Louisiana District Court Denies Motion for a More Definite Statement in Negligence Case Against Premises Owner in Third-Party Exposure Case

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

The U.S. States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued another decision in the Hernandez v. Huntington Ingalls matter, involving claims of negligence against a premises owner on behalf of a third-party. As previously reported here, the plaintiff, Jesse Hernandez, alleged he was exposed to asbestos from, among other things, working at a family grocery store and deli from 1957 to 1966, where plant workers from a nearby Allied Chemical plant frequented for lunch. Mr. Hernandez alleged that the workers had asbestos on their clothing, and that he had to clean surfaces that they encountered while in the store, exposing him to the asbestos that had been on their clothing. Honeywell International, Inc., sued as the successor to Allied Chemical, moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims on the grounds that it did not have a duty to protect third parties like Mr. Hernandez from asbestos that may have been on its employees clothing. The court denied Honeywell’s motion, finding that it was “plausible that Honeywell owed a duty to Mr. Hernandez,” and that Mr. Hernandez had established enough facts to support his claim for negligence.

At the same time that its motion to dismiss was filed, Honeywell filed a motion, in the alternative, seeking a More Definite Statement. Honeywell argued that the plaintiff’s petition was “devoid of any specific claim that Allied was negligent or at fault in causing him to be exposed to asbestos.” That is, even if the court were to assume that it was Allied workers that entered Mr. Hernandez’s place of employment and exposed him to asbestos from their clothing, this did not establish that Honeywell owed a duty to Mr. Hernandez. Honeywell requested that if the plaintiff’s claims were not dismissed, that he be required to plead a more definite statement so that Honeywell could respond to his petition.

The court denied the plaintiff’s motion, holding that it had already found that the facts alleged by Mr. Hernandez were sufficient to state a claim for relief, and it construed the plaintiff’s petition to allege that Allied plant workers came into Mr. Hernandez’s place of employment with asbestos on their clothing. The court held that these allegations were not insufficient to establish that Honeywell owed a duty of care to Mr. Hernandez, and the plaintiff’s petition was not so “excessively vague” as to be “unintelligible,” which is the standard for evaluating a motion for a more definite statement under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). Additionally, Honeywell failed to explain how it would be prejudiced in responding to the petition. The court held that any additional facts could be sought in discovery, and Honeywell was not entitled to a more definite statement under Rule 12(e).