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In re School Asbestos Litigation

filed: December 13, 1990; As Corrected January 4, 1991.

IN RE SCHOOL ASBESTOS LITIGATION, THE CELOTEX CORPORATION, CAREY CANADA INC., ARMSTRONG WORLD INDUSTRIES, INC., ASBESTOS CORP., LTD., BELL MINES, LTD., ASTEN GROUP, BASIC, INC., BENJAMIN FOSTER-AMCHEM, UNION CARBIDE CORP., CASSIAR RESOURCES, LTD., BRINCO MINING, DANA CORPORATION, EMPIRE ACE INSULATION, FIBREBOARD, GAF CORPORATION, GEORGIA-PACIFIC CORP., UNIROYAL, INC., W.R. GRACE & COMPANY, KAISER CEMENT CORP., PFIZER, INC., PITTSBURGH CORNING CORP., H.K. PORTER CORP., SOUTHERN TEXTILE CORP., ROCKWOOL MANUFACTURING CO., WILKIN INSULATION, C. TENNANT & SONS, U.S. MINERAL, PETITIONERS NO. 90-1217
v.
THE HONORABLE JAMES MCGIRR KELLY, NOMINAL RESPONDENT NO. 90-1217, AND BARNWELL SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 45, SCHOOL DISTRICT OF LANCASTER, MANHEIM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, LAMPETER-STRASBURG SCHOOL DISTRICT, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE MEMPHIS CITY SCHOOLS AND A CONDITIONALLY CERTIFIED CLASS, RESPONDENTS NO. 90-1217: IN RE SCHOOL ASBESTOS LITIGATION, EAGLE-PICHER INDUSTRIES, INC., PETITIONER NO. 90-1219 V. THE HONORABLE JAMES MCGIRR KELLY, NOMINAL RESPONDENT NO. 90-1219 AND BARNWELL SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 45, SCHOOL DISTRICT OF LANCASTER, MANHEIM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, LAMPETER-STRASBURG SCHOOL DISTRICT, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE MEMPHIS CITY SCHOOLS, AND A CONDITIONALLY CERTIFIED CLASS, RESPONDENTS NO. 90-1219



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil No. 0313-2: 83-00268.

Scirica, Cowen, and Aldisert, Circuit Judges.

Author: Aldisert

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge

We are faced with petitions for a writ of mandamus filed by The Celotex Corporation, Carey Canada Inc., Armstrong World Industries, Inc., Asbestos Corp., Ltd., Bell Mines, Ltd., Asten Group, Basic, Inc., Benjamin Foster-Amchem, Union Carbide Corp., Cassiar Resources, Ltd., Brinco Mining, Dana Corporation, Empire Ace Insulation, Fibreboard, GAF Corporation, Georgia-Pacific Corp., Uniroyal, Inc., W.R. Grace & Company, Kaiser Cement Corp., Pfizer, Inc., Pittsburgh Corning Corp., H.K. Porter Corp., Southern Textile Corp., Rockwool Manufacturing Co., Wilkin Insulation, C. Tennant & Sons, and U.S. Mineral at No. 90-1217 and Eagle-Picher Industries, Inc. at 90-1219 requesting us to order the district court to decertify a nationwide class of school districts seeking to recover damages from manufacturers and distributors of asbestos products. On October 12, 1990, Celotex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, at No. 100168B1. The act of filing triggers the operation of the automatic stay provisions of 11 U.S.C. § 362. Accordingly, we will stay the proceedings at No. 90-1217 in which Celotex is the petitioner. See Association of St. Croix Condominium Owners v. St. Croix Hotel Corp., 682 F.2d 446, 449 (3d Cir. 1982). We will meet the contentions of the other petitioners at No. 90-1217 and those of Eagle-Picher on the merits and will deny relief.

I.

In 1984, the district court certified a nationwide opt-out class of school districts seeking to recover from approximately fifty defendants. The purpose of certifying the national school asbestos class was primarily to expedite the resolution of the schools' asbestos-in-buildings claims. In re Asbestos School Litigation, 104 F.R.D. 422, 433 (E.D. Pa. 1984), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 789 F.2d 996 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 852, 93 L. Ed. 2d 117, 107 S. Ct. 182 (1986). When the case was first before us as an interlocutory appeal, certified under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), we reviewed the district court's decision, and substantially agreed with the rationale behind its certification, observing that:

The use of the class action device appears to offer some hope of reducing the expenditure of time and money needed to resolve the common issues which are of substantial importance. . . . "It is difficult to imagine that class jury findings on the class questions will not significantly advance the resolution of the underlying hundreds of cases."

Id. at 1010 (citation omitted). Though voicing some concern about manageability of the class, we acceded to the district court's determination that the litigation would be manageable, both because of that court's greater familiarity with trial management concerns and because class actions are always subject to decertification "when, and if, the district court is convinced that the litigation cannot be managed . . ." Id. at 1011.

In April, 1989, the petitioners, who are two of the fifty defendants in the district court, moved for decertification, arguing, inter alia, that the class was demonstrably unmanageable. The district court denied the motion on January 11, 1990 and this petition for writ of mandamus followed.

In this litigation a question was raised as to jurisdiction. We determined in In re School Asbestos Litig., 921 F.2d 1310 (3d Cir. 1990) (filed on this date) that the defendant petitioners had not met their burden of showing a "clear and indisputable lack of subject matter jurisdiction in the district court." Thus, trial court jurisdiction was proper based on 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Jurisdiction before us is premised on 28 U.S.C. § 1651 and Rule 21, F.R.A.P.

II.

On proper appeal from a final judgment, or a certification under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), review of the certification of a class is governed by the abuse of discretion standard. Pa. Dental Ass'n v. Medical Services Ass'n of Pa., 745 F.2d 248, 255 (3d Cir. 1984). But we are not faced with an appeal here. Instead we have a request for mandamus.

Mandamus is a drastic remedy which should be invoked only under extraordinary circumstances amounting to a judicial "usurpation of power," Will v. United States, 389 U.S. 90, 95, 19 L. Ed. 2d 305, 88 S. Ct. 269 (1967) or where there is "no other adequate means to obtain the relief . . . and the court below has committed a clear error of law." Cippolone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1118 (3d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1043, 93 L. Ed. 2d 857, 107 S. Ct. 907 (1987), quoting Sporck v. Peil, 759 F.2d 312, 314 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 903, 88 L. Ed. 2d 230, 106 S. Ct. 232 (1985). The party seeking mandamus has the ...


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