Pre-Discovery Motion for Summary Judgment Denied in Shipyard Case

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, July 12, 2021

The plaintiffs alleged that the decedent, Raymond Hutchins, was exposed to asbestos while working aboard vessels owned by his employer, Lykes Bros. Steamship Company, from 1964 to 2006. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that Hutchins was exposed to asbestos from dockside repair work performed by the defendant, Dixie Machine Welding & Metal Works, Inc. (Dixie Machine). In support of this contention, the plaintiffs argued that Lykes Bros. was Dixie Machine’s largest customer from the 1950s through 1983, working on every Lykes Bros. vessel, including those aboard which Mr. Hutchins served; and that Dixie Machine employees often removed and re-installed insulation associated with pipes that they repaired.

Dixie Machine moved for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiffs failed to support their allegations with any facts. The plaintiffs opposed, arguing that the motion was premature, since discovery had not yet commenced. The plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to meaningful discovery to evaluate whether the exposure caused by Dixie Machine’s work was a substantial contributing factor in causing Hutchin’s alleged disease. The court agreed. While the court noted that Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the summary judgment rule) does not require discovery to take place before summary judgment can be granted, opponents of summary judgment may overcome a summary judgment motion by setting “forth a plausible basis for believing that specified facts, susceptible of collection within a reasonable timeframe, probably exist and indicate how the emergent facts, if adduced, will influence the outcome of the pending summary judgment motion.” Here, the court found that without the discovery sought by the plaintiffs they could not be expected to establish a genuine issue of material fact that would preclude summary judgment. Thus, Dixie Machine’s motion was denied without prejudice, allowing Dixie Machine to re-file once meaningful discovery had occurred.

Read the full decision here.