Expert Affidavit Does Not Create a Question of Fact for Nonmoving Party in Motion for Summary Judgment

On February 8, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware granted Defendants Crane Co., Warren Pumps LL, and Air & Liquid Systems Corporation (Buffalo) separate motions for summary judgment with regards to all causation counts of the plaintiff’s complaint.

The plaintiff asserted state law causes of actions against the defendants based on David MacQueen’s (the decedent) employment in the U.S. Navy. The decedent was aboard the U.S.S. Randolph and the U.S.S. Independence from 1956-60. The plaintiff alleged that Crane, Warren, and Buffalo were manufacturers of asbestos containing equipment that was aboard the U.S.S. Randolph and the U.S.S. Independence at the same time the decedent served on those vessels.

Under federal law, summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must “do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts (citation omitted) .” The dispute is genuine only where evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.

The key issues in this matter is whether the plaintiff can meet the above burden with respect to causation; that is, whether there is a nexus between the decedent’s work on the previously reference ships and any work with any asbestos-containing product associated with any of the defendants. In a products liability action under maritime law, such as this one, a plaintiff proceeding under either a negligence and/or strict liability theory must establish causation by showing, “for each defendant, that (1) he was exposed to the defendant’s product, and (2) the product was a substantial factor in causing the injury he suffered.”

In the discovery phase of this matter, three product identification witnesses were deposed. None of the three witnesses offered factual information that would allow the court to infer that Mr. MacQueen was ever exposed to any of the defendants’ products on either the U.S.S. Randolph or the U.S.S. Independence. The defendants cited this lack of product identification in their respective motions. The plaintiffs attempted to counter and establish a factual controversy based on the expert affidavit of Captain Francis Berger. This affidavit was disclosed for the first time in the plaintiff’s opposition to the pending motions. Captain Burger concludes that, based on his review of certain naval records, certain products manufactured by defendants Crane, Buffalo, and Warren were on board the U.S.S. Randolph and U.S.S. Saratoga between 1956 and 1960. However, Captain Burger never personally knew the decedent.

The court did not find that Captain Burger’s expert affidavit met the above standard required of a nonmoving party in a summary judgment motion. The court commented that the Burger Affidavit cannot create a fact issue as to at least one additional element of the “exposure” prong regarding causation: whether Mr. MacQueen was exposed to an asbestos-containing product manufactured or supplied by the Defendants. Captain Burger simply does not have any personal knowledge; perhaps he could create a fact as to the presence of the products, but he simply cannot testify that Mr. MacQueen was actually exposed to any of these products. Based on the evidence provided, the court could not infer that Mr. MacQueen worked on or was exposed to the defendants’ products and granted all defendants’ motions for summary judgment with regards to causation.

It should be noted, there was an additional count for conspiracy. The body of the count repeatedly asserts liability as to not only Metropolitan, but also as to “Defendants.” Two of the defendants did not address this count in their motions for summary judgment. As a result, the court could not grant summary judgment and those counts remain.

Read the full decision here.