Chavez v. Occidental Chemical Corp., 080719 FED2, 18-1120-cv

Docket Nº:18-1120-cv
Opinion Judge:SACK, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Party Name:TOBIAS BERMUDEZ CHAVEZ, GERARDO ANTONIO FONESCA TORRES, FRANKLIN GUILLEN SALAZAR, GARCIA MONTES JOSE GABINO, MARIANO DE LOS ANGELES PIZARRO, ANTONIO OSORNO OSORNO, EUSEBIO PEREZ DINARTES, ANGEL NAPTALI AGILA SALINAS, JOSE VICENTE CAMPOS DEL PESO, GABRIEL RODOLFO CAMPOVE ARCE, JOSE ANTONIO E. ESPINOZA, MANUEL ISAIAS ESTRADA MOSQUERA, PEDRO RAMON...
Attorney:John P. Elwood, Vinson & Elkins LLP, Washington, DC (D. Ferguson McNiel, III, Vinson & Elkins LLP, Houston, TX, Timothy Jay Houseal, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, Wilmington, DE, on the brief), for Defendant-Appellant. Jonathan S. Massey, Massey & Gail LLP, Washington, DC (Paul J. Berks, ...
Judge Panel:Before: Sack, Raggi, and Carney, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:August 07, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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TOBIAS BERMUDEZ CHAVEZ, GERARDO ANTONIO FONESCA TORRES, FRANKLIN GUILLEN SALAZAR, GARCIA MONTES JOSE GABINO, MARIANO DE LOS ANGELES PIZARRO, ANTONIO OSORNO OSORNO, EUSEBIO PEREZ DINARTES, ANGEL NAPTALI AGILA SALINAS, JOSE VICENTE CAMPOS DEL PESO, GABRIEL RODOLFO CAMPOVE ARCE, JOSE ANTONIO E. ESPINOZA, MANUEL ISAIAS ESTRADA MOSQUERA, PEDRO RAMON GARCIA VILLON, MANUEL JESUS INGA DOMINGUEZ, JOSE VIRGILIO LOPEZ CORREA, JUAN BAUTISTA NORIEG MOREIRA, ANGEL RAFAEL ROMERO CASTRO, JULIAN GONZALO SUAREZ DEL ROSARIO, SIXTO TORRES FARIAS, TEODORO FERNANDO UNAMUN CORONEL, IDELFONSO ARAUZ ARAUZ, HECTOR ARCIA, SANTOS CAMARENA-CABALLERO, FULVIO CESAR CHAVEZ SUIRA, JOSE ANTONIO GONZALE HERNANDEZ, VALENTIN MONTERO MENDEZ, JUSTO GERMAN OPORTO VILCHEZ, JULIO SEVILLA FLORES, FELIX VARGAS RODRIGUEZ, LEOCADIO ZURDO AMADOR, JULIO ABREGO ABREGO, BERNARDO ABREGO JORIETO, SIMON ABREGO PINEDA, ONCHI ABREGO QUINTERO, DILVIO ALVAREZ MORENO, JUAN CHOLY APARICIO, FRANCISCO DEL SOCORRO BAT MORA, CELIO BONILLA VALDEZ, PEDRO BRICENO ESCALANTE, SANTIAGO CASTILO CASTILLO, LIBERATO CASTILO CASTILLO, GERARDO DELEON ZAPATA, ABNEGO GUILLERMO DUGEL WILLIAMS, FELICIMO DUGUEL MICHI, MANUEL GONZALES SANCHEZ, ERNESTO GUADAMUZ, HILARIO JULIAN MILTON, RICARDO ADOLFO MALDONAD SMITH, JOSE MIRANDA NICO, PANCHO MOLINA ACUNA, RAMON ABREGO, LORENZO MORALES MORALES, JULIO MORENO MONTEZUMA, MARIO MUNOZ SANTOS, ALEJANDRO PALACIO PINEDA, GENITO QUINTERO GONZALEZ, GREGORIO ELLINGTON, DIONICIO SANTIAGO ABREGO, SIMON SANTOS VILLAGRA, JULIO SANTOS SANTOS, NAPOLEON SERRANO NITI, VICTORIANO SERRANO CHICO, SAMUEL SMITH SMITH, SAMUEL TAYLOR ERA, DEMETRIO WILLIAMS JIMENEZ, SEBASTIAN WILLIAMS MIGAR, ALVARADO ALFARFO BARQUERO, HERNAN SOLANO CASTRO, RAFAEL SOLANO SABORIO, MARIO TORRES MORA, RAFAEL VALDERRAMA GRANADOS, GREIVIN VALENCIA LOPEZ, MELECIO VARELA SOTO, VICTOR VARGAS ARIAS, NIXON MODESTO ALVARAD VASQUEZ, ROBERTO WILLIAM BARONA BENITES, LAURO OLMEDO CHACON QUICHIMBO, FRANCISCO DOMINGO CONTRER ESPINOZA, EPIFANIO ARCHIBALDO CORN LEON, MANUEL GUAICHA CARDENAS, JUAN DE JESUS HUERTA MOSQUERA, MIGUEL ANGEL INIGUEZ OCHOA, HUGO EBERIO LEON VELEZ, MILTON MEDARDO MAZA VIVANCO, ROSARIO AVELINO NICANOR VIRGILIO, GALO MIGUEL ORBE VALENCIA, JOSE NICANOR PACHECO URGILES, ERICK FRANKLIN PALOMI ROMERO, ANGEL RAFAEL ROMERO CASTRO, LUIS VINICIO SALVATI VILLA, MIGUEL ANGEL SARAGURO, JOSE FERNANDO SARMIE CABRERA, LUIS GILBERTO VASQUE LOPEZ, EUGENIO APOLINARIO VILL PRIMITIVO, MAURO GREGORIO ZERDA GUERRA, BELISARIO ATENCIO MUNOZ, LUIS ALBERTO BARRIA ARAUZ, BENEDICTO CORELLA VASQUEZ, HUMBERTO DEL CID QUINTERO, ABEL GALLARDO CONCEPCION, ALCIBIADES GOMEZ QUIEL, CIRO GUTIERREZ CORTEZ, SALVADOR MILLAN PENALBA, MANUEL MAYORGA MOREDIBU, FELIX ANTONIO QUIROZ MORANTE, EMILIANO VEGA MORALES, GONZALEZ ARAYA FRANKLIN, GERMAN EDUARDO BRAVO VALDERRAMOS, EDWIN CERDAS MASIS, JORGE LUIS CORDERO BAQUERO, JOHNNY ESPINOZA GAMBOA, ESNEY HERNANDEZ FAJARDO, JIMENEZ RAMIREZ GILBERTO, ALVARADO RODRIGUEZ WILBERT, JOSE MANUEL SALAZAR BRENES, AUDIT VARGAS ROBLES, ELVIN VARGAS BLANCO, ROLANDO VILLEGAS JIMENEZ, ELEVIO VINDAS ZAMORA, DOUGLAS ROLANDO SANCHEZ, VICENTE BARRIA ARAUZ, GENARO BONILLA QUINTERO, NOEL ENRIQUE VALDES RODRIGUEZ, MARIO ESTEBAN CACERAS HERNANDEZ, TOMAS ALBERTO CEDENO RODRIGUEZ, WILFREDO GOMEZ VARGAS, EVIDELIO GONZALEZ ACOSTA, EDWIN ENUVIN GUERRA GONZALEZ, JUAN DEDIOS BAUTISTA SANCHEZ, RONALDO MORALES VARGAS, LIONEX MORALES MONTENEGRO, ALBERTO PINEDA MARQUINEZ, RAFAEL PINEDA MARQUINEZ, FELIX ANTONIO PINEDA ESPINOSA, ERICK ELIAS PINEDA JURADO, PABLO RIVERA BUICOBO, ISRAEL SANCHEZ GONZALEZ, ADOLFO VEGA GUERRA, Plaintiffs - Appellees,

v.

OCCIDENTAL CHEMICAL CORPORATION, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A SUCCESSOR TO OTHER OCCIDENTAL CHEMICAL COMPANY OTHER OCCIDENTAL CHEMICAL AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS INC. OTHER HOOKER CHEMICAL AND PLASTICS OTHER OCCIDENTAL CHEMICAL COMPANY OF TEXAS OTHER BEST FERTILIZER COMPANY, Defendant - Appellant.

No. 18-1120-cv

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

August 7, 2019

Argued: March 4, 2019

John P. Elwood, Vinson & Elkins LLP, Washington, DC (D. Ferguson McNiel, III, Vinson & Elkins LLP, Houston, TX, Timothy Jay Houseal, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, Wilmington, DE, on the brief), for Defendant-Appellant.

Jonathan S. Massey, Massey & Gail LLP, Washington, DC (Paul J. Berks, Massey & Gail LLP, Chicago, IL, Scott M. Hendler, Hendler Flores Law PLLC, Austin TX, on the brief), for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Before: Sack, Raggi, and Carney, Circuit Judges.

The plaintiffs filed this action in 2012 in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, alleging that several American corporations, including Occidental Chemical Corporation, manufactured, sold, distributed, and used dibromochloropropane (DBCP), a pesticide to which the plaintiffs were exposed when they worked on banana plantations in Central and South America between the 1960s and the 1980s. They allege that as a result of their exposure, they suffered various injuries, including sterility, sexual and reproductive abnormalities, and cancer. The plaintiffs' claims against Occidental were transferred to the Southern District of New York in 2017, after which Occidental filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing, inter alia, that the plaintiffs' claims were time-barred under New York's three-year statute of limitations for personal-injury suits. On January 10, 2018, the district court (Paul A. Engelmayer, Judge) denied Occidental's motion, holding that the plaintiffs' claims were tolled between 1993 and 2010 by the pendency of a related class action in Texas.

The questions on interlocutory appeal are (1) whether New York law recognizes "cross-jurisdictional class action tolling," i.e., tolling of a New York statute of limitations by the pendency of a class action in another jurisdiction; and (2) whether, under New York law, a non-merits dismissal of class certification can terminate class action tolling, and if so, whether the Orders at issue did so. New York's courts have yet to address these questions. A decision on these questions, either of which may be dispositive of this appeal, requires value judgments and important public policy choices that the New York State Court of Appeals is better suited to make than is this Court. We therefore CERTIFY the questions to the New York Court of Appeals.

SACK, CIRCUIT JUDGE

This appeal presents two state-law questions that neither this Court nor New York's courts have addressed: (1) whether New York law recognizes "cross-jurisdictional class action tolling/ i.e., tolling of a New York statute of limitations by the pendency of a class action in another jurisdiction; and (2) whether a non-merits dismissal of class certification can terminate class action tolling, and if so, whether the Orders at issue here, which include a "return jurisdiction" clause, did so where the plaintiffs filed a motion to reinstate their claims within six months of the case's dismissal.

The plaintiffs are agricultural workers from Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama, who allegedly suffered adverse health effects from exposure to the pesticide dibromochloropropane ("DBCP") between the 1960s and the 1980s, while working on banana plantations in Central and South America. In 2012, the plaintiffs filed a putative class action in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware against DBCP manufacturers and distributors, including Occidental Chemical Corp. ("Occidental"), as well as companies that owned or operated the farms where the plaintiffs worked. Their claims against Occidental were transferred by the Delaware district court to the Southern District of New York in May 2017.

Occidental filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing, inter alia, that the plaintiffs' claims were time-barred under New York's three-year statute of limitations for personal-injury suits. The district court (Paul A. Engelmayer, Judge) denied Occidental's motion, concluding that the plaintiffs' claims were tolled between 1993 and 2010 because of the pendency of a putative class action filed in Texas state court in 1993 (the "Texas Action"). The district court's decision was based on its view that the New York State Court of Appeals would likely (1) permit "cross-jurisdictional tolling,' the tolling of claims in New York during the pendency of a class action filed in another jurisdiction; and (2) decide that the dismissal of the Texas Action on the basis of forum non conveniens and the denial of class certification as moot did not terminate class action tolling.

On appeal, Occidental challenges both conclusions. It argues that although New York courts have adopted the class action tolling doctrine established under different circumstances in American Pipe Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538 (1974), the New York Court of Appeals likely would not apply that doctrine in the cross-jurisdictional context. In the alternative, Occidental asserts that even if New York law permits cross-jurisdictional class action tolling, the plaintiffs' claims would still be untimely because the 1995 dismissal of the Texas Action on the grounds of forum non conveniens terminated any such tolling.

The district court lacked the authority to tender the issues of New York law raised...

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