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Clutch Manufacturer Cannot File Successive Summary Judgment Motions Based on New, Broader Expert Opinion

ALABAMA — The plaintiffs Ray and Donna Franklin alleged that Mr. Franklin’s death from asbestosis-related respiratory failure arose from his work with clutches manufactured by defendant Dana Corporation. The action, originally filed in Calhoun County Alabama, was removed to federal court, and was transferred to the MDL in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. While in the MDL, Dana timely moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was insufficient evidence that Mr. Franklin had ever been exposed to asbestos from a Dana product, or that a Dana product was a substantial cause of Mr. Franklin’s asbestosis. To support their arguments, they presented an expert report from industrial hygienist Gayla McCluskey, who opined that asbestos exposure from the removal of clutches would have been minimal and equivalent to background exposure. The MDL court denied this motion.

The case was remanded to the Northern District of Alabama, and Dana moved for leave to file a renewed summary judgment motion, which was denied. However, in a scheduling order, the court allowed for the parties to file dispositive motions on causation only. Following discovery, Dana filed an additional summary judgment motion, which the plaintiffs moved to strike, arguing that Dana presented the same arguments that were rejected by the MDL court. In support of its second summary judgment motion, Dana presented an expert report and testimony from industrial hygienist Mary Finn who opined that Mr. Franklin’s work with Dana products did not increase his risk of developing asbestosis.

This court evaluated whether Dana could file successive motions for summary judgment based on “new” expert opinions, and whether the Northern District of Alabama should reconsider the MDL court’s denial of Dana’s first motion for summary judgment. The court determined that Dana could not “resurrect an already rejected argument simply by retaining a new expert to offer a more comprehensive opinion, to correct what it perceived to be the flaw in its earlier attempt at summary judgment.” The court also declined Dana’s request to reconsider the MDL court’s denial of its earlier motion, noting the failure to present new evidence that would support reconsideration of an earlier decision.

Read the full case decision here.