Court of Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment Finding No Evidence Decedent Exposed to Defendants’ Products

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, February 26, 2021

The plaintiffs claim their farther, a mechanical engineer at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), was killed by asbestos products sold and installed by defendants McCarty Corporation and Taylor Seidenbach, Inc.  Deteriorating asbestos and asbestos remediation occurred in the buildings in which the decedent worked.

The plaintiffs appealed the district court’s granting of summary judgment for the defendants concluding that the court found no evidence of decedent’s exposure to respirable asbestos at the MAF.  Even assuming the decedent was, however, the court also found no evidence linking the decedent’s exposure to the defendants’ products.  The court also remanded the case back to the Eastern District of Louisiana.  The plaintiffs appealed.

The Court of Appeals found federal jurisdiction and removal were proper based on the federal-officer removal statute.  The court found there was a sufficient connection of association between the act in question and the federal office because part of plaintiffs’ case concerned alleged asbestos exposure from work on rockets produced for NASA.  The Court of Appeals also found a colorable government contractor defense was adequately pleaded by the removing defendant.  Based on this, the court found the plaintiffs’ claims against McCarty and Taylor Seidenbach, Inc. were supplemental to the federal-officer jurisdiction, and removal was appropriate. 

The plaintiffs appealed the granting of summary judgment for the defendants, arguing a reasonable jury could conclude that the decedent was exposed to asbestos products installed and supplied by the defendants.  The Court of Appeals evaluated the causation standard under Louisiana law. Under Louisiana law, a plaintiff claiming asbestos-related injury must prove “significant exposure to the product complained of to the extent that it was a substantial factor in bringing about his injury.”  As such the plaintiffs were required to put forth direct or circumstantial evidence connecting defendants to asbestos where the decedent was exposed.

The Court of Appeals concluded a brochure identifying McCarty as MAF’s thermal insulation contractor did not sufficiently tie McCarty to the decedent’s exposure.  The brochure did not show that McCarty supplied insulation in the building where the decedent work or in any other building the decedent may have visited at MAF.  As such, no reasonable jury could conclude merely from the brochure that McCarty supplied asbestos products to the buildings in which the decedent worked or regularly visited. 

The court also found the plaintiffs failed to identify any evidence suggesting Taylor Seidenbach, Inc. was connected to asbestos that harmed decedent.  The court concluded the mere assertion of Taylor Seidenbach, Inc.’s connection to the decedent’s injury was insufficient to survive summary judgment.

Based on the foregoing, the Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of summary for the defendants as the plaintiffs failed to put forth any evidence creating a genuine dispute that the defendants’ products substantially contributed to the decedent’s injury. 

Read the full decision here.