Dept. of Gen. Serv. V. U.S. Mineral Prod.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtSaylor
PartiesPENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL SERVICES, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and Pennsylvania Department of State, v. UNITED STATES MINERAL PRODUCTS COMPANY, Certainteed Corporation, Courtaulds Aerospace, Inc., Chemrex, Inc., Philips Electronics North America Corporation, Advance Transformer Company, and Monsanto Company. Appeal of Monsanto Company. Pennsylvania Department of General Services, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and Pennsylvania Department of State, Appellants, v. United States Mineral Products Company, Certainteed Corporation, Courtaulds Aerospace, Inc., Chemrex, Inc., Philips Electronics North America Corporation, Advance Transformer Company, and Monsanto Company, Appellees.
Decision Date25 May 2006
898 A.2d 590
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL SERVICES, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and Pennsylvania Department of State,
v.
UNITED STATES MINERAL PRODUCTS COMPANY, Certainteed Corporation, Courtaulds Aerospace, Inc., Chemrex, Inc., Philips Electronics North America Corporation, Advance Transformer Company, and Monsanto Company.
Appeal of Monsanto Company.
Pennsylvania Department of General Services, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and Pennsylvania Department of State, Appellants,
v.
United States Mineral Products Company, Certainteed Corporation, Courtaulds Aerospace, Inc., Chemrex, Inc., Philips Electronics North America Corporation, Advance Transformer Company, and Monsanto Company, Appellees.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Argued May 11, 2004.
Decided May 25, 2006.

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Kim Kocher, Esq., Thomas M. Goutman, Esq., Joseph H. Foster, Esq., Richard A. Sprague, Esq., David E. Sandel, Jr., Esq., Geoffrey Richard Johnson, Esq., Philadelphia, for Monsanto Company.

Louis C. Long, Esq., for amicus curiae Pennsylvania Defense Institute.

Brian S. Montag, Esq., Catherine A. Trinkle, pro hac vice, James A. Henderson, Esq., pro hac vice, Aaron D. Twerski, Esq., pro hac vice, Michael Allen Sarfert, Esq., for amicus curiae Senators Piccola, Thompson, Earll, Corman et al.

Arlin M. Adams, Esq., Philadelphia, for amicus curiae The American Tort Reform Assoc. & Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

Nancy J. Kippenhan, Esq., Daniel J. Doyle, Esq., Kenneth B. McClain, Esq., James M. Ziegler, Esq., Thomas W. Henderson, Esq., Tybe Ann Brett, Esq., William R. Caroselli, Harrisburg, for Pennsylvania Department of General Services et al.

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Louis C. Long, Esq., for amicus curiae Pennsylvania Defense Institute.

Nancy J. Kippenhan, Esq., John G. Knorr, Esq., Daniel J. Doyle, Esq., Thomas W. Henderson, Esq., Kenneth B. McClain, Esq., James M. Ziegler, Esq., D. Michael Fisher, Esq., Susan Jane Forney, Esq., Tybe Ann Brett, Esq., William R. Caroselli, Harrisburg, for Pennsylvania Department of General Services et al.

Kim Kocher, Esq., Thomas M. Goutman, Esq., Joseph H. Foster, Esq., Richard A. Sprague, Esq., David E. Sandel, Jr., Esq., Geoffrey Richard Johnson, Esq., for Monsanto Company.

Brian S. Montag, Esq., Catherine A. Trinkle, pro hac vice, Aaron D. Twerski, Esq., pro hac vice for amicus curiae Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industries.

BEFORE: CAPPY, C.J., and CASTILLE, NIGRO, NEWMAN, SAYLOR, EAKIN, and BAER, JJ.

OPINION

Justice SAYLOR.


In this direct appeal, Monsanto Company challenges a product liability verdict entered against it, arising from the presence, throughout a Commonwealth building, of chemicals that it manufactured.

On June 16, 1994, a fire occurred on the sixth floor of the Transportation and Safety Building (the "T & S Building" or the "Building"), a twelve-story office tower that was located on the campus surrounding the state Capitol in Harrisburg. The Building housed, inter alia, offices of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation ("PennDOT"), Public Utility Commission (the "PUC"), Emergency Management Agency ("PEMA"), and Department of State, with PennDOT being the principal occupant of office space. In the aftermath of the fire, the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls ("PCBs"), a class of synthetic chemicals, was detected on surfaces and in ambient air inside the Building. Although in the weeks that followed Building occupants were permitted to return to all floors but the four that were most directly affected by the fire, the Commonwealth implemented ongoing, protective health and safety measures, including extensive monitoring of PCB levels throughout the structure. Ultimately, a decision was made to demolish the Building at least in part due to the presence of PCBs, and it was imploded in 1998 and replaced with a new office tower designated as the Keystone Building.

In 1996, the Pennsylvania Department of General Services ("DGS"), PennDOT, the PUC, PEMA, and the Department of State (collectively "Appellees"),1 commenced the present civil action in the original jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court, see 42 Pa.C.S. § 761(a)(2), asserting causes of action grounded in strict liability and negligence and seeking compensation for property damage alleged to have resulted from the PCBs. The action was originally lodged against United States Mineral Products Company ("U.S. Mineral Products"), since it apparently initially was believed that asbestos-containing fireproofing manufactured by that company and installed in the Building was the source of the PCBs, and the proceedings were consolidated with a pending action by DGS and PennDOT against U.S. Mineral Products for damages relative to planned abatement of the asbestos hazard. U.S.

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Mineral Products contended, however, that other building materials were the source of the PCBs, and Appellees sought and obtained leave to join as defendants the PCB manufacturer, appellant Monsanto Company ("Monsanto"), as well as the manufacturers and installers of PCB-containing products found in the Building.

Monsanto unsuccessfully pursued summary judgment on various grounds,2 and trial commenced in May of 1999, with jurors selected from the Philadelphia common pleas court's jury pool. Appellees pursued damages in excess of $200 million on theories which included a $135 million claim derived from the construction expenses associated with the Keystone Building, as well as various claims for damages to personal property.

On May 26, 2000, after the close of the evidence, Monsanto moved for a directed verdict. Monsanto's motion was granted relative to Appellees' claim for compensation for the loss of certain categories of personal property, but was denied in all other respects. The case was submitted to the jury solely on a strict liability theory.

In August of 2000, by a ten-to-two vote, the jury returned a $90 million verdict against Monsanto, without specification of the particular damages theories and/or claims that were accepted. Monsanto filed motions for post-trial relief and a mistrial. The latter request was based upon comments of the jury foreman during deliberations, in which he told other jurors that his brother suffered from cancer and that the foreman believed this was caused by Monsanto's PCBs. The trial court denied the motions in a published opinion. See Commonwealth, DGS v. United States Mineral Products Co., 809 A.2d 1000 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2002). The court molded the verdict to include an award of $14,528,825 in delay damages, which were calculated from the date that Monsanto was served with the complaint and predicated on the amount of the verdict after it was reduced by approximately one-half pursuant to the terms of a joint tortfeasor release which Appellees executed in favor of a co-defendant based on a settlement. See Reproduced Record ("R.R."), at 123a-24a. With these adjustments, the trial court entered judgment in the amount of $59,528,825 against Monsanto.

Monsanto then filed the instant direct appeal, renewing several of the challenges raised in the trial court and further arguing that delay damages should not have begun to accrue until one year after it was served with the complaint. Appellees filed a cross-appeal, contending that the delay damages should have been assessed on the entire verdict rather than the reduced figure. This Court remanded the case to the trial court for the preparation of an opinion specifically addressing the juror misconduct issue, which had not been covered in the court's original opinion.

By way of further background, several overarching themes run through the parties' presentations. Monsanto, for its part, portrays the T & S Building as a maintenance-starved, asbestos-infested, fire-ravaged structure, which, independent of any involvement of PCBs, required enormous rehabilitative efforts and expenditures. Monsanto highlights the Commonwealth's pre-fire failure to accede to repeated requests from Harrisburg officials to install a sprinkler system in the Building to bring it into compliance with the local fire safety code; the consequence of such failure in terms of prolonging the June-1994 fire; the impact of the fire in terms of generating the contamination by consuming, inter

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alia, PCB-containing building products, which were assertedly spread throughout the Building in the resultant smoke and soot; the consequences of the fire in terms of its exponential magnification of the Commonwealth's existing difficulties in addressing Building issues; and the Commonwealth's steadfast and extensive downplaying of the significance of the PCB presence in the Building prior to the commencement of the present lawsuit.3 Monsanto also criticizes the case that Appellees were permitted to present to the jury as lacking in foundation and as distorted by extensive and persistent overreaching. Indeed, Monsanto casts Appellees' efforts to assess it with liability for the destruction of the Building and various of its contents based upon the presence of trace amounts of PCBs as nothing more than a transparent attempt to shift the Commonwealth's own financial responsibility to a deep-pockets defendant. Several amici curiae, including a number of Pennsylvania legislators, also characterize the litigation as an example of lawsuit abuse, perpetrated by arms of the Commonwealth.

Appellees, on the other hand, regard the verdict as a just consequence of Monsanto's manufacture and distribution of dangerous chemicals, which are classified as probable human carcinogens, have the tendency to bioaccumulate in the environment and in humans, and have been banned by Congress since 1976. Appellees acknowledge the role of the fire in terms of its leading to the discovery of...

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    ...intended manner, as required by applicable law. See Pennsylvania Dep't of Gen. Servs. v. U.S. Mineral Prods. Co. ( “DGS” ), 587 Pa. 236, 898 A.2d 590, 600 (2006) (“[A] manufacturer can be deemed liable only for harm that occurs in connection with a product's intended use by an intended user......
  • Gaudio v. Ford Motor Co., No. 1021 EDA 2007.
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    • June 1, 2009
    ...as a result of our Supreme Court's decision in Pennsylvania Dep't of General Services v. United States Mineral Products Co., 587 Pa. 236, 898 A.2d 590 (2006) ("General Services I"). To this end, we will briefly review the history of products liability law and the crashworthiness doctrine in......
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    • November 19, 2014
    ...Brief in Support of Motion for Post-Trial Relief 3/3/2011, at 9-27 (citing Pa. Dep't of Gen. Serves. v. U.S. Mineral Prods. Co., 898 A.2d 590 (Pa. 2006) ("General Services") and Gaudio v. Ford Motor Co., 976 A.2d 524 (Pa. Super. 2009)). With respect to the motion for a new trial, Omega Flex......
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    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2014
    ...in Support of Motion for Post–Trial Relief 3/3/2011, at 9–27 (citing Pa. Dep't of Gen. Serves. v. U.S. Mineral Prods. Co., 587 Pa. 236, 898 A.2d 590 (2006) (“General Services ”) and Gaudio v. Ford Motor Co., 976 A.2d 524 (Pa.Super.2009) ). With respect to the motion for a new trial, Omega F......
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57 cases
  • Lynn v. Yamaha Golf–Car Co., Civil Action No. 2:10–cv–01059.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • August 16, 2012
    ...intended manner, as required by applicable law. See Pennsylvania Dep't of Gen. Servs. v. U.S. Mineral Prods. Co. ( “DGS” ), 587 Pa. 236, 898 A.2d 590, 600 (2006) (“[A] manufacturer can be deemed liable only for harm that occurs in connection with a product's intended use by an intended user......
  • Gaudio v. Ford Motor Co., No. 1021 EDA 2007.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 1, 2009
    ...as a result of our Supreme Court's decision in Pennsylvania Dep't of General Services v. United States Mineral Products Co., 587 Pa. 236, 898 A.2d 590 (2006) ("General Services I"). To this end, we will briefly review the history of products liability law and the crashworthiness doctrine in......
  • Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., J-80-2013
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2014
    ...Brief in Support of Motion for Post-Trial Relief 3/3/2011, at 9-27 (citing Pa. Dep't of Gen. Serves. v. U.S. Mineral Prods. Co., 898 A.2d 590 (Pa. 2006) ("General Services") and Gaudio v. Ford Motor Co., 976 A.2d 524 (Pa. Super. 2009)). With respect to the motion for a new trial, Omega Flex......
  • Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., No. 17 MAP 2013
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2014
    ...in Support of Motion for Post–Trial Relief 3/3/2011, at 9–27 (citing Pa. Dep't of Gen. Serves. v. U.S. Mineral Prods. Co., 587 Pa. 236, 898 A.2d 590 (2006) (“General Services ”) and Gaudio v. Ford Motor Co., 976 A.2d 524 (Pa.Super.2009) ). With respect to the motion for a new trial, Omega F......
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