filed: September 12, 1989; As Amended October 10, 1989.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 84-0392.
Sloviter and Cowen, and Weis, Circuit Judges.
Appellants, Neil Conway, Joan Conway, and Roadway Express, in its capacity as subrogee of Neil Conway's workmen's compensation claim (collectively referred to as "Conway"), were plaintiffs in a products liability action against appellee Volvo White Truck Corporation (Volvo) and National Seating Company. They appeal the district court's order setting aside a judgment in their favor and granting judgment in favor of Volvo. The legal basis on which plaintiffs sought to recover from Volvo was under the theory, adopted in some states, imposing liability on a successor corporation for injuries caused by products manufactured and sold by its predecessor. This issue is further complicated here because Volvo's predecessor did not dissolve, but has reorganized under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Reform Act. The parties have also briefed the issue of whether the terms of a sale of corporate assets approved as part of a reorganization preclude suits based on claims which arose after the sale.
The district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) (1982). We have jurisdiction over this final order of the district court under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1982). Our review of the district court's interpretation of the Pennsylvania law is plenary.
The facts of this case are set forth in detail in the two district court opinions addressing the successor liability issue. See Conway v. White Trucks, a Div. of White Motor Corp., 692 F. Supp. 442 (M.D.Pa. 1988), vacating, 639 F. Supp. 160 (M.D.Pa. 1986). We set forth those facts of particular relevance to this appeal.
White Motor Corporation (White), a major truck manufacturer, filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 on September 4, 1980. In June 1981, A.B. Volvo, through its subsidiary, Volvo White Truck Corporation (Volvo), agreed to purchase various truck manufacturing facilities from White. After notice and a hearing, the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio approved the sale on August 13, 1981, and Volvo took control of the assets at that time. The final agreement entered into by the parties on June 15, 1983, provided that Volvo North America would indemnify White's product liability for accidents occurring between May 1, 1983 and December 31, 1992, which involved vehicles assembled before September 1, 1981, but that Volvo would not be liable for any other claims. This supplemental agreement was approved by the bankruptcy court on June 29, 1983.
Claims based on accidents occurring before May 1, 1983 were to be handled through a trust fund created as part of White's plan of reorganization and where appropriate, by White's insurers and codefendants. On August 1, 1983 the bankruptcy court entered an order fixing August 30, 1983 as the bar date for filing proofs of claim against White with the bankruptcy court. Notice of the bar date was provided to known claimants through direct mail and to others by publication in national newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Appellant Neil Conway asserts, and there is no evidence to the contrary, that he did not have any notice of White's bankruptcy, the sale agreement, or the bar date prior to the time for filing proofs of claim had elapsed. He learned of the White bankruptcy and its probable effect on his claim against White in March or April of 1984.
Conway was injured during the course of his employment in March 1982 when the truck he was driving hit a pothole, causing the driver's seat to lurch forward. His knee struck the dashboard of the truck, and he suffered a serious injury which resulted in his inability to work for five months. Within one month of the accident, appellant was diagnosed as having sustained "traumatic, injury related, chondromalacia patella," Supp. App. at 535, and underwent a program of therapy. When the condition of his knee deteriorated, appellant underwent surgery in November 1983.
Appellant and his wife brought suit in federal court in March 1984 against White, Volvo, National Seating Company, the manufacturer of the seat, and John Doe Corporation. Conway's employer, Roadway Express, also participated in the litigation as a plaintiff, seeking to recover the amount of workmen's compensation it paid to Conway on account of his injury.*fn1 The complaint alleged a variety of strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty theories against the various defendants, the gist of which was that the cab and/or seat were defectively designed.
White filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that Conway had not filed a proof of claim in the bankruptcy proceeding prior to the bar date. Conway filed no objection, and White was dismissed from the case. Volvo sought summary judgment on the ground that it could not be liable as a successor corporation for claims involving products manufactured by White, and that Conway's claim was precluded by its agreement, approved by the bankruptcy court, which provided that Volvo was not assuming liability for accidents occurring before May 1, 1983. The district court denied summary judgment. After a non-jury trial on the issue of successor liability, the court determined that under the "product line" exception to the ...