Sebright v. Gen. Elec. Co.

Citation525 F.Supp.3d 217
Decision Date11 March 2021
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 19-10593-WGY
Parties Glenn E. SEBRIGHT, Individually and as a Parent, Guardian and Next Friend of Caitlin N. Sebright, and Suzanne L. Sebright, Plaintiffs, v. GENERAL ELECTRIC CO., CBS Corp., Velan Valve Corp., Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts

Ben A. Vinson, Jr., Pro Hac Vice, Jack Celedon, Pro Hac Vice, Kelsey Early, Pro Hac Vice, Mark A. Alonzo, Pro Hac Vice, Vinson Law PA, Tampa, FL, Edward P. Coady, Christopher P. Duffy, Coady Law Firm, Woburn, MA, for Plaintiffs.

Catherine Mohan, Anne E. Shannon, McCarter & English, LLP, Boston, MA, David A. Speziali, Pro Hac Vice, Speziali, Greenwald & Hawkins, P.C., Williamstown, NY, John A. Heller, Pro Hac Vice, Timothy E. Kapshandy, Pro Hac Vice, Sidley Austin LLP, Chicago, IL, Stesha A. Emmanuel, McCarter & English, LLP, Hartford, CT, for Defendant General Electric Company.

Anthony M. Moccia, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, Boston, MA, for Defendant CBS Corporation.

Anne E. Shannon, Catherine Mohan, McCarter & English, LLP, Boston, MA, Stesha A. Emmanuel, McCarter & English, LLP, Hartford, CT, for Defendant Velan Valve Corp.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

YOUNG, D.J.

I. INTRODUCTION

General Electric Co. ("GE"), GE's Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 163; and Velan Valve Corp. ("Velan"), Velan's Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 166, each move for summary judgment contending it is not the proper target of the asbestos litigation brought by Glenn E. Sebright, individually and on behalf of his daughter Caitlin N. Sebright, and his wife Suzanne L. Sebright (collectively, "Sebright"). See Am. Compl., ECF No. 79.

Glenn E. Sebright is a former machinist mate in the United States Navy ("Navy") who suffers from malignant mesothelioma

, a degenerative lung disease, as a result of asbestos exposure. Id. ¶¶ 8-11. Sebright has brought claims against numerous corporations, including GE and Velan, that he alleges bear partial responsibility for his condition. These claims are: negligence (count I) for failure to warn about the dangers of asbestos exposure, id. ¶¶ 12-18; breach of express and implied warranties (count II) because the corporations’ products were not merchantable, safe, and fit for ordinary purposes due to their toxicity, id. ¶¶ 19-26; loss of parental society (count III) brought by and on behalf of Sebright's severely disabled daughter Caitlin Sebright, id. ¶¶ 27-29; and loss of consortium (count IV) brought by Sebright's wife, Suzanne Sebright, id. ¶¶ 30-32.

During the motion hearing held on November 10, 2020, the Court held that maritime law applies to the dispute at hand. Tr. Zoom Hr'g Held Nov. 10, 2020 ("Tr.") 27, ECF No. 213. The Court also denied GE's summary judgment motion as to counts I and II, and in relation to the application of the government contractor defense. Id. 25. The parties were allotted additional time to brief the viability of Sebright's claims under maritime law for counts III and IV. Id. 27. After careful consideration of the parties’ arguments and for the reasons set out below, the Court ALLOWS GE's summary judgment motion as to counts III and IV.

The Court ALLOWS Velan's summary judgment motion. For the reasons set out below, Sebright has failed to adduce evidence as to an element of a cause of action for which he bears the burden of proof at trial. The Court thus does not reach counts II, III and IV of Sebright's claims against Velan. This memorandum of decision explains the Court's reasoning.

II. Procedural History
A. Velan

Velan filed a motion and memorandum for summary judgment in August 2020. See Velan Mot. Summ. J.; Velan Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("Velan's Mem."), ECF No. 167. Sebright filed an opposition, and Velan filed a reply. See Pl.’s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl.’s Opp'n Velan"), ECF No. 174; Velan's Reply Pl.’s Opp'n Velan's Mot. Summ. J. ("Velan's Reply"), ECF No. 181. Velan has filed a statement of material facts. See Velan's Statement Undisputed Facts ("Velan's SOF"), ECF No. 168. Sebright has filed its own statement of material facts, which includes a "Statement of Additional Undisputed Material Facts." See Pl.’s Resp. Velan's Statement Undisputed Facts ("Pl.’s SOF Velan"), ECF No. 175.

B. GE

GE filed a motion and memorandum for summary judgment in August 2020. See GE Mot. Summ. J; GE Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("GE's Mem."), ECF No. 164. Sebright filed an opposition, and GE filed a reply. See Pl.’s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl.’s Opp'n GE"), ECF No. 170; GE's Reply Resp. Mot. Summ. J. ("GE's Reply"), ECF No. 182. GE and Sebright both filed separate statements of material facts and Sebright included a "Statement of Additional Undisputed Material Facts." See GE's Statement Undisputed Facts ("GE's SOF"), ECF No. 165; Pl.’s Statement Facts GE ("Pl.’s SOF GE"), ECF No. 171.

Following the hearing in this matter on November 10, 2020, the parties filed supplements to their oral arguments. See GE's Suppl. Oral Arg. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 204; Pl.’s Resp. GE's Suppl. Oral Arg. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 210.

The parties also filed additional briefs relating to the viability of counts III and IV under maritime law. See Pl.’s Mem. Law Supp. Loss Consortium and Loss Parental Society Claims Under Maritime Law ("Pl.’s Mem. Supp."), ECF No. 209; GE's Mem. Law Supp. Dismissal Loss Parental Society Claim (Count Three) and Loss Consortium Claim (Count Four) ("GE's Mem. Opp'n"), ECF No. 208.

III. Evidence

Extensive evidence has been adduced in this case, including numerous depositions of fact and expert witnesses.

A. Sebright's Evidence

Sebright relies on testimony provided by three fact witnesses. In addition to his own deposition testimony provided on October 8 and 9, 2020, see Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 1, Videotaped Dep. Glenn E. Sebright ("Sebright Dep. I"), ECF No. 171-2; Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 2, Videotaped Dep. Glenn E. Sebright ("Sebright Dep. II"), ECF No. 171-3, Sebright relies on the testimony of a former shipmate on the USS Boston, George Hiltz ("Hiltz"), see Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 4, Videotaped Dep. George Hiltz ("Hiltz Dep."), ECF No. 171-5, and on that of another former shipmate on board the USS Little Rock, Michael Poulson ("Poulson"), see Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 3, Videotaped Dep. Michael Poulson ("Poulson Dep."), ECF No. 171-4.

Poulson, in addition to his factual testimony, also purports to be an expert based on his experience in the ship repair and asbestos remediation industry. See generally Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 5, Background & Op. Michael H. Poulson ("Poulson Rep."), ECF 171-6. As an expert, Poulson was deposed twice, on June 5, 2020 and July 1, 2020. See Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 6, Videoconference Dep. Michael H. Poulson ("Poulson Exp. Dep. I"), ECF No. 171-7; Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 7, Videoconference Dep. Michael H. Poulson ("Poulson Exp. Dep. II"), ECF No. 171-8. Velan filed a Daubert motion to exclude Poulson's expert testimony on November 6, 2020. See Velan's Daubert Mot. Exclude Expert Test. Report Michael Poulson, ECF No. 199.

Sebright's other expert witnesses are Dr. Candace Su-Jung Tsai ("Tsai"), Brent Staggs, M.D. ("Staggs"), and David Rosner, Ph.D. ("Rosner").

Rosner is a professor of public health and social history at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. See Pl.’s Mem. Opp'n Def. Air & Liquid Corp.’s Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl.’s Opp'n Air & Liquid"), Ex. F, Expert Report Gerald Markowitz PhD & David Rosner PhD ("Rosner & Markowitz Report") 2, ECF No. 132-7.1 Rosner's expert testimony focuses on the public and industrial health history of asbestos products in the United States. Id. Rosner was deposed on February 17, 2020 in the unrelated matter of Hailey v. Air & Liquid Sys. Corp., Civil Action No. DKC 18-2590, 2020 WL 4732141 (D. Md. Aug. 14, 2020), see GE's SOF, Ex. 45, Telephone Dep. David Rosner, Ph.D. ("Rosner Dep. I"), ECF No. 165-47, and, for the case at hand, on July 15, 2020, see Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 13, Videoconference Dep. David Rosner, Ph.D. ("Rosner Dep. II"), ECF No. 171-14. Rosner has also authored a rebuttal report in relation to testimony provided by GE's expert witness, Captain Joselyn Senter. See Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 47, Resp. Report Joselyn C. Senter ("Rosner Rebuttal"), ECF No. 171-48. In a Daubert motion filed on October 14, 2020, GE challenged Rosner's opinions regarding GE's duty to warn sailors of asbestos hazards. See GE's Rule 702 Daubert Mot. Exclude Expert Test. Dr. David Rosner, ECF No. 194.

Tsai is an industrial hygienist who opined on Sebright's exposure to asbestos in a report dated December 23, 2019. See Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 41, Asbestos Exposure Assessment Mr. Glenn Sebright ("Tsai Rep. with Add."), ECF No. 171-42. Tsai amended her report on April 27, 2020. Id. at 18-19. Tsai also issued a rebuttal report on June 20, 2020 in relation to testimony provided by GE's expert, Captain Joselyn Senter. See Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 48, Response to Report of Joselyn C. Senter ("Tsai Rebuttal"), ECF No. 171-49. Tsai has been deposed three times: on June 11, 2020, see Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 8, Dep. Candace Su-Jung Tsai, MS, SCD, CIH ("Tsai Dep. I"), ECF No. 171-9, on July 9, 2020, see Pl.’s SOF Velan, Ex. 16, Dep. Candace Su-Jung Tsai, MS, SCD, CIH ("Tsai Dep. II"), ECF No. 175-17, and on July 21, 2020, see Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 10, Dep. Candace Su-Jung Tsai, MS, SCD, CIH ("Tsai Dep. III"), ECF No. 171-11. Questioning the reliability of the scientific methods applied by Tsai in her report on December 23, 2019, Velan filed a Daubert motion to exclude her testimony on October 14, 2020. See Velan's Daubert Mot. Exclude Expert Test. Report Dr. Candace Tsai ("Mot. Exclude Tsai"), ECF No. 193.

Staggs is a medical doctor and pathologist who opined on Sebright's diagnosis of mesothelioma

in an expert report dated October 1, 2019, see Pl.’s Opp'n Air & Liquid, Ex. M, Reports RE: Sebright, Glenn E. ("Staggs Report"), ECF No. 132-14,2 and a supplemental report dated January 21, 2020, see Pl.’s SOF GE, Ex. 40, Reports RE: Sebright Glenn E. ("Staggs Supp. Rep."), ECF No. 171-41. Staggs was deposed on June 3, 2020. See Pl.’s...

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