857 F.2d 346 (6th Cir. 1988), 87-5535, Compressed Gas Corp., Inc. v. United States Steel Corp.

Docket Nº:87-5535, 87-5608.
Citation:857 F.2d 346
Party Name:COMPRESSED GAS CORPORATION, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION and Jack B. Kelley, Inc., Defendants- Appellants, Cross-Appellees.
Case Date:September 21, 1988
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 346

857 F.2d 346 (6th Cir. 1988)

COMPRESSED GAS CORPORATION, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant,

v.

UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION and Jack B. Kelley, Inc.,

Defendants- Appellants, Cross-Appellees.

Nos. 87-5535, 87-5608.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 21, 1988

Argued Aug. 2, 1988.

Page 347

John R. McCall (argued), Brown, Todd and Heyburn, Louisville, Ky., Robert Y. Gwin, Wayne Emery, USX Corp., Law Dept., Pittsburgh, Pa., for defendants-appellants, cross-appellees.

Grover Cox (argued), Louisville, Ky., for plaintiff-appellee, cross-appellant.

Before KEITH, KENNEDY and NELSON, Circuit Judges.

KEITH, Circuit Judge.

I.

Defendants United States Steel Corporation ("USS") and Jack Kelley appeal, and plaintiff Compressed Gas Corporation ("CGC") cross-appeals, the jury verdict for plaintiff in this diversity action resulting from the explosion of a steel cylinder. The "3T" cylinder, manufactured by defendant USS and leased by defendant Jack B. Kelley, Inc., ("Kelley") ruptured while being filled with natural gas apparently containing certain contaminants. The explosion killed two persons, injured four others, and caused property damage. The personal injury and wrongful death claims were adjudicated in a separate lawsuit. At trial in this action, CGC claimed that it had been defrauded by the misrepresentations of USS and Kelley that the cylinders were safe for transporting natural gas and approved for that purpose by the United States Department of Transportation ("DOT"). CGC also made a products liability claim for a defective cylinder and failure to warn. This appeal focuses on the property damage resulting to plaintiff CGC from the rupture of the cylinder.

Page 348

For the reasons set forth below, we believe the jury was improperly permitted to find against USS and Kelley on a theory of fraudulent misrepresentation, and was also improperly permitted to include CGC's alleged "lost profits" in the damages award. Because the jury reached a damages verdict that apparently was calculated upon a theory of fraudulent misrepresentation, and which also incorporated CGC's alleged lost profits, the verdict against the defendants must be vacated. We must therefore reverse on those issues and remand the entire case to the district court for a new trial. Further, we believe that an incorrect rate of interest was applied to the judgment below. We affirm on all of the remaining issues.

This case was tried as a summary jury trial on February 13, 1985, which resulted in a verdict of $200,000 against defendants USS and Kelley. The case was then reassigned to the Honorable Ronald Meredith of the Western District of Kentucky, who allowed additional discovery. A full trial on the merits took place on October 21, 1986. On December 11, 1986, the jury returned a verdict, apportioning fault at 70% against USS and 30% against Kelley, and awarding $1,766,271.20 in damages to CGC. The district court set the post-judgment interest rate at 12% to be compounded annually. The district court denied USS's and Kelley's motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and new trial.

Defendants USS and Kelley present a host of issues on appeal. They urge: 1) that the absence of proof of fraudulent misrepresentation entitled them to a directed verdict on the question of whether they fraudulently induced CGC to lease their steel cylinders; 2) that the jury instructions impermissibly allowed a solitary instruction on damages for two separate theories of liability; 3) that there was insufficient evidence to support a jury instruction on lost profits; 4) that Kentucky law requires the application of contributory rather than comparative negligence to products liability cases; 5) that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing CGC to conduct additional discovery following the summary jury trial; 6) that the trial court erred in applying the 12% post-judgment interest rate; and 7) that CGC's agreement to indemnify Kelley from all liability arising from the use of leased cylinder trailers entitled Kelley to a directed verdict on claims against him. On cross-appeal, CGC argues that punitive damages should have been submitted to the jury.

II. FACTS

Gobel Mattingly, the retired owner of a highway construction company, incorporated CGC for the purpose of hauling natural gas from wells to commercial pipelines. A five-paragraph trade journal article describing the successful gas transportation operation of Texas Gas Transport ("Texas Gas") inspired Mattingly to enter the gas transportation business in August, 1976. When he incorporated CGC, Mattingly had no training or experience in gas transportation or compression. Joint Appendix at 927.

Mattingly visited Jack Kelley's Texas facilities to lease the special trailers that hauled the USS steel cylinders used in transporting natural gas. Kelley was one of four or five principal purchasers of USS seamless steel cylinders. He would purchase the cylinders from USS and fabricate trailers for them. Each trailer could transport twelve cylinders. As well as using the trailers to transport a variety of compressed gases, Kelley sold or leased the cylinder trailers to others. Mattingly executed a trailer lease with Kelley in February, 1977.

On October 27, 1977, CGC's compressor station was damaged when a 3T seamless steel cylinder manufactured by USS ruptured while being filled with natural gas apparently tainted by the contaminants hydrogen sulfide and water. CGC repaired its property damage for $45,307.54.

The experts who testified at trial generally agreed that the explosion of the steel cylinder would not have occurred if hydrogen sulfide and water had not combined with natural gas in the cylinder. Natural gas is odorless and flammable, and is composed principally of methane. Sometimes

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natural gas, when extracted from the ground, contains contaminants such as hydrogen sulfide. Gas that does not contain significant hydrogen sulfide contamination is labeled "sweet" gas, while contaminated gas is called "sour" gas. In the gas industry, contaminated gas is considered dangerous because hydrogen sulfide in the presence of water will embrittle high-strength steel, causing it to fail under stress within hours. This is known...

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