Huntington Ingalls argued that International Paper is a frequent defendant “in Louisiana asbestos litigation [such that] a more definite statement is unnecessary as International Paper is already well aware of the claims being made against it.” The court agreed, finding that Plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient to put International Paper on notice as to the products liability claim under the general maritime law being asserted.

Read the case decision here.