On Tuesday, October 6, 2015, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno ordered a stay on a dozen nearly-identical asbestos claims brought by plaintiffs who had previously sought bankruptcy protection. Judge Robreno stated in all of them that the plaintiffs’ trustees must be given the choice of either pursuing or abandoning the claims.
In one such case, the plaintiff was a ship worker who had filed an asbestos claim in 2001, followed by a bankruptcy action in 2003. His claim, however, was not included as part of his estate. The ship owner defendant requested that Judge Robreno dismiss the case entirely, arguing that the plaintiff had acted in bad faith by not disclosing his asbestos claim when he filed for bankruptcy.
In refusing to dismiss entirely, Judge Robreno explained that the claim was still part of the bankruptcy estate, no matter how long ago it was closed. He found that the plaintiff had not acted in bad faith because his asbestos claim was in a “black hole” between 1997, when the previous judge closed all pending and future non-symptomatic cases on the maritime docket, and 2009, when Judge Robreno reopened the cases. This lack of bad faith, however, did not change the fact that the asbestos claim was an asset of the estate and that the trustee must have the right to pursue or abandon the claim.