JOHN A. PARKINS, Jr., Judge.
Plaintiff, Horold Howton, worked on various ships in the Navy. He served as a shipfitter and chief petty officer from 1958-1974. Plaintiff alleges asbestos exposure from Defendant Crane Co.'s ("Crane") valves and Defendant Cleaver-Brooks' boilers among others. Defendants move for summary judgment on product nexus grounds and assert the "component parts defense" as grounds for not owing a duty to Plaintiff for asbestos-containing parts added to their products after sale. Based on the reasoning below, the court finds Plaintiff has not made a prima facie case for product nexus with a Cleaver-Brooks original-asbestos containing part or component part. Accordingly, summary judgment is
Plaintiff, Harold Howton, served on several ships in the U.S. Navy. He worked primarily as a Shipfitter. Plaintiff's service on particular ships and their commission dates is as follows:
Plaintiff was the only product identification witness deposed in this matter.
Plaintiff was questioned about his knowledge about working on original parts while in the Navy. He testified that he never worked on a new ship. When asked about working on original equipment, he stated "I wouldn't have any way of knowing that, but I doubt it. Thing was torn up too much to be original."
Plaintiff identified Crane as one of the manufacturers of valves on which he worked in the U.S. Navy. He removed, replaced, and repaired the valves. This involved removing and replacing gaskets which he believed contained asbestos. He believed the packing also contained asbestos. This work created dust. Plaintiff does not recall his work with Crane valves on a ship by ship basis, but testified he worked on them during his time with the Navy and remembers them specifically on the U.S.S. Cadmus. He believed the ships were World War II-era ships. Plaintiff did not know the prior maintenance history of the valves or whether he ever did work on original manufacturer's parts. He also did not know the manufacturer of the packing, gaskets, or insulation he removed and replaced.
Plaintiffs point to some documentation that indicates at least some of Defendant's valves contained asbestos, and Defendant admits as much in its discovery responses. They rely upon a few undated Crane documents and catalogues discussing valves and fittings produced by Crane. The record, however, contains no evidence of the specific types of valves on which Mr. Howton worked. He does not direct the court to any document in which Defendant requires or recommends asbestos containing replacement parts for the valves on which Plaintiff worked. The documents also refer to some Crane component products that had one time contained asbestos. There is no evidence in the record that Crane component parts were added to the valves in question after sale.
Upon the court's request Crane provided supplemental briefing materials regarding the typical maintenance performed on naval ships during the relevant time period. Crane offered the deposition of Captain Arnold P. Moore which was taken in an unrelated case. One of the ships that Capt. Moore discussed was commissioned in June 1943 and the plaintiff in that case reported for duty onboard in September 1957.
Plaintiff identified Cleaver-Brooks as one of the manufacturers of boilers he recognized from his time in the Navy. Testifying generally about boilers, Plaintiff recalled removing piping and valves from boilers which required removing insulation. He also recalled removing gaskets he believed contained asbestos. This work created dust. There is no evidence before the court of the prior maintenance history of the boilers or whether Plaintiff ever did work on original manufacturer's parts. He could not recall if he saw more than one Cleaver-Brooks boiler on the USS Cadamus or if he saw a Cleaver-Brooks boiler on any other ships. He testified he never worked as a boiler operator so he did not open boilers to work on them. He could not recall ever being around a Cleaver-Brooks boiler when it was open or while any work was being performed on one. He testified people in his job performed welding on boilers, but he could not recall if he ever welded a Cleaver-Brooks boiler.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In considering a motion for summary judgment the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and will only grant summary judgment when "the moving party has demonstrated that there are no material issues of fact in dispute and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
There was considerable discussion during oral argument about which party bears the burden on establishing that Plaintiff came in contact with original asbestos-containing parts to Crane valves, Warren pumps
In assessing the non-moving party's burden the court considers, "`Whether a reasonable juror could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict-whether there is [evidence] upon which a jury can properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed.'"
Where, as here, a motion for summary judgment is premised on an assumption that the plaintiff did not work on original asbestos-containing parts, the moving party must offer evidence supporting a reasonable inference that the original asbestos parts were no longer on the pump, valve, or boiler at the time the plaintiff worked on it. The mere age of the device, without more, is insufficient to support such an inference for purposes of summary judgment.
PRODUCT NEXUS ANALYSIS
Special Master Boyer held Maritime law is the governing substantive law in this case.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, a reasonable jury could infer that Plaintiff worked on and/or around Crane valves, which contained asbestos-containing parts when sold to the Navy. The issue as to Crane under product nexus is whether those were original parts. The issue of Crane's liability for non-original or component parts is discussed in the duty analysis of this opinion. Defendant claims there is no evidence that they were original parts and it should not be required to prove a negative. It relies primarily on three facts. Plaintiff boarded each of the ships more than a decade after initial commission, he did not know the maintenance histories of the valves, and when asked if he worked on original equipment he stated he would have no way of knowing, but he doubted it.
Plaintiffs counter that those facts are insufficient for Defendant to meet its initial burden. Plaintiffs point the court to the undisputed fact that Defendant worked on Crane valves and the somewhat disputed fact Crane valves originally contained asbestos. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the court finds at least some of the Crane valves with which Plaintiff came in contact originally contained asbestos. This is a "precedent fact" from which an inference can be drawn.
Plaintiff has the burden at trial of establishing that Plaintiff worked with original asbestos-containing products manufactured by Defendant and was thus exposed to asbestos. However, at this stage the initial burden rests with Defendant to show the undisputed facts support a finding in its favor as a matter of law.
Defendant offered Wikipedia printouts, another website article, a Navy report, and the testimony of Captain Arnold P. Moore in an unrelated case. The Wikipedia
Defendants ask this court to consider Capt. Moore's deposition about ships not at issue in this case, his testimony about the maintenance history of those ships, website articles discussing the general history of the ships in question here, and a report on the U.S.S. Cadamus's June 1958 inspection; and then conclude that Plaintiff did not come into contact with original asbestos-containing parts from Crane Valves during his time in the Navy. But the court has today held that the defendant bears the burden of showing that the original asbestos-containing parts were removed prior to Plaintiff's exposure to the valves. The absence of proof to the contrary by Plaintiff is therefore not pertinent here. Accordingly, summary judgment is
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, a reasonable jury could infer that Plaintiff worked around/on boilers which contained asbestos-containing parts when sold to the Navy. However under the Maritime product nexus standard Plaintiff must show "(1) that the plaintiff was exposed to the defendant's product and (2) that the product was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injury."
The Conner court considered whether "Defendants are liable for injuries caused by asbestos products manufactured by others but used with Defendants' products."
Thus under Maritime law manufacturers have no duty to warn of asbestos products added to their products after sale.
This court previously examined this issue under a design defect cause of action in In re Asbestos Litigation Wesley K. Davis.
Judge Ableman granted summary judgment.
Under Maritime law Defendants are not liable under a failure to warn claim for asbestos-containing products added to their products after sale.
The court finds under Maritime law Defendant does not owe a duty Plaintiff for asbestos-containing parts used with or added to its products after sale. The court also finds as a matter of law that Plaintiff cannot meet the product nexus standard regarding exposure to original parts as to Cleaver-Brooks. Accordingly, Cleaver Brooks' motion for summary judgment is