Carr v. International Refining & Manufacturing Company, No. 1070770 (Ala. 11/13/2008)

Decision Date13 November 2008
Docket NumberNo. 1070770.,1070770.
PartiesBell Carr, Jr., et al. v. International Refining & Manufacturing Company d/b/a IRMCO et al.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Appeal from Fayette Circuit Court (CV-03-142).

LYONS, Justice.

The appellants in this action ("the former employees") are several hundred former employees of Arvin Industries d/b/a Arvin-Meritor, Inc. ("Arvin"). The former employees sued Arvin and several of their co-employees, alleging that they had suffered injuries as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals while employed by Arvin. Through an amended complaint, the former employees added 64 other named defendants ("the new defendants"), who they alleged manufactured or sold Arvin the chemicals and equipment that injured the former employees. The former employees appeal from the Fayette Circuit Court's dismissal of their claims against the new defendants. We reverse and remand.

This is the second time this case has come before this Court. See Ex parte International Refining & Mfg. Co., 972 So. 2d 784 (Ala. 2007)("International Refining"). In International Refining, we described the facts and procedural background as follows:

"On November 13, 2003, Bell Carr, Jr., and approximately 320 other former employees at a manufacturing plant operated by Arvin Industries d/b/a Arvin-Meritor, Inc. (hereinafter `the [former employees]'), sued Arvin-Meritor and six individual defendants, also former employees at the plant, where automotive mufflers were manufactured. The complaint alleged that up until the closing of the plant in May 2002, the [former employees] suffered harm from `exposure to toxic and dangerous chemicals' that were flushed from the manufacturing machines and eventually circulated into a large pit, which the [former employees] were responsible for draining and cleaning. In addition to these seven defendants, the original complaint fictitiously named 40 other defendants in the caption and in the body of the complaint.

"On May 6, 2005, approximately three years after their last exposure to the chemicals, the [former employees] filed their first amended complaint, seeking to add 64 new named defendants, including the petitioners, in place of the fictitiously named defendants (hereinafter `the new defendants'), 113 new plaintiffs, as well as additional fictitiously named defendants. The [first] amended complaint reasserted the five claims asserted in the original complaint, but only against the seven original defendants. The first amended complaint also alleged claims of negligence, wantonness, liability under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine, civil conspiracy, and the tort of outrage, but only against the new defendants."

972 So. 2d at 787.

Regarding wantonness, the former employees alleged in count 6 of the first amended complaint that the new defendants had "wantonly engineered, designed, developed, configured, manufactured, assembled, distributed, and/or sold the chemicals" and other products that the former employees were exposed to through their work at Arvin. The former employees also alleged in count 13 that 5 of the new defendants had "wantonly engineered, designed, ... manufactured, ... sold, inspected or consulted regarding the design, engineering, manufacturing, production, distribution and/or warnings associated with" the equipment used in Arvin's manufacturing process.

"On June 14, 2005, the new defendants removed the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (`CAFA'), 28 U.S.C. § 1453. The district court remanded the five original claims against the seven original defendants to the Fayette Circuit Court because they did not fall within the CAFA. The district court also determined that the claims in the amended complaint against the new defendants did not relate back under Alabama law and did not constitute what it referred to as an `interstate case of national importance.' Accordingly, the new claims asserted and the parties added in the amended complaint fell within the exception to federal jurisdiction under CAFA in 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I), and the district court also remanded the remaining claims to the Fayette Circuit Court.

"Upon remand, the new defendants filed motions to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for a summary judgment, on the ground that the claims asserted against them in the amended complaint did not relate back to the date of the filing of the original complaint and are thus barred by the two-year statute of limitations. See § 6-2-38(l), Ala. Code 1975. The trial court conducted a hearing and denied the motions. The new defendants sought a certification to file a permissive appeal under Rule 5, Ala. R. App. P., but the trial court denied the request for the certification. The [new defendants] then filed [a] petition for a writ of mandamus."

International Refining, 972 So. 2d at 787-88 (footnote omitted).

This Court granted the new defendants' petition and issued the writ of mandamus. We concluded in International Refining that the claims the former employees stated against the new defendants in the first amended complaint did not relate back to the claims they stated against the fictitiously named defendants identified in their original complaint. 972 So. 2d at 791. Because the first amended complaint was filed in May 2005, three years after the former employees' last possible exposure to the allegedly toxic chemicals, any new claims stated in that complaint, which were subject to a two-year statutory limitations period, see § 6-2-38(l), Ala. Code 1975, were time-barred and due to be dismissed. 972 So. 2d at 791.

We noted in International Refining that the former employees argued "that some of their claims nonetheless survive, because, they say, those claims fall within a six-year statute of limitations." 972 So. 2d at 791. See § 6-2-34, Ala. Code 1975. However, we declined to reach the question whether a six-year statute of limitations applied to any of the former employees' claims against the new defendants, stating:

"That issue ... is not before us; our mandamus review extends to reviewing the denial of motions for a dismissal or for a summary judgment that asserted a statute-of-limitations defense only as to fictitious-party practice. See [Ex parte] Stover, 663 So. 2d [948,] 951-52 [(Ala. 1995)]. The extent to which the amended complaint, filed within six years of the events made the basis of the action but not within two years thereof, states claims not barred by the two-year statute of limitations is a question not before us."

972 So. 2d at 791. Therefore, we "reverse[d] the trial court's order denying the motions to dismiss, or for a summary judgment, and we remand[ed] the case for further proceedings, including a determination of the extent to which any claims are timely, without the availability of the relation-back doctrine." 972 So. 2d at 791.

On remand, the new defendants filed motions to dismiss or, in the alternative, for a summary judgment, on the ground that all the claims asserted against them were subject to the two-year limitations period stated in § 6-2-38(l), Ala. Code 1975, and were due to be dismissed pursuant to this court's decision in International Refining. The former employees responded, arguing that their wantonness claims involved trespass to the person and, under McKenzie v. Killian, 887 So. 2d 861 (Ala. 2004), were subject to the six-year limitations period stated in § 6-2-34(1), Ala. Code 1975. The former employees conceded that their other claims against the new defendants were subject to the two-year limitations period and, without the availability of the relation-back doctrine, were due to be dismissed.

On August 16, 2007, the former employees amended their complaint a second time. The second amended complaint stated that it was "intended to clarify the allegations contained in the Complaint and the First Amended Complaint in the wake of [International Refining]." It also stated that "no new plaintiffs or defendants [were] added by way of [the] amendment" and that "all claims stated [therein arose] out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrences set forth in the First Amended Complaint [and] no new causes of action [were] stated by way of [the] amendment." The second amended complaint asserted only a workers' compensation claim against Arvin, a wantonness claim against the new defendants, and a separate wantonness claim against five of the new defendants who the former employees alleged had provided the equipment Arvin used in its manufacturing process.1

The wantonness claim asserted against the new defendants in the second amended complaint stated, in relevant part:

"[The new defendants] acted willfully and/or wantonly, and committed trespass to the persons of the former employees, in that the said defendants consciously acted or omitted to act, and in that they willfully and wantonly engineered, designed, developed, configured, manufactured, assembled, distributed and/or sold [the chemicals and other products] that resulted in physical impact to the persons of the former employees and injured the former employees, and in that the defendants acted or omitted a duty, while knowing of the existing conditions and being conscious that, from doing or omitting to do an act, injury would likely or probably result to the former employees, in reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of the former employees."

The wantonness claim asserted against the five new defendants who the former employees alleged had provided equipment to Arvin stated similar allegations.

The new defendants moved to strike the second amended complaint. However, the trial court did not rule on the motion to strike. Instead, the trial court concluded in its eventual ruling on the new defendants' motions to dismiss that, because the second amended complaint purported to state no new cause of action and to arise out...

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