Spurlin v. Air & Liquid Sys. Corp.

Decision Date07 May 2021
Docket NumberCase No.: 3:19-cv-02049-AJB-AHG
Parties Dale M. SPURLIN and Mary Spurlin, Plaintiffs v. AIR & LIQUID SYSTEMS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California

Andrew Lon Seitz, Ron G. Archer, Scott L. Frost, Frost Law Firm, PC, San Pedro, CA, for Plaintiffs.

James Scadden, Glen R. Powell, Gordon & Rees, LLP, San Francisco, CA, for Defendant Air & Liquid Systems Corporation.

Geoffrey M. Davis, K&L Gates LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for Defendant Crane Co.

Edward Roger Hugo, Charles Park, Hugo Parker LLP, San Francisco, CA, for Defendants Foster Wheeler Energy Corporation, Foster Wheeler LLC.

Bobbie Rae Bailey, Leader Berkon Colao & Silverstein LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for Defendant IMO Industries, Inc.

James Scadden, Glen R. Powell, Gordon & Rees, LLP, San Francisco, CA, Michael J. Pietrykowski, Gordon & Rees LLP, Oakland, CA, for Defendant Warren Pumps, LLC.

Lance Douglas Wilson, Tucker Ellis LLP, San Francisco, CA, Justin E. Garratt, Tucker Ellis LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for Defendant Clark-Reliance Corporation.

ORDER:

(1) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTSOMNIBUS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT and

(2) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFSCROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Anthony J. Battaglia, United States District Judge

This maritime tort case concerns Dale M. Spurlin's alleged exposure to asbestos-containing equipment during his service in the United States Navy from 1963 to 1969. Mr. Spurlin contends that his exposure to asbestos while aboard two Navy ships caused him to develop mesothelioma

. Mr. Spurlin and his wife Mary Spurlin (collectively, "Plaintiffs") sued the equipment manufacturers, claiming that they are liable for damages under the theories of negligence, strict liability, breach of express and implied warranties, and loss of consortium.

Presently before the Court is an omnibus motion for summary judgment filed by the equipment manufacturers: Clark-Reliance Corporation ("Clark-Reliance"), Crane Co. ("Crane"), Foster Wheeler Energy Corporation and Foster Wheeler LLC (collectively "Foster Wheeler"), IMO Industries, Inc. ("IMO"), Tate Andale LLC ("Tate"), and Warren Pumps, LLC ("Warren") (collectively, "Defendants").1 (Doc. No. 105.) Plaintiffs filed an opposition to Defendantsomnibus motion, and cross-moved for summary judgment on certain affirmative defenses. (Doc. No. 111).

For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendantsomnibus motion—specifically finding triable issues with respect to a duty to warn and causation as to all moving defendants except for Tate. Additionally, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiffscross-motion—specifically finding triable issues with respect to the government contractor defense and superseding cause defense.

I. BACKGROUND

Mr. Spurlin served in the U.S. Navy from 1963 to 1969 and was aboard two naval ships, the USS McGinty and the USS Rowan. While on reserve duty, he spent one weekend a month on the McGinty , plus an 18-day cruise. Then, while on active duty from December 1964 through October 1966, Mr. Spurlin spent approximately two years straight on the Rowan. Mr. Spurlin was a boiler tender. He operated and maintained the boilers and related equipment in the fire rooms. In May 2019, Mr. Spurlin was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma

. Plaintiffs bring this action against Defendants, asserting that Mr. Spurlin's mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos from materials, including asbestos-containing insulation, gaskets, and packing associated with handling Defendants’ products during his service in the Navy.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment permits a court to enter judgment on factually unsupported claims, see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), and may also be used on affirmative defenses. Dam v. Gen'l. Elec. Co. , 265 F.2d 612, 614 (9th Cir. 1958). Granting summary judgment is proper if there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating that summary judgment is proper. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 152, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). The burden then shifts to the opposing party to provide admissible evidence beyond the pleadings to show that summary judgment is not appropriate. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The court must review the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Hernandez v. Spacelabs Med. Inc., 343 F.3d 1107, 1112 (9th Cir. 2003). However, unsupported conjecture or conclusory statements are insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Id. ; Surrell v. Cal. Water Serv. Co., 518 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2008). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient" to survive summary judgment. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505. A party opposing summary judgment must come forward with "significant probative evidence tending to support its claim that material, triable issues of fact remain." Sanchez v. Vild , 891 F.2d 240, 242 (1989).

There is no dispute that "federal maritime law—‘an amalgam of traditional common-law rules, modifications of those rules, and newly created rules’—governs this case." McIndoe v. Huntington Ingalls Inc. , 817 F.3d 1170, 1173 (9th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). "With admiralty jurisdiction comes the application of substantive admiralty law." E. River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, Inc. , 476 U.S. 858, 864, 106 S.Ct. 2295, 90 L.Ed.2d 865 (1986). Such application, however, "does not result in automatic displacement of state law." Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. , 513 U.S. 527, 545, 115 S.Ct. 1043, 130 L.Ed.2d 1024 (1995). "[F]ederal admiralty courts sometimes do apply state law." Id. at 546, 115 S.Ct. 1043. In particular, state law may be used to supplement federal maritime law so long as it "compatible with substantive maritime policies." Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. v. Calhoun , 516 U.S. 199, 207, 116 S.Ct. 619, 133 L.Ed.2d 578 (1996). Generally, state law is not applied where it would be "inconsonant with the substance of federal maritime law." Id. at 207, 116 S.Ct. 619.

III. DISCUSSION

To begin, the Court first considers Defendantsomnibus motion for summary judgment and will thereafter proceed to Plaintiffscross-motion for summary judgment on certain affirmative defenses.

A. DefendantsOmnibus Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) they had no duty to warn of product hazards, (2) there is no proof of causation, (3) the government contractor defense immunizes them from liability, and (4) punitive damages and loss of consortium are unavailable. The Court discusses each argument in turn.

i. Duty to Warn

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ claims fail as a matter of law because there is no evidence that Defendants owed Mr. Spurlin a duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos associated with their products. Plaintiffs maintain that they have presented evidence to establish that Defendants owed a duty to warn under Supreme Court case law.

In Air & Liquid Sys. Corp. v. DeVries, ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 986, 203 L.Ed.2d 373 (2019), the Supreme Court considered the scope of an equipment manufacturer's duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos and outlined the following rule of decision.

In the maritime tort context, a product manufacturer has a duty to warn when (i) its product requires incorporation of a part, (ii) the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses, and (iii) the manufacturer has no reason to believe that the product's users will realize that danger.

Id. at 995. The Court considers each prong of the DeVries test in turn.

1. Required Incorporation of a Part

DeVries "requires that manufacturers warn only when their product requires a part in order for the integrated product to function as intended." 139 S. Ct at 995 (emphasis in the original). While the Supreme Court did not expressly define what "its product requires incorporation of a part" means, it provided examples of situations that would meet the standard, "including when (i) a manufacturer directs that the part be incorporated, (ii) a manufacturer itself makes the product with a part that the manufacturer knows will require replacement with a similar part; or (iii) a product would be useless without the part." Id. at 995–96.

Here, Defendants primarily claim that their products did not require incorporation of asbestos because it was not them who required incorporation of asbestos parts—it was the Navy. The Court finds this assertion unavailing. Like this case, DeVries concerned allegations that equipment manufacturers failed to warn of the dangers of exposure to asbestos-containing parts which the Navy required for use with its products. Id. at 991. It involved defendants who sold much of the equipment to the Navy "in a condition known as ‘bare-metal,’ " to which the Navy later added asbestos. Id. And in other times, "the equipment manufacturers themselves added the asbestos to the equipment," and the Navy later replaced the asbestos parts with third-party asbestos parts. Id. at 991 n.1. Despite its recognition that the Navy required incorporation of asbestos to the products, however, the Supreme Court made no indication that the Navy's directive would be...

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