226 F.3d 46 (2nd Cir. 2000), 676, Caruolo v John Crane, Inc.

Docket Nº:676--
Citation:226 F.3d 46
Party Name:PAUL CARUOLO and MARGARET CARUOLO, Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants, v. JOHN CRANE, INC., Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee, A C and S, INC., COMBUSTION ENGINEERING, INC., OWENS-CORNING FIBERGLAS CORP., FIBREBOARD CORPORATION, U.S. MINERAL PRODUCTS CO., PITTSBURGH-CORNING CORP., THE FLINTKOTE COMPANY, ROCKWOOL MANUFACTURING COMPANY, ANCHOR PA
Case Date:August 31, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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226 F.3d 46 (2nd Cir. 2000)

PAUL CARUOLO and MARGARET CARUOLO, Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants,

v.

JOHN CRANE, INC., Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee,

A C and S, INC., COMBUSTION ENGINEERING, INC., OWENS-CORNING FIBERGLAS CORP., FIBREBOARD CORPORATION, U.S. MINERAL PRODUCTS CO., PITTSBURGH-CORNING CORP., THE FLINTKOTE COMPANY, ROCKWOOL MANUFACTURING COMPANY, ANCHOR PACKING COMPANY, FOSTER WHEELER ENERGY CORPORATION, RAPID-AMERICAN CORPORATION, as successor-in-interest to Phillip Carey Manufacturing Corp., KEENE CORPORATION, EMPIRE ACE INSULATION, H & A CONSTRUCTION, ASBESTOSPRAY CORPORATION, W.R. GRACE & COMPANY, ROBERT A. KEASBEY COMPANY, WHITTAKER, CLARK & DANIELS, INC., R.T. VANDERBILT CO., INC., and GARLOCK, INC., Defendants,

A.W. CHESTERTON & CO., Defendant-Cross-Claimant.

Docket No. 99-7430(L), 99-7501 (XAP)

No. 676--

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

August 31, 2000

Argued: November 4, 1999

Appeal from a personal injury judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Sweet, J.) after a jury trial.

Affirmed in part, vacated and remanded in part.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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MOSHE MAIMON, New York, NY (Alani Golanski, Levy, Phillips & Konigsberg, LLP, on the brief) for Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants.

SUZANNE M. HALBARDIER, New York, NY (William E. Fay, III, Laurel A. Wedinger, Barry, McTiernan & Moore, on the brief) for Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Before: McLAUGHLIN, JACOBS and KATZMANN, Circuit Judges.

JACOBS, Circuit Judge:

John Crane, Inc. ("Crane"), a manufacturer and distributor of sealing devices that contain asbestos, appeals from a personal injury judgment in favor of Paul and Margaret Caruolo, entered following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Sweet, J.). It is not disputed on appeal that Paul Caruolo ("Caruolo") contracted mesothelioma following exposure to asbestos during his service as a Navy fireman aboard ships in World War II, and during his later career in a manufacturing company in Rhode Island. Caruolo died after trial.

Crane concedes that its sealing devices contain asbestos, but argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because: (i) the asbestos is encapsulated in its products and is not released into the air in harmful form by the procedures Caruolo performed; and (ii) plaintiffs failed to present any evidence showing that Caruolo was exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos fibers released from Crane's products. In the alternative, Crane argues that it should be granted a new trial because, inter alia, the district court permitted plaintiffs' medical expert to testify about the amount of asbestos in visible dust emanating from asbestos-containing products and about the opinions of another expert who was not called at trial. Finally, Crane argues that the district court erroneously applied Rhode Island law in determining whether Crane is jointly and severally liable. Plaintiffs cross-appeal, arguing that the district court erroneously applied New York law in computing prejudgment interest.

We conclude that: (i) there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding of Crane's liability; (ii) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a new trial; (iii) the district court properly applied Rhode Island law with respect to joint and several liability; but (iv) the district court erroneously applied New York law in computing prejudgment interest. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment in all respects except that we vacate and remand for re-calculation of prejudgment interest in accordance with Rhode Island law.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs commenced this failure-to-warn products liability suit against 25 manufacturers of asbestos-containing insulation, claiming that Caruolo's mesothelioma was caused by his workplace exposure to their products. An amended complaint added Crane as a defendant. Unlike many if not all of the other defendants, Crane

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does not manufacture insulation; the only asbestos-containing products that Crane manufactures are gaskets (rings used to make joints watertight) and packing (sealant material used in valves and other devices). Caruolo claimed that he was exposed to asbestos from Crane's products when he served in the United States Navy--at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and at sea--from 1944 to 1950, and when he worked for the Rhee Elastic Corporation in Rhode Island and its successors (collectively referred to as "Rhee"), from 1950 to 1988.

Plaintiffs' case was consolidated with asbestos-related personal-injury claims brought by four other plaintiffs in the Southern District of New York, in part because the district court found that Caruolo's primary exposure to asbestos occurred at various shipyards in New York. See In re Asbestos Litig., No. 93 Civ. 3752, 1998 WL 230950, at *4-*7 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 1998). Two of the cases settled prior to trial. The remaining three cases proceeded to a jury trial beginning on September 23, 1998. Crane was a defendant in the Caruolos' action only. During trial, but prior to verdict, the district court ruled that Rhode Island law would govern the issue of joint and several liability, and New York law would govern the issue of pre-judgment interest. See Caruolo v. A C & S, Inc., No. 93 Civ. 3752, 1998 WL 730331, at *3-*4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 16, 1998).

The jury returned a verdict in plaintiffs' favor, assessed damages in the amount of $7,505,000, and calculated that Crane was 10% responsible for Caruolo's injuries and the other manufacturers shared the remaining 90% of the liability. The district court subsequently reduced the jury's damage award by the $2,079,500 in settlements that plaintiffs had received from other defendants. The resulting judgment is $5,448,242.50, including pre-judgment interest.

Prior to the entry of judgment, plaintiffs moved for reconsideration of the district court's ruling that New York law governed the issue of prejudgment interest. The district court denied the motion, adhering to its holding that "under New York choice of law principles, the allowance of prejudgment interest is controlled by the state 'whose law determined liability on the main claim.'" Caruolo v. A C & S, Inc., No. 93 Civ. 3752, Order at 2 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 4, 1998) (quoting Entron, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 749 F.2d 127, 131 (2d Cir. 1984)).

After entry of judgment, Crane moved for post-trial relief, seeking: (i) judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a); and (ii) reconsideration of the district court's ruling that Rhode Island law governed the issue of joint and several liability. The district court denied the motions. See Caruolo v. A C & S, Inc., No. 93 Civ. 3752, 1999 WL 147740, at *24 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 18, 1999).

First, the district court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support liability, citing testimony by Caruolo and his shipmates that their work caused Crane's products--containing up to 80% asbestos--to give off visible dust, and testimony by Dr. Steven Markowitz that such visible dust contains hazardous levels of asbestos. See id. at *4-*10. The court also found the evidence sufficient to support a jury finding that Crane should have known about the dangers of its asbestos products. See id. at *10-*11.

Second, the district court concluded that no new trial was warranted, rejecting challenges based on: (i) the admission into evidence of internal studies by bankrupt asbestos manufacturers, see id. at *12; (ii) Dr. Markowitz's expert testimony concerning asbestos fiber release, see id. at *13; (iii) the admission into evidence of a study written by a non-testifying expert, see id. at *14-*15; (iv) errors in the jury charge, see id. at *15-*16; (v) an arguably prejudicial suggestion by plaintiffs' counsel in summation as to the amount of a damage

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award, see id. at *16; and (vi) the excessiveness of the damage award under New York law, see id. at *16-*20.

Finally, the district court granted Crane's motion for reconsideration of the court's ruling that Rhode Island law governed the issue of joint and several liability, but declined to alter its decision. See id. at *20-*24. The district court held that under New York choice of law rules, Rhode Island had the most significant interest in the outcome of the action because the Caruolos are Rhode Island residents and "the situs of Caruolo's most regular and prolonged exposure [to asbestos from Crane's products] was Rhode Island." Id. at *23.

This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

A. Judgment as a Matter of Law

We review the district court's denial of Crane's motion for judgment as a matter of law de novo, see Norville v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp., 196 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 1999), applying the same standards as the district court, see Galdieri-Ambrosini v. National Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998); Stratton v. Department for the Aging, 132 F.3d 869, 878 (2d Cir. 1997). Those standards are well established: "Judgment as a matter of law may not properly be granted under Rule 50 unless the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, is insufficient to permit a reasonable juror to find in her favor." Galdieri-Ambrosini, 136 F.3d at 289. A court "must give deference to all credibility determinations and reasonable inferences of the jury," and may not weigh the credibility of witnesses or otherwise consider the weight of the evidence. Id. Thus, judgment as a matter of law should be granted only if: "(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or (2) there is such an overwhelming amount of...

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