Pump Manufacturers’ Motions for Summary Judgment Denied in Navy Exposure Case

U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, September 23, 2020

On July 26, 2018, John Pruitt (the plaintiff) sued multiple defendants asserting claims arising from his alleged exposure to asbestos. The plaintiff alleged he developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing materials during his service as a machinist mate in the United States Navy and as a parts purchaser at Schroer Implement Co. He was deposed in August 2018. In addition to the plaintiff’s testimony, a fact witness, Edmond Dumas, provided testimony regarding his work alongside the plaintiff as a ship fitter on the USS Tolovana from September 1960 to December 1963 and the plaintiff provided an expert report of Captain William Lowell regarding Navy exposures during the relevant time. On January 31, 2020, Gardner Denver and Warren Pumps each filed a motion for summary judgment. The magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation denying the defendants’ motions. The defendants filed objections to the report.

Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. MatsushitaElec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.10 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine only where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248; Horowitz v. FederalKemper Life Assurance Co., 57 F.3d 300, 302 (3d Cir. 1995). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Id. at 249-50; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

Gardner Denver objected to the report on two bases: 1) that it incorrectly recommended denial of summary judgment based on an inaccurate reading of the record for alleged exposure to original gaskets and 2) that it incorrectly relied on the affidavit of Captain William Lowell. Gardner Denver notes that “[d]uring the discovery portion of his deposition, Mr. Dumas did not identify any products manufactured by Gardner Denver.” As noted below, however, the plaintiff’s expert Captain Arnold Moore opined that a “Gardner Denver fire pump was installed on Tolovana during construction and remained aboard throughout Mr. Pruitt’s service.” Therefore, there remains a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the plaintiff worked on the Gardner Denver emergency diesel fire pump to such an extent that it was a substantial factor in causing his subsequent injuries.

Warren Pump objected to the report’s conclusion that the evidence cited raises “a genuine dispute as to whether Plaintiff’s alleged injuries were substantially caused by asbestos-containing products manufactured or supplied by Warren Pumps.” Although neither the plaintiff nor Mr. Dumas identified Warren Pumps, both testified as to the plaintiff’s work on a fire general service pump and a fuel transfer pump. To identify the pumps, the plaintiff relies on ship records from 1952 and 1972 to offer circumstantial evidence that the fire general service pump and the fuel transfer pump that Mr. Dumas testified to having seen the plaintiff work on were manufactured by Warren Pumps. The plaintiff also relies on discovery (both written and deposition testimony) provided by Warren Pumps in other cases along with an instruction manual for a Warren Pumps’ fire pump from 1961 to create a factual issue about whether Warren Pumps products on board the USS Tolovana were provided to the United States Navy with asbestos-containing gaskets and packing material. The plaintiff’s testimony, Mr. Dumas’ testimony, and Captain Moore’s affidavit viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, provide circumstantial evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude that the plaintiff was exposed to an asbestos-containing product manufactured by Warren Pumps.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether Warren and Gardner Denver pumps were a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. Therefore, the court denied the defendants’ objections to the recommendation, adopted the report, and denied both motions.