Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., JOHNS-MANVILLE

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore CLARK; JOLLY, HIGGINBOTHAM, DAVIS and HILL; RANDALL; ALVIN B. RUBIN; CLARK, Chief Judge, with whom GEE, GARZA, POLITZ and E. GRADY JOLLY
Citation750 F.2d 1314
Parties, 17 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 305 James Leroy JACKSON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v.SALES CORPORATION and Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 82-4288,JOHNS-MANVILLE
Decision Date21 January 1985

Page 1314

750 F.2d 1314
53 USLW 2397, 17 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 305
James Leroy JACKSON, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOHNS-MANVILLE SALES CORPORATION and Raybestos-Manhattan,
Inc., Defendants-Appellants.
No. 82-4288.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
Jan. 21, 1985.

Page 1315

Roy C. Williams, Pascagoula, Miss., Lively M. Wilson, Dorothy J. Chambers, Louisville, Ky., John H. Holloman, III, William N. Reed, Jackson, Miss., for defendants-appellants.

Richard F. Pate, Mobile, Ala., Danny E. Cupit, Jackson, Miss., Ronald L. Motley, Barnwell, S.C., Arthur R. Miller, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Mass., for plaintiff-appellee.

Joseph R. Steele, Port Arthur, Tex., for amicus curiae-Abestos Claimants in the State of Tex.

Adolph J. Levy, New Orleans, La., for amicus curiae-The Ass'n of Trial Lawyers of America.

Broadus A. Spivey, Austin, Tex., for amicus curiae-Broadus A. Spivey.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Before CLARK, Chief Judge, GEE, RUBIN, GARZA, REAVLEY, POLITZ, RANDALL, TATE, JOHNSON, GARWOOD,

Page 1316

JOLLY, HIGGINBOTHAM, DAVIS and HILL, Circuit Judges. *

RANDALL, Circuit Judge:

In this Mississippi diversity case, plaintiff James L. Jackson, a former shipyard worker, seeks recovery of actual and punitive damages against defendants Johns-Manville Sales Corporation, Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc., and H.K. Porter Company, manufacturers of asbestos products, for injuries allegedly caused by the defendants' failure to warn of the dangers associated with exposure to their asbestos products. Following extensive discovery and a lengthy jury trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of Jackson and against all defendants except H.K. Porter Company for $391,500 in compensatory damages and $625,000 in combined punitive damages. On appeal, a panel of this court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for a new trial. Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 727 F.2d 506 (5th Cir.1984). We granted en banc rehearing, 727 F.2d at 533, and now decide to certify to the Mississippi Supreme Court three significant questions of Mississippi law.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY.

The panel opinion fully sets forth the facts of this case, 727 F.2d at 509-11, and so we repeat them here only in summary fashion.

James L. Jackson worked for Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation (Ingalls) at its yard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, from 1953 until 1971. During his tenure at Ingalls, Jackson worked first as a sheet-metal mechanic and then as a work leaderman or supervisor. As a sheet-metal mechanic, Jackson drilled holes in asbestos-containing materials and cut gaskets from asbestos cloth. While working as a work leaderman, Jackson was required to move around naval ships amidst craftsmen making extensive use of asbestos products. There is no question that Jackson in both capacities was exposed to significant quantities of asbestos dust.

Approximately seven years after leaving Ingalls, Jackson was diagnosed as having asbestosis, a progressive and incurable pulmonary disease caused by exposure to asbestos. As a result of the asbestosis, Jackson's life expectancy was reduced and his lung capacity significantly impaired. Moreover, Jackson alleges that his exposure to the asbestos markedly increased his risk of contracting lung cancer and other malignancies. On November 21, 1978, Jackson joined with several other parties in filing a class action in federal district court against a number of manufacturers and sellers of asbestos materials that were allegedly used at Ingalls. Following the district court's denial of class certification, Jackson filed an amended complaint against twelve defendants, eight of whom settled and one of whom was granted summary judgment. By the time of trial, the remaining defendants were Johns-Manville Sales Corporation (Johns-Manville); H.K. Porter Company, Inc. (H.K. Porter); and Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc. (Raybestos-Manhattan). 1

Jackson argued at trial that the three defendants were liable under the Mississippi law of strict liability for manufacturing and selling asbestos products made unreasonably dangerous by the defendants' failure to warn of the products' inherent hazards. In addition, Jackson sought to recover punitive damages on the ground that the defendants had conspired to suppress information concerning the dangers of asbestos exposure and the disease of asbestosis for more than three decades. In response, the defendants contended principally that, because they neither knew nor had reasonable grounds to believe that their asbestos products posed any significant danger to shipyard workers, they could not be held responsible for Jackson's injuries. The jury found that Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan

Page 1317

were strictly liable to Jackson for $391,500 in compensatory damages. The jury also imposed punitive damages of $500,000 against Johns-Manville and $125,000 against Raybestos-Manhattan. Finally, H.K. Porter was found to be not liable to Jackson. The district court entered judgment accordingly.

On appeal, a panel of this court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. 727 F.2d 506. Following an extensive review of both Mississippi caselaw and the instant record, the panel found that the district court had accurately applied the Mississippi law of strict liability and that sufficient evidence was adduced at trial to support the necessary finding of proximate cause. The panel moreover affirmed the trial court's refusal to disclose to the jury the amounts for which Jackson had previously settled with eight of the initial defendants. The panel, nonetheless, ordered a new trial on the ground that the district court had committed reversible error in admitting two items of evidence that posed a substantial danger of unfair prejudice. First, the panel found that, because (1) Jackson did not allege that he suffered from cancer and (2) it was clearly established at trial that asbestosis itself does not cause or lead to cancer, the evidence of Jackson's increased risk of contracting cancer introduced at trial was irrelevant or at least should have been excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. The panel left to the district court's initial discretion on retrial whether evidence of Jackson's fear of cancer should be admitted and whether such a claim was even permitted by the pleadings. Second, the panel held that the "Sumner Simpson papers" were too remote in time and too attenuated in subject matter to be probative of any material fact and thus also should have been excluded under rule 402 for irrelevancy or at least under rule 403 for being unduly prejudicial. Finally, the panel held that the district court also erred in allowing the recovery of punitive damages. According to the panel, punitive damages are inappropriate "where the allowance of punitive damages carries the manifest portent of undoing the strict liability remedy for present and prospective claimants and where the purposes of punitive damages are otherwise served." 727 F.2d at 529. This court voted to rehear the case en banc, 727 F.2d at 533, thereby vacating the panel opinion. See Fifth Circuit Local Rule 41.3.

II. DISCUSSION.

At the outset, we reinstate Parts II, V, and VIII of the panel opinion, denominated "Strict Liability in Tort," "Proximate Causation," and "Disclosure to Jury of Settlement Amounts," respectively. The remainder of the panel opinion is superseded in its entirety by this opinion. Because the defendants, in their briefs before the panel, attacked the portion of the judgment awarding compensatory damages primarily by means of challenges to the admissibility of certain evidence, rather than challenges to the substantive law applied, we address first their evidentiary challenges and then turn to their substantive law challenges.

A. Evidentiary Issues.

1. The Sumner Simpson Papers.

Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan contend that the district court committed reversible error by admitting three of the so-called "Sumner Simpson papers." 2 These papers consist of, among other things, correspondence to and from Sumner Simpson, who occupied a dominant position in Raybestos-Manhattan from 1929 until his death in 1953. The first letter, dated September 25, 1935, was written by A.F. Rossiter of Asbestos magazine to Simpson. In this letter, Rossiter refers to previous requests made by Simpson that nothing be published in that magazine concerning the hazards posed by asbestos dust. In the second letter, dated October 1, 1935, Simpson states to Vandiver Brown, Johns-Manville's attorney, that "the less said about asbestos, the better off we are." Simpson in the same letter also refers to English articles on asbestos dust control

Page 1318

and comments that Asbestos has "been very decent about not re-printing the English articles." Finally, in the third letter, dated two days later, Brown replies: "I quite agree with you that our interests are best served by having asbestosis receive the minimum of publicity." He also suggests that, if they should decide eventually not to object to the publication of such an article, American instead of English data should be used on the theory that the asbestos dust was "considerably milder" in North America.

Under Federal Rule of Evidence 401, evidence meets the threshold test of relevancy 3 if the evidence tends "to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 401; see also Carter v. Massey-Ferguson, Inc., 716 F.2d 344, 347 (5th Cir.1983). Jackson introduced the Sumner Simpson letters into evidence to show, inter alia, that Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan knew or should have known of the dangers asbestos products posed to shipyard workers during the years Jackson worked in that capacity at Ingalls. Under Restatement (Second) of Torts Sec....

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80 practice notes
  • Dunn v. HOVIC, No. 91-3837
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • July 27, 1993
    ...will be exhausted before those later victims can seek compensation to which they are entitled.' Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 750 F.2d 1314, 1330 (5th Cir.1985), cert. denied, 478 U.S. 1022, 106 S.Ct. 3339, 92 L.Ed.2d 743 Judicial Conference Ad Hoc Comm., supra, at 22,715-16. As on......
  • Bynum v. FMC Corp., No. 84-4677
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • September 13, 1985
    ...of citizenship and therefore state law generally governs the resolution of the controversy. See Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 750 F.2d 1314, 1323-27 (5th Cir.1985) (en banc); In re "Agent Orange" Product Liability Litigation, 635 F.2d 987, 993-95 (2d Cir.1980). That a plaintiff's c......
  • William Dunn, Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp. v. Hovic, No. 91-3837
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • July 27, 1993
    ...will be exhausted before those later victims can seek compensation to which they are entitled.' Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 750 F.2d 1314, 1330 (5th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 478 U.S. 1022 (1986)." Judicial Conference Ad Hoc Comm., supra, at 22,715-16. As one of its recommendatio......
  • Fischer v. Johns-Manville Corp., JOHNS-MANVILLE
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 31, 1986
    ...forty years, over 21 million Americans have been significantly exposed to asbestos. See Jackson v. Johns-Manville Page 687 Sales Corp., 750 F.2d 1314, 1323 (5th Cir.1985). Not unexpectedly, more money is channelled to the expenses of litigation than to the expenses of the victims for recove......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
80 cases
  • Dunn v. HOVIC, No. 91-3837
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • July 27, 1993
    ...will be exhausted before those later victims can seek compensation to which they are entitled.' Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 750 F.2d 1314, 1330 (5th Cir.1985), cert. denied, 478 U.S. 1022, 106 S.Ct. 3339, 92 L.Ed.2d 743 Judicial Conference Ad Hoc Comm., supra, at 22,715-16. As on......
  • Bynum v. FMC Corp., No. 84-4677
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • September 13, 1985
    ...of citizenship and therefore state law generally governs the resolution of the controversy. See Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 750 F.2d 1314, 1323-27 (5th Cir.1985) (en banc); In re "Agent Orange" Product Liability Litigation, 635 F.2d 987, 993-95 (2d Cir.1980). That a plaintiff's c......
  • William Dunn, Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp. v. Hovic, No. 91-3837
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • July 27, 1993
    ...will be exhausted before those later victims can seek compensation to which they are entitled.' Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 750 F.2d 1314, 1330 (5th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 478 U.S. 1022 (1986)." Judicial Conference Ad Hoc Comm., supra, at 22,715-16. As one of its recommendatio......
  • Fischer v. Johns-Manville Corp., JOHNS-MANVILLE
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 31, 1986
    ...forty years, over 21 million Americans have been significantly exposed to asbestos. See Jackson v. Johns-Manville Page 687 Sales Corp., 750 F.2d 1314, 1323 (5th Cir.1985). Not unexpectedly, more money is channelled to the expenses of litigation than to the expenses of the victims for recove......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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