Finding of Admiralty Jurisdiction Leads to Denial of Gasket Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss

U.S. District for the Eastern District of Virginia

This is a follow up to Asbestos Case Tracker’s recent post on this matter. Plaintiff Herbert Mullinex alleged he developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos while working as a machinist mate in the U.S. Navy from 1969-89. The plaintiff worked aboard multiple ships docked in Norfolk, Virginia and others around the world. Defendant John Crane (JCI) removed the case to federal court based on government contractor defense. JCI then moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ maritime claims. The plaintiffs opposed the motion.

The court began its analysis and stated that a motion to dismiss must be granted when the claim lacks the subject matter. Here, the plaintiffs’ claims alleged they arose “under the laws of Virginia and within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1). JCI conceded that the court had jurisdiction of the claims but that the “absence of admiralty” jurisdiction forces the application of Virginia law over the matter. The plaintiffs countered and concentrated on facts illustrating the plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos onboard ships in navigable waters. Both parties disagreed as to the correct legal standard to apply whether admiralty law exists. The court stated that the location and connection tests must be satisfied for a finding of admiralty jurisdiction. The location test looks at whether the injury suffered on land was caused by a “vessel on navigable water.” The connection test focuses on 1) the type of incident to consider and whether it is disruptive to maritime commerce and 2) whether the activity has substantial relationship to admiralty activity. Here, the court concluded that the location test was met as the plaintiff was “exposed to asbestos on navigable waters aboard several ships during his service in the Navy.” As for the connection test, the court noted that the incident is “one of injury to workers on or around Navy ships on navigable waters.” The fact that the sale of defective parts was alleged disrupts maritime commerce according to the court. According the first prong, the connection test was met. JCI relied on the decision in the Gilstrap case to argue that asbestos workers had no traditional maritime function.” The court did not agree as the distinction was a “hypergeneralization” and should not be used. Instead, JCI was alleged to have sold asbestos containing products on navigable water. Consequently, the court found the second prong of the connection test to have been satisfied. Admiralty jurisdiction was found to be present and the motion to dismiss was therefore denied.