Asbestos Snow Manufacturer Granted Partial Summary Judgment in its Successor-in-Interest Capacity

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division

The plaintiffs brought suit against Novelis Corporation, arguing that decedent Larry Petrie’s mesothelioma and death were caused by exposure to the defendant’s asbestos-containing product, Snow Drift, while decorating the family Christmas tree. The decedent and his family would throw the product on the tree, and he and his siblings would have snowball fights with it. Defendant Novelis moved for summary judgment on all of the plaintiffs’ claims.

Novelis argued that it is not liable to the plaintiffs in its individual capacity because there is no causal nexus between and conduct of Novelis and the decedent’s injuries or death, and the court reviewed the standard for summary judgment and the history of Novelis Corporation. The plaintiffs cited Aguirre v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 901 F.2d 1256, 1258 (5th Cir. 1990), for the proposition that the successor corporation assumes all responsibility for all of the outstanding tort claims of the merging corporations. However, Novelis did not argue in its individual or successor-in-interest capacity motions that a corporate successor is not liable for injuries caused by its corporate predecessor. On the other hand, neither party explains why the individual v. successor-in-interest distinction matters, as the plaintiffs assert the same claims against Novelis in both its individual and successor-in-interest capacities. Because of this, the court determined that there is no need to make the individual v. successor-in-interest distinction at this time, and recommended that Novelis’ Motion for Summary Judgment in its individual capacity be denied.

Novelis also moved for summary judgment in its capacity as successor-in-interest to Metal Goods Corporation, arguing that (1) Novelis did not owe a duty to the decedent in the 1950s and (2) the plaintiffs cannot prove that Snow Drift was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s mesothelioma. However, the plaintiffs’ strict products liability claim does not require proof of duty and foreseeability. Further, Novelis has not met its initial summary judgment burden to establish that the plaintiffs cannot create a genuine issue of material fact on causation under California law. Therefore, the Court denied the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in its Successor-in-Interest Capacity as to the plaintiffs’ strict products liability claim, and granted the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in its Successor-in-Interest Capacity as to the plaintiffs’ negligence, loss of consortium, survival, wrongful death, and gross negligence claims.

Read the full decision here.