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Motion for Partial Summary Judgment of Shipyard Subcontractor Granted

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

Defendant Hopeman Brothers Inc. moved for partial summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs’ claims of intentional tort, alter ego, and manufacturer strict liability.

In order to satisfy their intentional tort claim, plaintiffs must demonstrate that Hopeman “either consciously desired that plaintiff contract mesothelioma or knew that the result was substantially certain to follow from its conduct.” A substantial certainty is more than “knowingly permitting a hazardous work condition to exist.” The court concluded that plaintiffs were unable to meet their burden of proof given that the evidence showed only that Hopeman was “aware of the potential hazards of their product,” not that Hopeman was substantially certain that plaintiff Mrs. Matherne would develop mesothelioma.

As to plaintiffs’ claim of alter ego, they contend that Hopeman’s “sister corporate and wholly owned subsidiary,” Wayne Manufacturing Corporation, was the alter ego of Hopeman. That is, they were “headed by an overlapping group of officers, shared a workspace, and had a nearly fully integrated business operation.”

In particular, Hopeman supplied Wayne with Westinghouse Micarta and Johns-Manville Marinite. Wayne glued the boards together, and Hopeman installed them at Avondale. The court recounted the differing opinions of courts within the Eastern District regarding the relationship between Hopeman and Wayne presented in other cases. The court ultimately found that Wayne could not be considered Hopeman’s alter ego. That the two businesses “shared close ties and overlapping governance” was insufficient to warrant piercing the corporate veil.

Lastly, with respect to whether Hopeman is a manufacturer of asbestos-containing products for purposes of strict liability, plaintiffs argue that Hopeman should be deemed a manufacturer due to modifying and fabricating wallboards for Avondale, as well as because Wayne is Hopeman’s alter ego and Hopeman’s role “should be equated” with Wayne. Given the court’s earlier rejection of the alter ego claim, it addressed only plaintiffs’ first argument. The court again considered the rulings of other Eastern District courts. The court agreed with other holdings recognizing that “having a hand in manufacturing the vessels at Avondale by installing walls” was inadequate to be considered a manufacturer, and that “Hopeman was a subcontractor that merely furnished a component to Avondale, which was responsible for the final product” – the ship.

Accordingly, the court granted Hopeman’s motion for partial summary judgment as to the intentional tort, alter ego, and manufacturer strict liability claims.

Read the full decision here.